Here at TechBoomers, we are always advocating for adult online learning; we believe it is never too late to start learning new skills, especially when it comes to online education. Because of modern technology, it’s entirely possible to learn about almost any topic online. You can work at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home, and keep working on gaining the skills you want to acquire to help you achieve goals in your life.
Back to school isn’t just for kids anymore – it’s for you! In this article, we’re going to go over the best websites out there for adult online learning – and every site we recommend is free to use! We’re aiming to teach you:
- What the website can teach you
- How the site works
- How to create an account/sign up
- The costs associated with it
- Why it’s a great site
Read on to learn about 18 great free online learning sites, so you can get started on your path to learning today.
Udemy is website that contains a massive online library of courses (some free, some paid) on a variety of topics, intended to mimic that of university or college courses. With over 45, 000 courses to choose from, you can learn about almost anything that you could learn taking paid university courses, including accounting, web development, photography, business and marketing strategies, music, health and fitness, test prep, and so much more.
Simply create an account, and then browse by category, or search for any topic you’re interested in. Check out the course information (all of which is easily accessible simply by hovering over a course name) to find out how many hours it will take, how many lectures/videos it contains, whether it’s a best-seller, what skill level is required to take it, and so on, and then enroll if you’re interested. If you’re trying to save money, you can even search “free courses” and your results will return a list of all the courses on Udemy currently offered for free.
Costs: Some courses are free, while others can range from $20 to $200 per course. There are often promotions though, so you can take classes for discounted rates, even as low as $15 for a course that is regularly $200.
Why we love it: All the information about a course is very apparent to you before you enroll, so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before committing.
To learn more, check out our free Udemy course with more information on what it is and how to enroll in courses.
Coursera is a website that is quite similar to Udemy, as it offers the same kind of learning – university-based online courses. The difference is that Coursera actually offers you the exact classes being taught at various accredited universities around the world. Have you always wanted to study Machine Learning at Stanford U? Or learn about Algorithms from Princeton? Well on Coursera, you can – and you may be able to do it for free.
Coursera’s courses are usually offered for free, though you won’t get any kind of credit or attention from the professor if you aren’t paying. If you’re just signing up because you want to increase your knowledge, then this is a great option for you. You can learn about so many topics – all at the university level. Some popular universities that partner with Coursera include:
- Columbia University
- Stanford University
- Johns Hopkins University
- University of Toronto
- Indian School of Business
- University of Science and Technology of China
- École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
- The University of Melbourne
And over 85 more, across 25 countries.
Costs: Courses are generally free without grading or credit. Other than that, they can range anywhere from around $20 for one course and $150 for a specialization, to up to $89/month for a specialization (until you complete it). This varies greatly based on which courses/specializations you are interested in.
Why we love it: You are getting the real experience of a university-level course – just like you would if you were attending; but you get to do it from the comfort of your own home, and often, for free.
If you’re interested, take a look through our free step-by-step tutorials on Coursera to learn more, including how to enroll.
Open.edu, also known as “The Open University” is an online institution coming out of the United Kingdom, that aims to be open to people, places, ideas, and methods. You can choose to work at an undergraduate or graduate level, easily see the difficulty level and time commitment of any course, and review the course content, topics, and expectations, all before you get committed to it. You can also access their courses that are free before you even start searching, so you know you won’t have to pay any fees, and you can jump right in and begin learning.
These courses are low-pressure, learn-as-you-go, and contain a lot of valuable information about subjects in fields taught at many accredited universities. One of the other great features about OpenEdu is that the people who develop and run the website developed the courses as well. They know the material, and provide you with the resources you need to succeed, including a network of over 5000 tutors that can assist you with your course work!
Costs: Many courses are offered for free. However, you can also work to achieving accredited degrees, which vary in price based on the subject.
Why we love it: You actually get to complete assignments, and can access tutors to assist you with the work you complete.
Class-Central doesn’t run its own courses, but instead, facilitates searches for MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, which are available for a seemingly unlimited number of people to enroll in and complete. When you go on Class-Central, you can search for any topic, and Class-Central will refer you to the website where you can find a course that will meet your needs.
