In Praise of Free Online Study

by Telesto

The web is a wonderful source of information, and now, even if you have no money at all, you can study online for short courses that will maybe give you a qualification.

Who’d have thought it? Online learning! How far we’ve come in the past 30 odd years! Computers have opened up a whole new way to study and learn, for fun or for a qualification. You can do it all without leaving the comfort of your armchair. Maybe. That depends on what you want to study. There are opportunities to study a lot of courses online, and many of them are free. It can be a good way to get back into study if you’ve been out of it for a while, to get you back into the swing of it.



A few months ago, quite by chance, I came across a website offering free online study.  I confess I am usually a bit cynical about things offered “free” on the internet, in my experience they are rarely free.  This time, I was wrong, although the caveat I will put on this is that I haven’t personally tried every online course that is advertised as “free.” 

I’ll be honest; I’m a huge fan of learning, in all its forms.   What I mean by that is, I don’t think any learning is ever wasted, and my belief is that a day without learning something is a wasted day.  It is true that I am a bit of an academic, but I find that I use all of the things I’ve learned.  Not all of them all of the time, but everything gets a look in some of the time.  I also think that no-one is too old to learn.  Learning and knowledge are important and powerful, whether or not there’s a qualification at the end. 

Pencil and Keyboard
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I first found free courses through the Reed Employment website.  It has an area that takes you to a number of courses, many of which will help you to improve your job prospects (if that’s what you want/need to do).  I found more later on. 

For the sake of my art – writing – and my thirst for knowledge, I tried a couple of online courses, to see what they were like.  (And you never know when these things will come in useful!)

The first was one I found through the Reed website – I did the Equality and Diversity Level 2 course.  (That’s level 2 NCFE, which is the Northern Council for Further Education.)  The course was provided by a company called Vision2Learn.  You have to complete a “hard copy” application form, to prove that you are eligible to obtain a free course, but it’s no great shakes to fill out the form. 

The course was a three month course, with clear and easy instructions.  I found it a bit difficult to gauge the right level for the first assignment, but I got into my groove after that.  There was online tutor support and my tutor, Judith, was lovely.  So, I was pretty happy with that one. 

Could I have done it without ever leaving my house?  Not really, the nature of the course was one that required some human interaction.  I suppose that’s implied in the title of the course, but the same would apply for customer services (another one of the courses).

The next one that I did was with a company called Future Learn, which actually provides access to short, free, Open University Courses.  There is no formal qualification at the end, although you can request a “Certificate of Completion” for which you have to pay. 

I’ve studied with the OU before and was suitably impressed.  The range of courses with Future Learn is amazing, ranging from things like, “England in the time of King Richard III” to “Getting a Grip on Mathematical Symbolism.”  I liked the course I did so much; I’m starting another one next week!

The course I did, Fiction Writing, really did require the student to have had some human interaction at some time in their life, but I suppose you could do it all without leaving your house, and I suspect that would be the case with some, if not all of the courses.

Computer Keyboard with Word Help Highlighted
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Another useful website for some free learning is – wait for it – the BBC!  It runs a few free online language courses.  I’m already learning Italian, so, of course, I’ve signed up for the Italian course.  I’ll report back in due course.  Too soon to say whether I can do it all from home, but I’m guessing that will be the case. 

Which leads me neatly onto an app I’ve downloaded onto my tablet and Smartphone – Memrise.  It’s a really good little app, with a whole host of things to be studied, and it uses visuals to help you learn. 

Online learning is not for everyone

Sorry to say this, but we all have different learning styles, and some people do need real classroom style learning.  (I can feel myself writing about learning styles at some stage in the future!)  For some people, it is just too easy to “click through” an online course without taking anything in.  To be honest, you can only do that up to a point with the Vision2Learn course – the assignment means you not only have to have paid attention, you need to have some understanding of what you’ve studied.  It would be easier to do that with the Future Learn course but what would be the point?  No-one is forcing you to do the course. 

Other universities and institutions offer free, online learning, and I haven’t explored them all.  Why not have a look yourself?


Updated: 06/24/2014, Telesto
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Telesto on 11/16/2014

Thanks Mira, I think we are very lucky.

Mira on 11/16/2014

I love it that we have the option of online study these days. Nice page! I'll take a look at the BBC courses now :)

Telesto on 11/16/2014

Thanks Rose, I will do. And thanks for reading.

Rose on 11/12/2014

Continuous learning is fun. Stanford also offer free online summer courses, so keep an eye out for those.

Telesto on 06/24/2014

They are the best, aren't they? I want to do them all! Best wishes x

KathleenDuffy on 06/24/2014

I do so agree with you about free study! I am also coming to the end of an ecology course with Future Learn. It's fab!

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