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The Best Websites to Take College Courses Online for Free

Updated on November 18, 2013
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Get A High Quality Education Online For Free

A quiet revolution is taking place in the sphere of education. More and more of the world's top educational institutions are making their course materials available for anybody across the world to access for free. Meanwhile a new breed of start up companies are offering college level courses in a wide range of courses for nothing - or charging just a couple of hundred dollars or less for graded courses which give you transferable U.S. college credits.

All of this means that you can now get a high quality education in any subject which interests you for either nothing or next to nothing.

Self-directed study - meaning studying at home based on your own initiative rather than in a traditional college setting - is very rewarding. It also looks great on your CV, and there are various websites out there which can help you to organize your learning and share it with prospective employers. Degreed.com, for example, verifies your certificates from a wide range of formal (college credit bearing) and informal sources, and displays them alongside your traditionally gained qualifications.

5 stars for Udacity's CS101 Course

Udacity

Udacity.com specializes in computer science and programming courses, but also offers a range of other science and mathematics related subjects.

All of the courses at Udacity can be taken for free, and many courses also offer college credits if you are willing to pay $150. One of the great things about Udacity is that you can take the course for free first, and then if you decide you need the qualification at a later date you can pay the money and take get the grading then without having to do the whole course again. There are no schedules or timetables - you can start any time you want and study at your own pace.

If you are looking to retrain for a new career, then this is arguably the best of the free education resources. There are two reasons for this. Firstly Udacity will help you find work by sharing your c.v. with prospective employers. Secondly many of the courses, especially the newer ones announced this autumn, are highly focussed on making you employable rather than just academically educated. For example, 'Intro to Salesforce App Development' is a highly specific but still high quality course which would equip you well for finding a job. The course has also been created with the cooperation of Salesforce themselves, so I think its fair to say that any company wanting to hire a Salesforce app developer would value this qualification above anything you would get in a traditional academic setting.

Have You Ever Taken A Free Online Course?

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Coursera

Coursera.com has the widest range of free online college courses, and has partnered with some of the best universities in America. You will find some really interesting courses in most subject areas, from science to the arts, law to engineering, medicine to economics. One of the great thing about Coursera is that new courses are regularly added to the site. The courses are developed by US universities, and are exactly the same as courses offered to students attending those universities in the traditional manner.

In addition to covering a wide range of subjects, Coursera also has a wide range of different levels. Some courses are aimed at beginners, whilst others are upper college level or beyond and go into real depth on niche topics.

You can choose to either study for free, or pay a small amount to study for college credit.

Unlike Udacity, the courses at Coursera have a specified start date and duration, and you would generally have to enrol in advance.

Education Portal

Education Portal is another site which offers free courses, with the option to pay for grading and get U.S. college credits if you pass.

If you are interested in Business Studies then this is by far the best site for you, as they offer a wide range of business related topics. They are also quite good for languages and humanities, although the courses are all more of a basic introduction to the subject in question rather than detailed examinations of specific topics.

Sophia

Sophia is another site which offers college credit. Although their courses are not designed to be taken for free in their entirety, they do offer quite a good free trial.They also offer some subjects not available to study for free elsewhere, such as conflict resolution for example.

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

Although the Open Learning Initiative does not offer college credits, they do have a good range of college level courses available for you to study online for free. They also have excellent learning resources and self-assessment tests throughout for you to gauge your progress.

The Open Learning Initiative currently offers 19 courses, including languages and some interesting stuff you won't find elsewhere such as 'Argument Diagramming' or 'Logic & Proofs'.

Open Courseware

Open courseware is what began the free education revolution. Although this format is now starting to be eclipsed by the more user friendly and college credit bearing websites listed above, those sites still cannot compete with the sheer range of subjects available to study through open courseware.

The idea behind the open courseware movement is for universities to document their courses online and make this documentation available for free. This often comes in the form of lecture notes / transcripts, tests, projects and essay topics, along with collections of suggested reading for you to go through in your own time. Sometimes you will also find videos, but most of the time the content seems to be provided in text form, often as a collection of pdf ebooks.

Using this method you can study courses at the world's top universities. MIT, for example, has one of the most famous open courseware projects - http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm. You can also find some excellent stuff at the Open University's 'Open Learn' centre.

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    • electronician profile imageAUTHOR

      Dean Walsh 

      4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks, you are right that Udacity focusses on high tech subjects - it is very good for those but it doesn't have the broad range of something like Coursera.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      This is a great compilation of websites that offer courses for free. I've tried Coursera, Mooc and Udacity. The latter was a bit too techie for me, but then that was always my weak point. Thank you for this very useful hub.

    • gajanis786 profile image

      gajanis786 

      4 years ago

      Good knowledgeable article.....useful. Thanks.

    • electronician profile imageAUTHOR

      Dean Walsh 

      4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks leni!

    • leni sands profile image

      Leni Sands 

      4 years ago from UK

      Useful and interesting information voted up

    • electronician profile imageAUTHOR

      Dean Walsh 

      4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks for the kind comment MysticMoonlight, and thanks for sharing!

    • electronician profile imageAUTHOR

      Dean Walsh 

      4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      That's a great idea ologsinquito, thanks!

    • profile image

      MysticMoonlight 

      4 years ago

      This is just wonderful. Thank you so much! Voted and sharing!

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 

      4 years ago from USA

      This is good for people to know. High school students can also try one of these courses to see what college is like, before they enroll.

    • electronician profile imageAUTHOR

      Dean Walsh 

      4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you so much KoraleeP, I really appreciate it!

    • electronician profile imageAUTHOR

      Dean Walsh 

      4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you! I'm glad you thought it was useful.

    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 

      4 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      I love the chance to learn for free :D, and other Hubbers will too. Thanks for sharing these websites. Voted up, shared and Tweeted.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      This is very useful information for anyone looking to broaden their educational foundations. Voted up and more, plus sharing and pinning.

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