Class-Central will refer you to many of the other websites we’ve listed in this article, but the great thing is that it takes the work out of it for you. Simply enter your intended subject in the search bar, and you’ll get a list of all the sites that can help you out with a free course. From there, check out the specific website that hosts the course, check out the course details, and then enroll in the one you think will be the most useful or informative.
Costs: All courses are free to take, but you must pay additional fees for graded assignments, certificates, and mentorship, which vary by the specific course you’re taking.
Why we love it: It helps you find all the best MOOCs on the Internet, so you can find the perfect one for you.
And not just because we’re biased! TechBoomers.com is one of the best resources for online learning – especially for adults. If what you’re looking for is a little general Internet and technology knowledge, you want to learn about how to use popular websites and apps, or you want useful information about how to improve your life with technology – this is the website for you.
You simply visit the TechBoomers website, and search for any topic you’re interested in! Our courses have dozens of tutorials that can tell you anything about popular sites and services like Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, iPhone, Android, eBay, Amazon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and so much more. We can teach you what these are, how much they cost, what they can do for you, how to sign up for them, how to use them, and more. You can learn everything you need to know – with a one-stop visit to TechBooomers.
Costs: 100% free – always!
Why we love it: We run it! Our goal is to provide our users with useful information they can use to improve their daily lives – always for free.
6. GCF Learn Free
GCF Learn Free has always been one of our favorite online resources. They can teach you about many topics related to the digital world, and is a great place for beginners who are new to using their computers. This also may be a great option if you’re trying to take an online course with another institution, but you’re not too tech savvy yet.
Some of the best topics you can jump right into include:
- Computer Basics
- Smartphones and Tablets
- Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint
- Social Media
- Google Apps
- Beginning Graphic Design
- Windows/Mac/Linux Operating Systems
Costs: 100% free – always!
Why we love it: They have easy-to-follow tutorials on topics that will instantly improve your knowledge of the Internet and popular digital services.
LearnMyWay is a great website to help out those of us who aren’t Internet experts, and need to learn about how to use the Internet to improve our lives. Many of the skills they teach focus on computer use and the Internet, Internet safety and privacy, and how to make the most of life when you can master the Internet. You can follow the free LearnMyWay tutorials to start working on your skills, on topics such as:
- Using email
- Internet safety
- Online shopping
- Socializing online
- Using Facebook
- Keeping your personal information secure online
- Job hunting online
- Online and mobile banking
- Public services online
These modules are very simple to work though, and have simple, easy-to-follow lessons that you can work though at your own pace. Another great feature is that each module contains links to amazing resources that can help you keep working on that subject, and learn even more.
Why we love it: It can take you from zero skills to Internet master, and help you learn how to protect yourself and your information, all while making good use of the Internet.
Lynda.com is an educational website that is owned and operated by LinkedIn. With over 4500 courses on business, creativity, and technology-related topics – all of which can help you with your own career goals. You can really work on yourself here, and gain the experience you need to advance up the ladder in your field of interest.
Some of their most useful and popular lessons include:
- Creativity Bootcamp
- InDesign Training
- Project Management Fundamentals
- Web Analytics
- Overcoming Procrastination
- Management and Communication Tips
- Freelancing Foundations
- Logo Design Techniques
- Introduction to Graphic Design
- WordPress Essentials
Costs: 10-day free trial or access to some content through your LinkedIn.com account.
Other than that, you’ll need to pay for a subscription: $20-$30/month depending on your needs.
Why we love it: Coming to you from LinkedIn, you know the quality of content is superior to many other sites. You can learn skills that will truly help you in a professional sense.
If you want to learn more, check out our free step-by-step tutorials on Lynda here.
9. Open Yale Courses
Run by Yale University, there is a vast online catalogue of courses you can take online for free. They typically offer their own original courses, as well as courses that are hosted by other resources we’ve listed here, such as Coursera, YouTube, or iTunes U. But using this website, you can easily filter courses by discipline, field, or platform (hosting website), and then search though the courses that are most relevant to you.
