Find Free Online Courses

by blackspanielgallery

Find free online courses. Some even use free textbooks. And some are from quality universities. So, what do you need to know to find free online courses worth taking?

How can I find free online courses? Well, the real question should be how can I find a free quality course class? And, does free always completely mean free?

It is possible to find quality courses online that are free, or have nominal expenses associated with them. Care is needed when making the choice. While you do not make a monetary commitment for a truly free online course, they do take time, time that might be better spent with an online class of greater quality that is also free. So, consider what is there and select what is best for you, without committing more time than you have to work on the course or courses you sign up to take.

Where Are High Quality Free Online Courses?

Can I Find a Free Online Course Easily?

Fortunately, one website has quite a nice collection of courses in myriad subjects that a person interested in improving knowledge might enroll in.  I recommend  It is a collection of many high quality university offerings from universities around the world.  Many of the universities have stellar reputations.  No first class university listed at edX would jeopardize its reputation by sponsoring a free low quality course.


There are many other sources of free courses, but checking each university individually is time consuming.  And, some courses are of poor quality.  I like using edX as a good source for finding courses.


If you must look elsewhere for a course that you cannot find at edX, or for whatever reason you have for searching elsewhere, there is a Kindle book you might use as a resource.


What High Quality Universities Participate at edX?

Are There Excellent Universities Participating?

Check their website.  I counted fifty-one charter members with many others having joined later, including such notable charter member universities as MIT, Harvard, The University of Edinburgh   the Oxford University, and Sarbonne Universites.  I see universities from America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.  It is quite an impressive collection.

Are All Courses at edX Free Courses?

Can I Find Courses That Have a Fee There?

Not all courses at edX are free.  You must look and read the cost.  But, many are free courses.  Most of the free courses do not carry college credit.  It is not uncommon for a university to offer non-credit courses, which are often shorter courses intended to be taken by interested parties.  The students in such courses generally have a desire to learn the material being offered.


Free college credit courses do exist, and even free college degrees.  The problem is that, unless you have a grant or a scholarship, high quality universities will not offer you enough free courses to obtain a degree.


Some courses have a free option, which requires less attention be given to grading.  I have seen courses that offer a certificate if one pays for the course, or a free course otherwise.  If the university does not have to maintain transcript information on you there is less work by the university’s staff.  However, you would select prior to starting the course whether or not you want the credentials the course might bring, or just the knowledge.  This might also impact the need for testing, which is a greater impact on the faculty member’s work.


Do Online Courses Have Hidden Charges?

What Is the Real Cost?

There are two things to be considered here.  Is there a cost associated with the textbook or other course materials?  Is there a need for proctored testing?


There are free textbooks available.  Whether the author writes a textbook for a service that makes them free for a fee in lieu of royalties, or writes the book as a fulfillment of a need to publish before applying for tenure, some free textbooks are available.  The question is, Does the course use a free textbook?  That is up to the designer of the course.  Another question is, Are free textbooks high quality?  Many are not.  I taught for a university that offered free courses, and insisted on free textbooks.  Students complained about the lack of quality, and many went to the free tutorials of Khan Academy.  Others bought a textbook to help them understand the material.  But, some free textbooks are written with care and quality.


I am positively impressed by the free textbooks from OpenStax.   This is a free textbook source from Rice University, and I am convinced the university is committed to quality.    I use one in an online course I teach as a community college, and it is working out with no complaints.  I also looked another over in detail and feel it is worth using. 


One reason some institutions are serving the academic community by maintaining free open source textbooks is that students struggle with the high cost of a textbook, and the need to purchase a new book exists when another now frequent new edition comes out.  In the past used textbooks helped students.  Now new editions might be as frequent as every two or three years.


Proctored tests are needed for academic integrity.  One big complaint companies have is that people are getting college degrees and know very little.  Online courses are difficult as far as policing cheating.  One option is ProctorU, and many online credit courses are requiring the service.  This requires the student pay a fee for every test, and that fee varies according to how long in advance the student makes arrangements.  Earlier scheduling means less expense.  A camera connected to the computer is required, and the entire room must be shown to the proctor before starting a test.  The proctor then monitors the test remotely via the camera and listens for audible cheating.


These are costs potentially associated with an online class, and not with registration at a university.  If you have no current registration at the university offering the online class you hope to intend, there may be a fee that is not course specific.


How Can Universities Offer Free Courses?

Universities are committed to education.  One duty of a typical professor is to publish, adding to the professor’s field of expertise.  The publications are the culmination of research, supported by the university.


One way to publish is to publish a textbook, and sometimes the textbook in a subject with a small audience. 


Universities fund research through various sources, and grants are a major source of money.  Often a condition of the grant is that the results be disseminated, or that a practical outlet for the information be utilized to reach a number of people.  In a sense, that entity that provides the grant like the National science Foundation or the National endowment for the Arts  may be funding the course, which is the professor’s and the university’s way of disseminating the results of research.


Your concern is not why the course is being offered free, just take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a free learning opportunity.


Can I Take an Online Course and Start Today?

Are Online Classes Available Right Up to the Start Date?

In some cases, you can.  But, some are run on a schedule.  Some are part of a sequence, and must be taken in order.  Some have prerequisites.  Most important is that some might be one time offerings.


A course needed for a professor to test material for a longer credit course being developed, or a course needed in fulfillment of a grant, might be offered once or twice, then never repeated.  If one such course is of interest, register quickly once you find it.


However, do always allow enough lead time to obtain all material needed for the course.  This may be links to materials and a textbook, which can be fast, or it might involve physically obtaining course material, which may take time.


Have a Computer

Know the Platform Used

A computer is necessary, at least access to one.  You can find public computers, such as at a library, but public computers will not necessarily be available at the time you want to access your course.


Several similar platforms are available, and you must use the one the university uses.  You can become familiar with the platform as you work in the course.  The ones you might need are Blackboard, Moodle, or Canvas.  All are easily mastered once you get started.  Do not let lack of familiarity with the platform dissuade you.

Online Platforms Used

Moodle For Dummies

The fun and friendly guide to the world's most popular online learning management system Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment, also known as Moodle, is an online...

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Blackboard For Dummies

Use the quick-start guide to create your course in a flash Post course materials, give quizzes, facilitate discussions, and handle grades You're an educator, not a psychic, so h...

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Updated: 08/03/2017, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 07/06/2017

I do no know. I was interested in finding a course in robotics, and my search led me to edX. I wrote from what I found during that experience, and from reading some of the offerings. But, usually noncredit courses are taken for a specific interest, so I would be surprised if many people enroll in multiple topics. Perhaps related courses bring people back.

DerdriuMarriner on 07/06/2017

blackspanielgallery, The courses through edX impress me, as do Caltech's MOOCs. Are there any statistics as to what free online courses do best in terms of enrolling and sustaining the momentum of taking more?

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