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Five Ways to Learn Online For Free

Updated on January 2, 2015

Once you leave high school, your free education ends there. So what if you don't have the funds, but still have the burning desire for knowledge? Or you are a college student looking to brush up on some concepts before starting a class? Or you are an employee who needs to keep 'in the know' with new information? Here are a few sites you can use to learn entirely new things, or even take college level courses, in the comfort of your own home (or bed), for free as long as you have a reliable computer and internet.

1. Coursera

Coursera is probably the most well known site to take college courses online for free. They offer a variety of courses, from humanities to medicine to engineering, and a lot of these courses are those taught at colleges and Universities such as Yale, Harvard, MIT, Georgia Tech, and others. Each class is available for a certain amount of time. You can sign up (even if you're a little late and the class has already started!) and begin going through the videos and quizzes for that particular course. The professor(s) is available for questions via email if you're having difficulty with something in the course. Even if you're too late to sign up for a course, you can wait a few weeks and check back; they usually rotate a few courses, and that particular course may very well come back in the near future.

When you complete a course and pass it, you get a certificate. It doesn't count as college credit, and it won't count towards any sort of degree, but if you're applying for a job that might need up-to-date knowledge of that field, it might be handy to mention it on your resume. However, if you pay a little bit of money, you can get a verified certificate, which has a bit more credence. These are not required, and if you're just learning for the sake of learning, then you shouldn't need to worry about those.

2. Duolingo

Duolingo is, in my opinion, the ultimate foreign language website/app out there right now. You can read my in-depth review of Duolingo and its perks, but here are the essentials:

When I first began Duolingo, you (as an English speaker) could only choose from Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. Now, you can take all of those plus Irish, Dutch, Danish and Swedish, with languages like Russian, Esperanto, and Turkish coming soon.

Generally, you learn the language by translating small words and sentences that gradually become more complex as you learn more vocabulary and grammar skills. As you complete lessons, you can receive Lingots, which are a currency in the site/app with which you can buy things like lessons on how to flirt in that language, or cool outfits for your Duolingo mascot. Each lesson is grouped into like things, and if you are already familiar with a language, but just need to brush up on it, you can test out of lessons or even entire groups of lessons, allowing you to get to the lessons you need quicker, or providing some good practice.

The website has a 'translation' page, which is why Duolingo is free. There, you can translate individual sentences as practice, or judge someone else's translation. Together, you and the other members of Duolingo translate entire pages of websites. Duolingo gets paid and keeps the language lessons free, and you get real world experience with that language.

The only feature Duolingo really lacks is a penpal feature, where you can talk to those who speak that foreign language as a native tongue. However, it's a great site to at least get started on learning a new language.

Watch this intro video to Duolingo

3. Codecademy

Programming is a crucial skill in today's world, where so much focus is on computers. Codecademy offers completely free lessons in computer programming.

So far, they offer several courses: HTML/CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, PHP, Ruby, and Python. These are all great computer languages to learn, and can really increase your value as a worker. If you get good enough at coding, you might even be able to design your own website!

Each course has individual lessons that have mini assignments to do before you can move on. You learn, then apply. At the end of the subcourse, you will often get a quiz in which you must incorporate all that you have learned into creating something.

This site is great for the beginner/amateur programmer who wants to learn a little more.

4. Khan Academy

Similar to Coursera, Khan Academy offers free courses online. The main difference is that, unlike Coursera, KA offers courses on high school level classes, including test prep for the SAT. Each course is a series of videos that you can watch in your own leisure. Unfortunately, it does not have the same support from professors and other students taking the course readily available to you, and it does not offer quizzes or tests to mark your progress in the course. This site is definitely more suited towards those who wish to independently learn, or something to supplement what they are currently learning.

5. Various Videos and Podcasts

This goes without saying, but a surprising amount of information can be located on Youtube and Apple's podcasts. Several colleges offer podcasts of lessons in particular courses, and there are a few YouTube channels, such as CrashCourse, that can give you the basics of a certain subject.

These particular methods are less structured than, say, Coursera or Duolingo, but they do allow you to learn a bunch in a short amount of time. While these are better to do for learning for learning's sake, they still offer a bunch of what a college course might offer, but for free.

Do you use any of these sites? If so, which?

See results

Of course, the list of education tools does not stop there. If you look hard enough, you can find almost everything you could ever want to know on some website online. These various places just have more concentrated areas, in which you might learn the entirety of a college course or the like. But researching online in a number of places will likely give you similar results as well. Keep learning!


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