The topics you can learn about include:
- Social Sciences
- STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
Once you find something you’re interested in, enroll for free and complete the courses at your own pace, based on the expectations laid out in the syllabus.
Why we love it: Yale is one of the leading Universities in the world – so with the Yale Open original courses, you gain access to some of the best educational content in the world.
10. Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative
The Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative comes to you from this accredited learning institution, in an attempt to support better learning with high-quality, scientifically-based lessons. You won’t receive credit or grades for any of your work, but you’ll also never have to pay for any of the content you work through.
One drawback however, is that only a very limited amount of their course content is available through the Open Learning Initiative. However, some of the topics you can work through include:
- American English Speech
- Anatomy & Physiology
- French, Spanish, or Chinese languages
- Visual Design
- Logic & Proofs
- Public Policy Analysis for Engineers
Costs: 100% free with no additional (or even optional) fees.
Why we love it: Carnegie Mellon is a well-recognized institution with quality content that can really help you work towards your own future educational or career goals.
11. Open Culture
Open Culture claims to offer the best free cultural and educational media on the web. Like Class Central, this site helps connect you to all of the best free online course on the web, including MOOCs. With over 1250 courses, 1150 movies, 900 audiobooks, e-books, MOOCs, and over 200 resources for child-learning – all for free. You can check out their full list of MOOCs that offer free certificates here.
One of the best features of the site is that every time a new course one of their partners offers is posted, Open Culture will post about it right on the homepage, so you can always keep up with the latest and greatest in MOOCs, and always be aware of what’s new and exciting from the world’s best universities and colleges that offer their content online. Open Culture also links you to the best resources to help with your learning (like the types we listed above), and can offer you a daily email if you need to keep up with what’s going on with the site when you begin using it. These emails keep you informed, but can also offer some tips and tricks about using the Open Culture website.
Why we love it: It can help you find the best MOOCs out there, and connect with the institutions that best match your educational needs and goals.
edX is an entirely non-profit MOOC website, with more than 90 global partners to bring you free courses. The courses are open to anyone, and can be access 24/7 – whenever it’s convenient for your schedule. You can also connect with all of the other edX users in the global discussion forums, which help you connect to others seamlessly, and get answers to all of your questions.
You can also earn verified certificates of your work, credits that can go toward an application to a real college or university, and work on professional development skills that are certain to help you get a job in your intended field. Learn from some of the world’s best professors at some of the leading educational institutions, and keep working toward your academic and professional goals.
Why we love it: A variety of worldwide partners and focus on global openness leads to better research, communication, and the availability of courses in languages other than English.
Alison.com is a great resource for free online courses, and can also offer you ways to get recognition for the courses you complete on the website. Some examples of this are automatically-generated resumes with your newly-gained skills, and certificates for your completed courses. Some classes could possibly count as certificates for post-secondary education at some institutions.
One of the best features is that there are over 800 free courses on Alison, on a variety of topics, including:
- Business and Enterprise Skills
- Health & Safety Compliance
- Financial and Economic Literacy
- Hospitality and Food Safety
- Google Analytics
- Manufacturing Processes
- And so much more!
Choose a topic that interests you, and get to work. You can focus on specific modules to learn short lessons, or work through an entire course on a topic you’re interested in.
Costs: Free to use, but you must watch advertisements during lessons.
Why we love it: So many useful topics are available, and you can really apply the knowledge to your career goals out in the real-world.
In essence, iTunes U is an iOS app intended to help instructors keep everything related to their class in order and organized, and provide them with all the resources they need to stay on top of their workload, and keep it up as the best teacher around. Within this app, leading colleges and universities can offer their courses for no charge, so if you have the app, you can take them for free! Now, in addition to courses at the university level, you can access courses and resources for the K-12 level of education as well.
The variety of topics is expansive, including topics such as advanced physics principles, world history, modern politics, the nature to arguments, how to write a business plan, the impact of The Beatles in music history – and so much more. These kinds of courses can really help supplement your knowledge on any topic, especially if you’re learning about them for another course, however, you can’t receive any form of credit for your work, nor does iTunes U offer discussion forums to connect with other students.
