Free Online Education: The 34 Best Sites Anyone Can Use

Posted 13 Apr 2021, by

Brendan Brown

Guess what? You can learn anything you want and not pay a cent for it.

Really?

Ok, maybe you can’t learn everything, but you can learn so much!

Today, there are dozens of free online learning platforms that can help you learn a second language, hard skills like coding, or even fun hobbies like knitting —  all without spending a dime.

Want to get started? Want to learn how to get learnin’ without spending a dollar?

Check out our list of 34 sites for 100% free online education.

1) Duolingo

KEEP THE OWL HAPPY!

Ah, I absolutely love Duolingo. Duolingo is a free language-learning platform that relies on gamified lessons to help you boost your language comprehension.

How many languages can you learn? 37!

Including several fantasy languages like High Valyrian and Klingon. It’s also a great way to learn endangered or non-living languages like Latin.

Certain languages, like Spanish and French, have a lot more lessons available and can get you pretty far toward proficiency.

Other classes, like Latin, have a more basic course available. But, it’s all free, and for free, it’s pretty amazing.

They’re rolling out new content all the time, so there are always new lessons to learn.

If you really like Duolingo, they have a subscription model called DuoLingo Plus, which allows you to take unlimited lessons each day without ads or interruptions. It’s $12.99 a month.

2) Coursera

Coursera is a robust online learning platform with thousands of classes, certificates, and degrees you can take.

Check out our review of Coursera here!

Now, Coursera has projects, courses, specializations, certificates, and degree programs — meaning that you can access a ton of material from the comfort of your computer. Plus, all of their classes are through partner institutions, such as Harvard or Duke, or Yale.

Now, heads up: Coursera’s courses are free but you’ll have to pay if you want a certificate. It’s about 50 bucks per certificate. Specializations, degrees, and certificates also cost money.

If you find yourself really enjoying Coursera, you should check out Coursera Plus, which is a subscription service giving you unlimited access to courses with certificates.

As a note: some courses will give you college credits, while others will only give you a certificate. Definitely read the fine print whenever you take on another class from Coursera!

3) Udemy

 

Udemy is a massive learning platform, with over 100,000 video courses you can take to teach you skills like coding, accounting, IT, web design, and a whole slate of other skills.

Check out my full Udemy review.

Most of the courses are more hard-skill-focused (like coding), but they have plenty of courses in things like photography as well. You’ll have to poke around for yourself to decide which direction you’ll take it.

Udemy has free courses and paid courses.

The paid courses are the vast majority of the video courses available but don’t let that put you off. Udemy’s free courses are for some of the most in-demand skills you can find (like coding, Microsoft Suite, WordPress), meaning that you can take free courses right now to help you boost your career.

All classes are video-based, meaning that you can sign up, click play, and get to learning right away.

4) EdX

EdX is a favorite platform of mine.

EdX partners with some of the top colleges in the US and around the world (think Wellesley, MIT) to bring you college courses on a huge variety of topics.

I’ve taken incredible Italian Courses through Wellesley (these can blow past the content that Duolingo offers) and I’ve also seen other amazing courses on history, religion, and many other topics.

What differentiates EdX from places like Coursera is that EdX seems to be focused more on Liberal Arts than hard sciences. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is a general observation.

Like Coursera, the courses are completely free to audit but do cost about $50 to get a certificate upon completion. The certificate testifies that you completed the coursework, passed the quizzes, and finished your final exam.

For $50, it’s a real bargain!

5) Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a completely free (and they are proud of that) online platform that is centered around helping learners of all ages — but particularly school-aged learners (more on that later).

Khan Academy groups its lessons into courses. These courses start at the 1st grade level for Math and Reading, and then work their way up through AP courses, and then even LSAT prep.

I decided to poke into the Art History course, just to get a feel for what a course was like.

Once you click on Art History, you’ll see 11 units from prehistoric art to present day trends. I clicked in on Ancient Mediterranean, and was treated to additional subunits — so I checked out Ancient Near East, which had 11 lessons along with a mastery quiz.

