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Revolution in Education: World's Best Universities Offer FREE Online Courses

Updated on January 13, 2016
kalinin1158 profile image

Lana has a BA in Psychology, an MA in International Affairs, and other useless degrees.


So you always planned to go back to school, but life got in the way.

Now you're contemplating taking some classes at a local community college to move forward in your chosen field, or maybe even explore a new career path, but not sure if it's the right time for it because you're so busy and all the money's accounted for.

No problem! With the advent of educational portals like EdX or Academic Earth, you can take online courses (MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses) from the world's best universities, and it's absolutely free.

These online collectives are part of a global initiative to make education accessible to anyone who wants to learn, but doesn't have the opportunity to go to top-notch schools like Harvard or MIT.

Some classes have specific start dates, some are individually paced, and some are credit-eligible, which means they can count towards a degree. You learn by reading, watching short video lectures, taking quizzes, completing assignments, and interacting with instructors and other students.

Are you interested in continuing your education for free?

See results

What Sort of Classes are Offered?

The subject areas are as diverse as those at traditional universities, including art and design, business, computer science, engineering, humanities, medicine and healthcare, science and math, social sciences, personal development and many more.

Browsing through the first few pages of the EdX catalog, I found an enormous variety of courses, from "Modern Japanese Architecture" (Tokyo Tech) to "Journalism for Social Change" (Berkeley) to "Fundamentals of Neuroscience" (Harvard).

You can also study music, languages, poetry and whatever else interests you. The possibilities are nearly limitless! Can't find the course you're looking for on EdX? Check Coursera, NovoEd, Udacity or about 40 (!) other online learning enterprises. Surely, at least one of them will have what you need.

Online learning = zero percent chance of being spanked by a nun.
Online learning = zero percent chance of being spanked by a nun. | Source

Is Online Education As Credible as a Traditional One?

The world of education has changed.

When I was in college (2004-2010), I didn't think it was possible to receive the same quality education online as you would in a classroom. And if I'm being completely honest, there is some truth to that.

Personal interaction with professors and fellow students is important. Nothing can replace that. It's like talking to a friend in person is not the same as text messaging them.

So the online education bias has some rationale to it, but at the same time, a traditional college setting is becoming outdated, just like a traditional workplace. More and more people work from the comfort of their home offices (child bedrooms, garages, couches) on their own schedules and terms. The future is digital classrooms, and digital jobs.

And at the end of the day, your motivation to learn is the single most important factor that will determine the success of your educational pursuits. Regardless of the setting.

Top 10 Free Educational Platforms Online

  1. EdX - one of the largest MOOCs providers, founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012.
  2. Coursera - another significant learning platform with 140 partner-universities across 28 countries, offering over 1,500 courses.
  3. NovoEd - launched in 2013, this company has a mix of paid and free courses, with a focus on connecting students to each other to work on real-world course projects.
  4. Udacity - online educational organization with 1.6 million students and a focus on vocational courses for professionals.
  5. FutureLearn - UK-based learning platform founded in 2012. They have 76 partners from around the world, including some of the best UK and international universities and institutions like the British Museum, the British Council, the British Library and the National Film and Television School.
  6. ALISON - Ireland-based e-learning platform with over 750 courses offered in 10 languages.
  7. Khan Academy - a non-profit educational organization offering free lectures in the form of Youtube videos on math, science, computer programming, history, art, economics, and more.
  8. Duolingo - a free language-learning platform with over 50 different language courses across 23 languages.
  9. Academic Earth - headquartered in Houston, TX, Academic Earth offers over 750 online courses and 8,500 individual online lectures from some of the world's most respected universities.
  10. University of the People - launched in 2009, UoPeople is a tuition-free online university offering undergraduate programs in Business Administration and Computer Science, and developing two MBA programs in Management and Entrepreneurship. The classes are free, but there is a $100 administration fee for each exam.

How I Came Across MOOCs

I've been entertaining the idea of going back to school to finish my PhD in psychology for some time now, but I wasn't ready to plunge back into the rigorous, expensive and emotionally challenging world of academia just yet.

Maybe I never will be. After all, my interests shifted from psychology to writing, and I've been a freelance writer and editor for the last 5 years.

Still, because I never had any academic training in writing beyond college English Comp courses (and a lifetime of reading, I suppose), I always felt a bit insecure about it, and developed a habit of compulsively perusing different writing programs' admission pages. They were all expensive and required relocation.