Why we love it: You can access free content from some of the world’s best educational institutions, all on the user-friendly iOS operating system.
15. Harvard Open Learning Initiative
This is an extension of the online course content Harvard offers at the university – though with the Open Learning Initiative, you can access some of this content absolutely free. The courses will follow a specific timeline – as if you were actually taking the course at Harvard, so though you can do the work generally according to your own schedule, you will still need to keep up with the workload as the course progresses throughout a semester. This is about as close as you can get to taking a real university course.
When choosing a course, you have the option to work with podcasts, lectures, interactive lessons, and full courses and programs. Search for a specific course, by category, or simply browse their entire catalogue until you find something that interests you. In general, the work you complete through this website will be at the university level, and may even require some previous knowledge. But if you want to learn from one the best universities in the world, be sure to check this out.
Costs: Many options are available for free, as well as many that become available when you pay a fee.
Why we love it: It’s Harvard U. Need we say more?
16. MIT OpenCourseWare
“The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.” Or, so says Professor Yue at the MIT School of Engineering – one of the best engineering schools, not just in the United States, but in the world. With their OpenCourseWare, you are getting access to actual MIT course content, so you can learn from the very best in the industry. On this website, there are materials for over 2400 courses, with over 200 million visitors so far.
Once you get on the site, easily search for courses by/with:
- MIT Course Number
- Instructional Approach
- Teaching Materials
- New Courses
- Most Visited Courses
- OCW Scholar Courses
- Audio/Video Lectures
- Online Textbooks
- Instructor Insights
- Supplemental Resources
- Available Language
Check it out today! You’re guaranteed to find something to increase your knowledge.
Why we love it: MIT is an amazing institution to learn from – you couldn’t ask for better quality content to gain access to for free, from the comfort of your own home.
If the thing you need to learn about it HTML coding, this is the site for you. Though this is a very specific branch of information to obtain, its increasingly important in today’s modern world, and this is one of the best sites to begin learning with if you’re starting from scratch. You can work through interactive tutorials that teach you all about the basics of HTML and CSS, as well as what you need to do to begin creating your own webpages.
With Codecademy, you can learn many topics related to coding and managing webpages, including:
- HTML and CSS
- Responsive Design
- Website Building
- Command Line
Why we love it: It’s the best site out there for HTML and is the easiest to use. It’s interactive component forces you to start actually coding right away – which we think is the best way to learn.
18. TED Ed
TED Ed, brought to you by Ted.com, is a site filled with “lessons worth sharing.” These lessons are created and shared by users to help answer common questions such as “Will we every be able to teleport,” or “What causes kidney stones?” This site is meant more to help teachers and students, but its essence is to support learning in general, and you can certainly learn a lot about over 200, 000 topics you may not have been an expert in.
With TED Ed, you can access text lessons, original animated videos, interactive lessons, and more. There are also series you can access, to help you easily find all the information about a more general topic, such as “Inventions that Shape History” or “Explaining Theories.” After watching a lesson video, you can also receive questions about the content to test your knowledge, and then discuss the lessons with other TED Ed users. You can even create your own lessons if you have something to share with the world!
Why we love it: The topics are extremely informative, and the lessons are very visual; we especially love the original animated videos!
Tips for online learning
1. Know when you will receive credit and when you won’t.
Some institutions may offer you credit in some form, even possibly a diploma, certificate, or degree. You may even earn credits that you can transfer to a real college or university institution, should you ever want to enroll in classes in the future.
It’s important to understand off the bat when you will be receiving credit, and when you won’t. Most of the resources we listed above are entirely free, and chances are, if the course is free, you won’t be receiving any form of credit. This is understandable however; if you aren’t paying to take the course, the website hosting the course can’t pay an instructor to grade you.
However, there may be some exceptions to this rule, and you might be able to find something that helps you in the future. Be sure you look into this from the start, and contact someone from the customer service department of the website to determine if you’ll earn credit for a particular course.