Each of those lessons had multiple videos (around 7 minutes each), quizzes, and other materials. So, you’re looking at an incredible amount of material that would, theoretically, supplement an entire year’s worth of schoolwork.

And that’s the best way to think of Khan Academy, as a supplemental tool to your existing school lessons that helps you fully internalize the material.

6) iTunesU Free Courses

ItunesU is a library of free audio courses from top-name universities around the country. Part Podcast, part lecture, 100% learning; iTunesU allows you to take in the best lectures without having to break the bank.

There are a few drawbacks to iTunesU, namely that there is no way to get a certificate for completion, nor are there any ways to get course credits. Additionally, the rumor has it that iTunesU is shutting down at the end of 2021, so this program may not be long for the world.

Still, it offers college lectures free of charge, so check it out while you still can!

7) MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT has been at the forefront of providing accessible higher education.

What is MIT OpenCourseWare?

It’s best summed up in their About Us quote:

“The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.”

In short, MIT OCW is a catalogue of all of the course content for every MIT Course. They currently have over 2500 courses with 500 million visitors.

The drawback, of course, is that these aren’t accredited, and you can’t get a degree out of it. But, you can learn everything that any MIT graduate has learned.

It’s not just entry-level courses — it’s classes on “Advanced Fluid Dynamics” or “Wave Propagation.” Additionally, there is a repository of online textbooks, allowing you to get all the supplemental materials you’ll need to complete the course.

You can find lecture notes, recitations, problem sets, even past Final Exams, all in the goal of helping you internalize as much information as possible.

It’s all self-guided and it’s daunting to have it all presented in front of you without a teacher to walk you along but it’s an impressive platform that you should check out.

8) Stanford Online

Heads up! A lot of Stanford Online free courses are now available through EdX and Coursera!

But Stanford Online, a Stanford University platform, offers a wide range of free and for-a-fee courses that you can use to advance your education and career.

For their free courses, Stanford offers classes in Health & Medicine, Education, Arts & Humanities, and Engineering.

Once you click on your category, you can filter by Free vs. Paid, as well as by if the course counts for credit, certificate, or a professional program. Each class will let you know where you can take the course (at Stanford Online, EdX, or Coursera).

Fair warning, many of the classes are not open for enrollment always, so it pays to pay attention to the enrollment dates. Stanford Online, in this regard, appears to be a bit closer to a real college in that classes keep schedules.

9) Codecademy

Here’s Codeacademy’s pitch: “Learn to Code…for free.”

Sums it up nicely!

Codecademy teaches learners how to code in 12 different languages, including Python, Ruby, Go, Java, Javascript (THEY ARE DIFFERENT), CSS, and many more.

The classes are not video-based but instead have lessons and problems, allowing you to work through each lesson by hand, as opposed to receiving passive instruction.

Like many other platforms, Codecademy has a free version and a paid premium version. The premium version provides you with unlimited courses + lessons, additional project assistance, and certificates upon completing each course.

Codecademy breaks the courses into skill paths and career paths, with the skill paths being shorter and focused around specific skills. Career paths, on the flip side, are broader and teach you more than one skill.

All in all, Codecademy is a great free resource that helps you learn one of today’s highest in-demand skills: coding.

10) Openculture online

Openculture Online functions as a repository for finding free online courses. By this, I mean that it breaks courses into classes, certificates, degrees, and mini-degree categories.

When you click on these categories, it lists all the available courses as links. These links take you to outside sites like EdX or iTunesU, allowing you to take the course on those platforms.

Openculture doesn’t have its own classes; it just provides a handy list of links for thousands of free classes in one convenient location.

Check it out to get a feel for what courses come from which sites. That way, you can start to realize which free sites offer the courses that you need.

11) Ted-Ed

Ted-Ed bills itself as “lessons worth sharing” and I couldn’t agree more with that assessment!

Ted-Ed is a vast repository of video lessons divided into 12 categories (like The Arts or Business & Economics). The video lessons can range from a few minutes to over 45 minutes.

After each video lesson, there are some multiple-choice & open-answer questions that you can complete to better understand the material.