When I realized that Berkeley and Iowa Writers' Workshop weren't in the cards, I started looking at online classes from local colleges. It just so happened that one of them offered a class I was interested in (Travel Writing) for a nominal price of $86, and the start date was in a week. Perfect!

Two months later, happy with my experience and motivated to branch out into new writing directions, I enrolled into another course, "Introduction to Screenwriting." Again, I was impressed with the instructors and even landed a screenwriting gig shortly after.

Encouraged by my successful exploration of writing via online classes, I decided to continue my education, and that's when I came across EdX - a site I checked out once before but didn't find the courses I was looking for at the time. This time there were more interesting courses than I could handle! For example, I found

  • English Grammar and Essay Writing (Berkeley)
  • Introduction to Marketing (U of British Columbia)
  • Academic and Business Writing (Berkeley)
  • How to Write a Novel– Part 1: Plan & Outline (U of British Columbia)
  • Italian Language and Culture: Beginner (Wellesley)
  • The Science of Happiness (Berkeley).

I was hooked! After browsing some other e-learning platforms, I found more fascinating courses, like:

  • Writing and Reading Short Stories (MIT)
  • Søren Kierkegaard - Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity (University of Copenhagen)
  • Adventures in Writing ( Stanford University)
  • Tibetan Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World: Lesser Vehicle (University of Virginia)
  • Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects (University of California, San Diego)
  • and many others.

A computer and an internet connection is all you need to be eligible for free courses from Harvard, MIT and other ivy-league institutions.
A computer and an internet connection is all you need to be eligible for free courses from Harvard, MIT and other ivy-league institutions. | Source

Are the Classes Really Free? What's the Catch?

Well, since you've asked...there is a small catch. The classes are absolutely free, but some of them (the more marketable ones) have an option of a verified certificate of completion available for a fee (about $50). Financial assistance is possible if you're unable to pay for the certificate.

You'll still be able to take the course, complete the course and print out progress report for free, but if you're taking the course for school credit or a job application, you might want to get the certificate.

Should You Enroll in a Class?

I don't see why not.

This is an unprecedented, revolutionary development in education.

In many countries, including the United States, the price of higher education is out of reach for most people. And the "lucky ones" who do go to college have a massive debt to pay off for the rest of their lives.

In light of how anti-democratic our educational systems are, these free e-learning opportunities are a godsend. And with the variety of courses available, you're guaranteed to find something you like.

© 2016 Lana ZK


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    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 21 months ago from California

      Thank you Cynthia! I totally agree, so many classes, so little time...When I first saw the abundance of these free learning opportunities, I was so overwhelmed. I also think that paradoxically, when you pay for online classes (which I have done in the past), you're more likely to stick with them to make sure you didn't just waste your money. When it's free, it's a little different psychologically. You really have to have the interest, the intent and the time to dedicate to it. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 21 months ago from Georgia

      This list of institutions that offer free classes is great. That is what is so wonderful about the Internet - learning can continue for a lifetime and, as you have shown us, without breaking into your piggy bank. The good thing is that there is so much to learn. The bad thing? There is so little time! At least your list saves a lot of research to find the free courses. Now, if you only could provide the free time. :-) Take care.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting analysis of developments.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      I'm glad you've found it useful, Alicia! Hope you'll decide to sign up for something :)

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a useful and inspirational hub! Thank you for sharing the links and the rest of the information. The sites and courses that you describe sound very interesting.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      Bill, I'm amazed how much *free* education is available now for those willing to step outside the traditional education model. I think this is a huge step in the right direction. Thanks for stopping by! And I'm sure you can find a class that tickles your fancy :)

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Lana, this has been going on in the workplace for years now so it only makes sense that it is happening with education. The world is changing. I have always thought about taking some classes just for fun and personal interest and I think this would be a great way to explore that. Thanks for the education.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      Thank you, Abdullah, I'm glad you've found this helpful.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana ZK 2 years ago from California

      Veeeeeeeery slowly, agreed, but there is hope!

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 2 years ago

      Excellent information Lana Zakinov, thanks a lot for sharing. Congratulations for getting benefited from MOOCs. Since the informations provided here are with your personal experience, surely they are going to be helpful.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I was a teacher for eighteen years and I can say without hesitation that a revolution in education was I applaud anything like this. Change is slow to happen but it does happen, and it is happening in education.....very slowly. :)