2. Think about what kind of learner you are.
This is key to making sure you stay focused and interested on the topics you want to learn about. What kind of learner are you? Do you enjoy reading material and taking your own notes? Do you need lecture slides to be available? Do you enjoy listening to a real person giving a lecture? Do you have any accessibility needs that an instructor would need to be made aware of?
Asking yourself these, and other similar questions, is the first step to determining what kind of course you should be looking for. The variety of what is available is truly endless. Many courses offer video lectures, PowerPoint slides, digital scans of readings, optional assignments, and so much more, so it’s difficult if you’re new to online learning to figure out which type of lesson will be for you.
Make sure you have a sense of self-awareness before beginning on your journey, and think about which style of course would best suit you. You can also always mix it up and try out a few different ones (after all – they’re free!) before deciding which one works best for you. One of the best ways to determine this is to read about how the course will be structured before you enroll in it.
3. Always read the syllabus before enrolling.
Any online course will show you the syllabus before you enroll, and you should definitely give it a read. It can give you a lot of well-laid out information right off the bat, including:
- The main themes and topics that will be examined
- The readings you will have to complete
- Videos you may need to watch (including video lectures)
- How you will be evaluated: assignments, tests, group work, online communication, etc.
- Due dates for your evaluations
- Learning outcomes and goals
If you thoroughly examine the syllabus, you’ll get a good feel for what the course will be like, and if it’s a good fit for you. You’ll also know if you require any additional materials or resources, or will have to purchase anything to complete the course.
4. Find someone you can contact for information about the course.
This is a tricky one, because oftentimes with a free online course, if you aren’t paying, the instructor might not be available to you to assist you. Many websites simply give you the material to work though (which is great), but if you aren’t paying, won’t grade your assignments, or assist with course material. This usually completely depends on the instructor however, and what their work load is; if only a handful of people are taking the course, they’re more likely to respond to you. If a few hundred are enrolled, they may not have time to answer every question.
If they don’t, you can always comb the website looking for someone to contact, but be careful; someone who works for a website like Coursera probably doesn’t know much about the ins and outs of the socio-political History of the Interwar United States homefront. They are there to answer questions if you have difficulties enrolling in a course or can’t find material you used to be able to access, and to help you with any issues you have with the website itself.
You can always look up the instructor or department head of the actual institution through which you are taking the course, and try to call them or send an email that way. This can be much more effective to getting real answer quickly, rather than trying to contact someone through the website that is hosting the free online course.
5. Set aside time to work each week so you don’t fall behind.
This seems like an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how difficult you might find it to keep up with the work in an online course. Just because you can sign in and work whenever you like, that doesn’t mean that course will come to a halt for you if you take a week off.
Depending on the syllabus and the instructor, the material and assignments may continue to be delivered, whether you have time for them or not. In addition, online courses tend to get put on the backburner in terms of your responsibilities (especially if they’re free), because it doesn’t seem like a priority.
One of the best ways to combat this is to set aside time each week to sit down and work on your course material. If you have a specific block of time you dedicate to your studies, you won’t be as likely to forget to make time to do the work. You should also try thinking of the course as if you’re paying for – chances are the material is just as valuable as a paid course, so make sure you take the time to make the effort.
6. Take it one step further.
You may find that once you get into online learning, you’ve found your passion, or something you’re truly interested in learning more about. If that’s the case, check out AcademicEarth.org, where you can find real brick and mortar colleges and universities to attend with accredited programs for your field of interest.
Some online institutions do offer you credit for the work you’ve done in an online course, but (as we mentioned above), chances are, if you’re taking those courses for free, you probably aren’t receiving any credit that would be transferable to a university. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t start working towards something like a diploma, certificate, or degree.
Try doing some research about institutions that offer programs in your academic field, because you may be able to find a program that you can take entirely online! It would be the perfect extension to your introductory online course work if you find you enjoy what you’re doing, and want to make it a real, tangible part of your life.
Hopefully these resources and tips help you on your way to finding success, and continuing your interest in lifelong learning. These websites are not the only sites you can use to find free online learning, but they are certainly the best, and offer you the best-quality lessons, courses, and tutorials. Let us know in the comments if you have any suggestions to add to our list, and make sure you keep up with your studies!