Ted-Ed typically will include some supplemental readings and a discussion board per video as well, helping you further dig into the lesson.

Ted-Ed’s lessons are self-contained and do not group together to create a course like many of the other subjects. But, the videos are engaging and informative and free — and free is what we’re after!

12) YouTube

Don’t sleep on YouTube.

YouTube has billions of free videos which offer you great instruction for absolutely free. I learned how to bake sourdough from multiple YouTube bakers (oh shoot, I need to feed that starter), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Seriously, if you’re looking to learn a skill, you ought to just type in “How to learn X Skill) on YouTube, and then watch a few videos on the subject. It comes in great for things like math, creative skills, history — honestly anything.

And unlike a lot of other platforms on this list, it is legitimately free. It’s not a free trial or free with a premium option. It’s free. Sure YouTube does have music subscriptions and similar concepts, but none of the content (save a few movies) is paywalled.

I can’t recommend just checking out YouTube enough. Seriously. Go do it.

13) Wikipedia

In the same vein as YouTube, you should also keep Wikipedia high on your radar.

Wikipedia is a massive online encyclopedia that has millions of articles of high-quality information right at your fingertips.

Interested in learning more than what Wikipedia has to offer?

Check out the sources cited in any article! They hyperlink out to the original source, allowing you to read more on any topic you like.

What makes Wikipedia special is that it is free. It’s open-sourced, moderated, and completely free for non-enterprise users. It’s a great way to gain knowledge on any subject you’re interested in.

If a subject is too dense for you to figure out, check out the Simple English Wikipedia, which breaks down complex topics into more manageable sentences. I’ve used it for physics concepts many times because my brain gets scrambled easily.

I’ve used it to really dig into the history of the Roman Empire. Crisis of the Third Century? Not a crisis to me anymore!

14) Fun Brain

Fun Brain is another education platform geared for kids.

Parents, pay attention!

Fun Brain has lessons appropriate for Kindergarten all the way through 8th grade. These lessons are divided into “Games,” “Videos,” “Reading,” “Playground,” and “Math Zone,” allowing students multiple different ways to interact with the material.

Clearly, kids will be most drawn to “games” as these help you learn while also being engaging.

The videos provide around 10-minute cartoon and live-action episodes that are equal parts informative and entertaining — think Bill Nye the Science Guy. The readings can be anything from picture books to 200+ page YA novels.

I was impressed by the diversity and depth of the offerings that Fun Brain has for young learners. This feels like a safe and robust platform that parents can feel confident in. I’d definitely check it out

Best of all? It’s free!

15) National Geographic Kids

Famous for being a really fun kids’ magazine, National Geographic Kids has evolved into a fun learning site for young learners. The site itself is free, though you can still subscribe to the magazine for a fee!

The site has categories for games, videos, animals, and explore more.

Games and Videos offer more interactive content, so that young learners can engage with the material and learn it more effectively.

The animals category breaks down into many subcategories but eventually allows you to click on a specific animal and learn about it through videos and text. It’s not terribly deep but it’s a fun tool.

Explore More focuses on a wide range of topics like space, science, and history.

I found that this site is great for learning a bit about a lot of different topics. Once a young learner has found a topic they’re very interested in, they’ll probably need another platform to learn more.

This is good for the initial spark of learning, not necessarily the start to finish.

16) Memrise

Memrise is another free language-learning program (not dissimilar to Duolingo) that uses a very specific form of learning: spaced repetition.

Spaced repetition figures out how frequently to repeat a lesson for you in order to help you nail down the memorization needed to learn a language. Basically, the more recent things you learn, the more frequently you’ll see them.

I decided to open an account to learn Italian and was pleasantly surprised that they offer around 7 different levels to jump in on. Each level contains around two dozen lessons which are supplemented by flashcards, videos, typing, and multiple choice. It’s a pretty dynamic system.

When you click on the entire language (in this case, Italian), it shows you all the levels that Memrise offers AND other free language resources (such as Duolingo).

I appreciate that they included additional resources that you can tackle after you’ve finished their platform.

