Get educated for free from anywhere with MOOCs!

Recently, a Japanese acquaintance expressed surprise when I told her you could basically get a university education online for free. Of course, without paying you’d miss out on getting the piece of paper certifying your accomplishments, and you’d definitely miss out on networking opportunities and the irreplaceable aspect of face-to-face communication. Plus, you would unlikely get a great deal of personal feedback on any research papers you write. But the fact that technology has expanded access to knowledge is nothing short of amazing, and I thought I’d create this post to share some top resources I know of, so you learners out there know your options.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.  Although free online courses on the Internet have been available for many years, the quality and quantity of available courses has improved drastically, and will probably continue to change for the better. Free access to courses covering a wide range of subjects has altered education especially for the less privileged.

Some say MOOCs are just a trend and that universities do not need to offer them (see Joshua Kims article, Why Every University Does Not Need a MOOC), but others say that universities may now feel compelled to offer free information and materials in order to stand out.

Seeing as study is completely voluntary, MOOCs are definitely more useful to students who are highly motivated and have a lot of self-discipline. There are unsurprisingly issues with course completion via MOOCs. For those who desire a free education and have the motivation, below are some popular MOOC sites for you to explore. Note that most of the sites also include courses you have to pay for, and I tried to focus on academic content in the list.

A Few MOOC Networks 

  • Coursera – “Take the worlds best courses, online, for free.” Coursera is a big network of MOOCs, and has partnered with multiple institutions to provide an extensive compilation of university courses. I’ve also taken a course with them, though my completion rate has not been outstanding. With Coursera there is often homework, and basically accountability is ensured through peer review of work completion. Coursera is probably the best choice for learners who want access to the most MOOCs and the widest variety of learning paths.
  • EdX – With 36 charter partner institutions and many more schools, non-profits, corporations and international organizations from all over the world offering hundreds of courses, this network is a great choice. Like most academic MOOCs, there are set start and finish dates. EdX is likely best for those who want free courses on the widest variety of topics.
  • Future Learn – Lots of free online courses from top universities and specialist organizations. I took rewarding philosophy and instructional design courses here.
  • Canvas – This is actually an aggregator of MOOC platforms; it provides a search engine that redirects to other platforms. Canvas allows access to open, online courses from universities worldwide. I find there is a lot of free content on this site, and much of it focuses on teacher development. I took and interesting course on designing mobile learning objects via this aggregator. I don’t recall where it was hosted, and I didn’t find that the features worked as well as other platforms, but I did enjoy the course content, which was highly practical for me.
  • Udacity – Udacity is probably best suited for people who want technical training without having to go to college.
  • Udemy – Udemy allows anyone to build or take online courses.  Udemy’s site exclaims, “Our goal is to disrupt and democratize education by enabling anyone to learn from the world’s experts.”  While the course offered were originally not of academic calibre, Udemy now has a Faculty Project, in which award-winning professors from universities like Dartmouth, the University of Virginia and Northwestern offer free online courses. I have taken several course with Udemy, though I admit the ones I signed up for were paid courses of a non-academic nature, and these courses were not very demanding in terms of course work I was simply paying for access to the info.
  • ITunesU Free Courses – Apple’s free app “gives students access to all the materials for courses in a single place. Right in the app, they can play video or audio lectures. Read books and view presentations.”
  • Stanford Free Courses – SEE programming includes one of Stanford’s most popular sequences: the three-course Introduction to Computer Science taken by the majority of Stanford’s undergraduates and seven more advanced courses in artificial intelligence and electrical engineering. Stanford’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence was notably successful.
  • UC Berkeley Free Courses – Berkeley offers a wide range of course in biology, physics, engineering, computer science, culture, and much more.
  • MIT Free Courses – Check out MIT’s RSS MOOC feed and MIT’s Open Courseware.
  • Duke Free Courses – Duke Universitys variety of courses are offered on ITunesU.
  • Harvard Free Courses – Yes, you can get a free Harvard education from computer science to Shakespeare to political science to environmental economics. “Take a class for professional development, enrichment, and degree credit. Courses run in the fall, spring, or intensive January session. No application is required.”
  • UCLA Free Courses – Notable is their writing program, which offers over 220 online writing courses each year.
  • Yale Free Courses – At Open Yale, the school offers “free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn.”
  • Carnegie Mellon Free Courses – Carnegie Mellons catch phrase:  “No instructors, no credits, no charge.”

And more, such as…

For a more extensive list, check out the MOOC List, an up-to-date directory or aggregator of available MOOCs. On the sidebar of the site there is a list of providers if you want to explore individual MOOC initiatives.

So, have you ever taken a MOOC? What was your experience?


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