Free College Classes Online and How to Find Them

Student taking online classes

Most people know the value of a college degree. Studies have traditionally shown that college-educated people tend to earn more money over the entire arc of their career. However, a college education can be prohibitively expensive. Does this mean that college is an unattainable dream for people who can't afford it? With the advent of free college classes and programs on the Web, absolutely not. In this article, we're going to take a look at free sources for taking all sorts of great college classes on the Web, anything from computer statistics to Web development and much, much more.

Note: While many colleges and universities offer a wide variety of free courses online in the form of podcasts, lectures, tutorials and online classes, most of these courses are not accredited or part of an actual, accredited degree. However, that does not mean they are not valuable or will not add value to your overall education and/or resume. Homeschool programs will also find these resources helpful.

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free college courses

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was one of the first in the realm of venerated institutions to offer free courses online to anyone who wants to take them. These are all real courses that have been offered at MIT, and there are over 2100 different classes from which to choose from. Classes are available on anything from Architecture to Science and include free lecture notes, exams, and videos from MIT. No registration is required.  More »

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edX is a collaboration between MIT and Harvard that offers classes from MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley online for free. In addition to a whole host of classes offered to students all over the world, edX also tracks how students learn online, keeping on top of research that could impact further class offering. This particular institution does award "certificates of mastery" to students who complete certain courses on a higher level; these certificates are free at the time of this writing, but plans are in place to charge for them in the future. More »

khan academy

Khan Academy is a collection of videos on subjects ranging from computer science to test preparation. More than 3400 videos for K-12 and up students are available. In addition to this vast library of videos, free assessments and exams are available so students can make sure they are retaining what they are learning about. Everything here is self-paced, meaning you can go as fast or as slow as you need to, with customized badges and a proprietary points system to show off your progress. Parents and teachers can also participate since Khan Academy offers the ability to see what their students are doing via real-time report cards. This website has grown into one of the most popular learning destinations on the Web and is well worth a visit for anyone who is looking to learn something new. More »

Johns hopkins

Johns Hopkins, one of the world's premier medical learning institutions, offers a wide variety of public health courses and materials. Students can look up classes by course offering title, topics, collections, or images. There are several different ways that courses are presented: with audio, with case studies, core courses for the Hopkins Master of Public Health, and several more. For anyone looking to advance their healthcare career without sacrificing quality, this is the first place to look. More »

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Coursera is an online collaboration between several of the top-tiered universities in the world, with offerings from a wide variety of programs, anything from Humanities to Biology to Computer Science. Online courses include classes from Duke University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Edinburgh, and Vanderbilt. For those of you interested in computer science or technology-related offerings, there are classes offered in Computer Science (Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Vision), Computer Science (Systems, Security, and Networking), Information Technology and Design, Programming and Software Engineering, and Computer Science Theory. Classes include online lectures, multimedia, free textbooks, and links to other free resources, like online code testers. Registration is free, and you will earn a signed certificate for each class you complete (must complete all assignments and other coursework). More »

code academy

 CodeAcademy aims to make learning how to code fun, and they do this by making all of their courses game-based in nature. The site offers “tracks”, which are series of courses grouped around a particular topic or language. Course offerings include JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Python, Ruby, and JQuery. Registration is free, and once you get going in a class, you start to earn points and badges as a way to keep you motivated. No certificate or credits are offered here, however, the interactive classes make complicated concepts seem not as intimidating. CodeAcademy also runs CodeYear, a year-long collaborative effort to get as many people learning how to code (one lesson per week) as possible. More than 400,000 people have signed up at the time of this writing. More »

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Udemy differs a little bit from other sites on this list in two ways: first, not all of the classes are free, and second, classes are taught not only by professors but also by people who have excelled in their particular fields, like Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) or Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo). There are plenty of “learn to code” classes here, but there are also course offerings here like “Product Development Process” (from Marissa Mayer), “Product Development at Facebook” (from Mark Zuckerberg), or iPhone App Design (from the founder of App Design Vault). More »

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If you’ve ever wanted to do something like create a search engine in seven weeks (for example), and you’d like to learn directly from one of the co-founders of Google, Sergey Brin, then Udacity is for you. Udacity offers a limited selection of courses, all computer science related, with instruction from distinctive leaders in their fields. Classes are organized into three separate tracks: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. All classes are taught in a video format with quizzes and homework assignments, and final grades/certificates are awarded to students who finish the coursework successfully. One really intriguing thing about Udacity: they actually help their students find employment with over twenty technology-related companies, based on referrals from their Udacity credentials. Students can opt into Udacity’s job program when they sign up for classes (free), where they can choose to share their resume with the Udacity team and potential employers. More »

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Peer to Peer University (P2PU) is a collaborative experience where you’re meant to learn in community with others. Registration and courses are totally free. There are several “schools” within the P2PU organizational framework, including one for Web-based programming backed by Mozilla, creator of the Firefox web browser. As you complete courses, you can display badges on your website or social profiles. Courses include WebMaking 101 and Programming with the Twitter API; no developer certifications are offered here, but the courses are well executed and worth taking a look. More »

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Stanford University – yes, THAT Stanford – offers an ongoing selection of free courses on many topics. If you’re looking for a basic introduction to Computer Science, you’ll want to check out SEE (Stanford Engineering Everywhere), which is ostensibly for students interested in engineering, but there are quite a few technology-related class offerings here as well. In addition, there’s Stanford’s Class2Go, an open platform for online research and learning. There’s a limited course offering here at the time of this writing, but more classes are planned in the future. Courses include videos, problem sets, knowledge assessments, and other learning tools. More »

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There is an astonishing amount of free learning material available through iTunes, from podcasts to interactive classes to educational apps. Dozens of reputable universities have created a presence on iTunes, including Stanford, Berkeley, Yale, Oxford, and Harvard. You’ll have to have iTunes in order to use this program; once you’re in iTunes, navigate to iTunes U (near the top of the page), and you can start to check out the course offerings. Classes are delivered directly to you on whatever device you’re using to access iTunes and are available in a variety of formats: videos, lectures, PDF files, slideshows, even books. No credits or certifications are available; however, the sheer amount of learning opportunities here from world-class institutions (more than 250,000 classes at the time of this writing!) more than makes up for that.  More »

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YouTube offers a hub of educational content with offerings from organizations such as NASA, the BBC, TED, and many more. If you’re a visually oriented person who learns by watching someone else do something, then this is the place for you. These are meant to be standalone informational offerings rather than part of a cohesive course; however, if you would like to dip your toes in a subject and want to get a quick video introduction from leaders in the field, this is a good solution. More »

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While all of the resources listed here are fantastic in their own right, there are still many more too numerous to list, for whatever you might possibly be interested in learning. Here are a few Google queries you can use to narrow down what you’re looking for:

"learn (insert what you want to learn about here)”

Believe it or not, this is an incredibly powerful search string and will bring up a solid first page of results.

inurl:edu "what you want to learn"

This tells Google to search within the URL keeping the search parameters to only .edu sites, looking for what you're trying to learn. More »