Will it make me fluent? Je ne sais pas. Wait. That’s French. Merde!

17) LessonPaths

LessonPaths is not exactly the most robust learning platform I’ve ever come across but I figured I’d add it in here because it does have some helpful information.

LessonPaths is basically a giant collection of articles and how-to guides on a bunch of different topics.

Want to know which is the best cough medicine to use? LessonPaths has an article on that.

Want to learn how to protect kids from the dangers of Social Media? LessonPaths has an article on that.

There’s no account needed, no subscription required; the whole thing is completely free. The downside is that the information provided isn’t that unique. Plus, it’s all in article form. It feels a touch clickbaity.

18) BBC Podcasts

The BBC is a true gift to learning.

Part News Company, part entertainment conglomerate, part gem of the UK; it’s always provided quality media since its inception.

In keeping with that reputation, BBC podcasts provide high-quality and engaging podcasts for free. These podcasts are filtered into a variety of categories, such as comedy, documentaries, history, and drama.

While there are plenty of podcasts that are funny or simply entertaining, there are a great deal of informative podcasts that you can access online for free, giving you access to hours of material without paying a dime (or 10p).

19) University of Oxford Podcasts

Oxford. One of the best schools in the world.

Now, they’ve released over 4,000 of their classes to the public through the University of Oxford Podcasts platform.

This is an exceptional way to take in highly-regarded collegiate material without having to pay collegiate prices. In fact, you don’t have to pay anything!

The podcasts are easily accessible and cover a wide range of topics such as psychology, law, archaeology, and many more. Like many other college-backed platforms on this list, it is a great way to deepen your knowledge base without hurting your wallet.

The downside is that none of the courses offer credits or certifications. You’ll have to be satisfied with gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

20) Code.org

Code.org is a nonprofit site that encourages students to learn computer science. In today’s day and age, that is increasingly in demand for high-paying careers.

Code.org brings their education materials into learners’ classrooms, helping them become confident in coding while still in grade school.

As part of their commitment to learning, all of their curricula and materials are free to use and readily available on their website.

As of this writing, they’ve reached over 20 million learners in the United States, helping empower an entire generation of young people to become the tech revolutionaries of the future.

On the platform, there are numerous projects that learners can complete at home, such as “game lab” that encourages students to create their own computer games that they and others can play.

It’s an encouraging and rewarding way to learn, as they can quickly play around with their completed project, seeing it in action.

21) Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

OLI doesn’t have nearly as many courses as some of the other platforms on this list, but it’s still worth talking about.

OLI is divided into two categories — one for instructors + students, and the other for independent learners. Independent Learners are those who are not using OLI while enrolled at a school that uses the platform to teach.

For our cases, that’s us. We’re the independent learners. The Independent Learner courses are free!

You can take from a few dozen different courses in categories like Math, Life Sciences, and Language and Speech.

Again, it’s not the most robust offering, but it’s another great option backed by an esteemed institution. You’ll definitely be better off for having enrolled.

22) Open Yale Courses

Open Yale Courses is a great way to access video lectures and materials for courses that Yale offers, without paying a red cent.

In this way, it’s quite similar to many of the other platforms we’ve mentioned that are helmed by a single university. It’s a simple matter of you deciding which course and which school you want to partner with.

No credits, certifications, or degrees are conferred through Open Yale Courses; this is about the pursuit of knowledge.

If you’re jazzed by learning from some of the top teachers in the country, then you’ll love Open Yale Courses.

If, on the other hand, you’re hoping for a program that will confer an online degree or give you course credits, then you’re better off searching elsewhere.

Still, it’s a great platform that goes a long way to democratizing education.

23) Alison

Alison is a bit different than most of the platforms we’ve talked about so far. While most of the platforms focus on academics, Alison focuses on workplace skills.

Alison offers over 2,000 free online courses in a variety of categories, such as IT, Sales, Marketing, Engineering, and Personal Development.

Alison offers free courses as well as “diploma programs,” which have 8-10 hours of material.

Afterward, you’re given a diploma for completing the courses. These aren’t your traditional BA/BS MA/MS degrees; they’re diplomas conferred by Alison that are akin to certificates.

The Diploma programs and Certificates aren’t all free, however; you’ll have to pay a fee to complete that program.

Additionally, Alison offers a paid premium version, which removes all ads and gives you a discount on the diploma programs. It’s not a bad option if you think you’ll use Alison extensively.

You can always try your hand at a free class or two before pulling the trigger on an upgrade.

24) Academic Earth

Launched in 2009, Academic Earth is another awesome free education platform that you should check out.

What makes Academic Earth different than, say, Khan Academy? Great question.

Academic Earth functions as a collection of free courses from many other education websites, allowing you to easily find free education resources on one page.

Want to see what websites offer free courses? Check out Academic Earth, which lists them and then links out to the appropriate websites.

What’s neat about Academic Earth is that you can also search by course.

When you find the appropriate course you’d like to take, you click on it, and it whisks you away to the appropriate university’s site. This way, you don’t have to know which course is offered by which university ahead of time.

Don’t know if MIT offers what you need? Not a problem.

Find the course by subject, and it’ll take you to the appropriate school.

25) Lifehack Fast Track Class

Lifehack calls itself the University of Life.

Lifehack offers classes to help you learn life skills, such as time management, focus, and procrastination.

The majority of their courses require payment but they have plenty of courses that are free as well. It might be worth your time to poke around and see if any of the courses spark your interest.

26) Harvard Free Online Courses

The title pretty much sums it up: these are free online courses from Harvard University — perhaps the top university in the English-speaking world.

There are 122 free courses (an admittedly small number compared to some of the larger platforms we’ve covered), but the courses are quite robust. Some courses last 1 week, others can last an entire semester.

Plenty of the courses will allow you to purchase a certificate for $50 – $200, but it’s always free to audit the courses.

They’re typically self-paced, though plenty of the classes do have specific start dates, meaning you need to keep an eye on the calendar to make sure you time them right.

Certain classes are offered directly on the Harvard platform, while others actually are hosted on EdX. It’ll tell you on the course page where the course will ultimately end up being hosted. Rest assured, they’re still 100% Harvard courses!

27) Mindvalley Free Masterclasses

Mindvalley is a unique self-help platform that has a wide range of classes from the spiritual to the paranormal to the very practical.

It’s a big platform whose main draw is the Mindvalley Membership — an admittedly not free subscription that is $499 for the year, getting you 30+ monthlong courses.

You can check out our review of Mindvalley here.

In addition to the paid courses, Mindvalley does have a good selection of free masterclasses which change on a weekly basis. YAY FREE!

These masterclasses run about 60-90 minutes each and feature top Mindvalley instructors giving you insightful lessons. These lessons serve as “appetizers” for the main Mindvalley courses, but allow you to check them out without having to shell out $500.

Additionally, there are around 8 evergreen free Masterclasses that Mindvalley offers. These are also taught by the top instructors on Mindvalley, including Vishen Lakhiani — Mindvalley’s founder.

Plus, you can get a 14-day free trial of the Mindvalley Membership. This will allow you to dip your toe into their 30+ courses that they offer to members.

Just remember to cancel that free membership if you’re no longer interested after the 14 days; it’ll auto bill otherwise!

28) Connections Academy

Connections Academy is a “Tuition-Free Online School.”

The online school is geared exclusively for students K-12 and is run by education for-profit Pearson. This is, at its heart, an online charter school.

I cannot speak with much authority on charter schools in the US (it’s a hot button issue), but it’s another option for parents who perhaps aren’t satisfied with the in-person public school offering in their district.

You’ll need to do your own research before you jump on this one, but it does seem promising, and it really is free.

29) LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning is a learning platform where you can learn industry-specific skills through video lectures.

Formerly Lynda.com, LinkedIn Learning offers courses in three categories: business, creative, and technology.

What’s nice about LinkedIn Learning is that it syncs with your LinkedIn profile, so it tells you what courses people in your network are taking, and what courses people in your field are taking.

I had an editing course recommended for me, as my job on LI is “writer.” Funny how that works!

Now, LinkedIn Learning is not free, but you can get a free month, allowing you to access all the classes on their platform. After the month is up, it’s $29.99 per month billed monthly or $19.99 per month billed annually.

LinkedIn Learning is a good platform to use if you’re hoping to boost skills for a specific career — not as an alternative to a college degree. It’s a good program for boosting those career credentials!

30) Udacity

Udacity is an online learning program targeted at teaching people tech and IT skills they need to compete in today’s marketplace.

Candidly, many of their programs focus on helping people who have an outdated skillset realign their skills in today’s tech-heavy marketplace.

Udacity offers over 180 free classes that are predominantly focused on learning skills such as HTML. These courses, again, are free, and are centered around video learning and completing lessons.

Now, Udacity has another, premium program called Nanodegrees. These degrees aren’t free; they cost around $200 – $400 a month. These nanodegrees are in programs like: become a data analyst. These programs can last anywhere from 2 months to 2 years, so they can end up costing a pretty penny, often well over $2000.

A note about Udacity however. Their refund policy for courses is quite short — only 2 days from enrollment.

That means if you enroll in a 2-year, $2000 course and you don’t like it on day 4, that’s tough luck for you. So do your research ahead of time!

31) University of the People

University of the People is an online 100% TUITION free university that offers real degrees at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level.

Wow? Does that mean it’s completely free?

Not quite.

It is absolutely tuition-free, meaning they don’t charge any fees for enrolling, textbooks, or other course materials. That, at most universities, is where the bulk of the expense comes from.

There are fees, however. You need to pay a one-time application fee of $60, followed by an assessment fee per course.

University of the People pegs the entire price of a Bachelor’s Degree at $2,460. And, this is an accredited non-profit institution. This is a real degree.

My degree cost a whole lot more than $2,500. This is a savings of probably 99% for certain four-year institutions.

32) CodeHS

CodeHS is an online learning platform that teaches people how to code. It is particularly targeted toward schools and school learners — and many schools partner with CodeHS to teach their students coding.

However, there are free classes for at-home learners. The free classes are all intro to coding classes, which are admittedly important skills to learn, though the depth is quite limited.

If you want to go deeper into the CodeHS curriculum, you’ll need to pay — which costs $75 a month.

That’s a bit higher than a lot of other platforms we’ve featured (especially for the amount of content you get), so it’s one of the lower platforms on our ranking to reflect these drawbacks.

Still, learning code is a great endeavor, and the free classes cannot be ignored.

33) Aquent Gymnasium

Aquent Gymnasium is another interesting site that focuses on teaching you courses on professional development.

These are for high-demand skills like coding, UX, and a lot more centered around web design.

It’s a more niche platform, but it stands by its commitment to free courses, so it makes our list!

34) Canvas Network

Canvas Network is a platform where educators can host online courses.

Currently, there are over 600 online courses that are completely free to take through Canvas Network. These courses can be as varied as pharmacology to science of cancer to coding courses.

There are tons of courses available! It’s definitely worth diving into, as their open platform allows anyone with an email address to access their deep library of courses.

Thanks, Canvas!

What platform is best?

While we did try and perform a general ranking, it’s difficult to say which is the “Best Site for Free Online Education”.

Certainly, there are some better performers than others. For language education, Duolingo and Memrise take the cake.

For the best range of high-profile college courses, I’m very partial to EdX, as many different top schools like Harvard and Wellesley offer their courses through EdX and you can purchase a certificate for your completed courses.

Openculture Online was nice, in that it exists as a link repository, allowing you to find a ton of free online education options that you can then explore in greater detail.

For kid’s supplemental education, Khan Academy was a standout. I loved that they offered detailed, yearlong courses for kids K-12. This was unique on our list of Free Online Education Platforms, so I definitely would check it out if you have young learners at home.

At the end of the day, I mostly hope I showed you how much education you can get for free!

There are so many amazing platforms that make learning no cost or low cost. So please, go check them out. There are fewer barriers to learning than ever before!

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