I’ve used the internet my entire life, but it still manages to amaze me. In particular, it amazes me that you can use the internet to learn almost anything, more or less for free. Whether it’s programming, knitting, illustration, or even how to make great coffee, the internet has a learning resource for it.
However, the sheer abundance of information on the internet can be overwhelming. You can learn almost anything for free, but it’s also easy to spend hours trying to find the right resource. Often, you spend more time reading about learning than actually learning something new.
To help you spend more time acquiring knowledge and less time searching for it, we’ve put together this list of some of the best free online courses.
We’ve scoured all the major course platforms out there, as well as some lesser-known (but equally excellent!) ones. And we’ve tried to make the list of topics as diverse as possible, while also calling out some quality resources for learning in-demand skills.
To make this list easier to navigate, we’ve divided it into several sections organized by subject area. Feel free to jump around and investigate what intrigues you.
All of the courses on this list are “free” in the sense that you don’t have to pay any money to take them (though most require you to create an account or enter an email address).
However, note that you can take almost any online course for free by signing up for a free trial.
If you’re very diligent (and especially if you take good notes), you could get a lot of learning done for free in the days (or weeks) that your trial lasts. For instance, you could take both of our courses for free using a 2-month trial to Skillshare.
Finally, note that you may be able to get free access to certain paid course platforms through your university or local library. If you’re not sure, visit your university or library’s website (or, ask a librarian).
With that said, let’s get to the list of free online courses:
While programming and web development are far from the only useful skills out there, we know lots of people want to learn them. Luckily, you can learn pretty much everything in this field for free, including very advanced topics.
But before you become a developer-ninja-wizard-guru, you have to learn the basics. Here are some excellent courses to set you on the right path:
Taught by an exciting, dynamic instructor, this course provides a rigorous (but beginner-friendly) introduction to computer science.
Starting with basic questions such as “What is binary?” and proceeding into the fundamentals of programming, this course is a superb overview of the subject. No matter what programming language or discipline you want to learn, a solid grasp of computer science fundamentals is essential.
Learn HTML (Codecademy)
If you want to do any kind of web design or development, knowing HTML is a must. Heck, even if you’re just planning to create a personal website or have a job that requires you to use WordPress, knowing basic HTML will make your life a lot easier.
We can think of no better place to start than the Codecademy Learn HTML course. The course is highly interactive, ensuring that you’ll retain all your newfound knowledge.
Learn CSS (Codecademy)
After you learn HTML, CSS is the next step. It lets you control the look and layout of your website (to name just a few things).
Even if you plan to focus more on programming, knowing basic CSS will help you customize your site and work more effectively with web designers.
To get started, check out the free Learn CSS course from Codecademy.
Whether you’re looking to brush up on your literature knowledge in preparation for book club or are trying to understand how our present society came to be, the humanities can offer answers. Here are a few of the best free online courses on everything from philosophy to film.
Introduction to Philosophy (University of Edinburgh)
In between work, school, family, and your social life, you may find yourself wondering about life’s big questions: Why are we here? What is reality? Does life have some deeper meaning?
Philosophy can help you answer those questions (or, at least, think about them more intelligently). But learning philosophy on your own can be challenging, to say the least.
To get a well-rounded overview of the subject, we recommend this Introduction to Philosophy course from the University of Edinburgh. Taught by a variety of instructors, it will introduce you to the central questions philosophy seeks to answer (and how it relates to your life).
Art History (Khan Academy)
Ever gone to an art museum (or seen a piece of art online) and found yourself confused? Studying art history can help with that confusion, helping you to appreciate art more fully while learning some fascinating history in the process.
To start learning art history, we recommend Khan Academy’s course on the subject. Starting with basic questions such as “Why does art matter?”, the course gives an overview of the various styles and movements in art across times and cultures.
You’ll also get some tips for making the most of your next museum visit (even if that’s to a museum’s online collection).
US History (Khan Academy)
Confused about how the United States got to be how it is today? Studying US history can help.
While it’s a vast subject that people devote their entire lives to studying, you can get a helpful overview from Khan Academy’s US History course. Starting with early Spanish colonization and continuing through the present day, you’re sure to learn a lot.
World History (Crash Course)
Studying the history of the entire world (or, more accurately, human history) seems like a futile task.
But while you can’t possibly learn everything about world history, having a general understanding can help you make sense of our contemporary world. Plus, you’ll meet some fascinating characters along the way.
The World History series from the folks at Crash Course is the place to start.
Literature (Crash Course)
Since I majored in English, I’m contractually obligated to include a literature course.
But even if I’d never studied literature, I’d still recommend this introduction from Crash Course. Using classic works like Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, you’ll learn how to think and talk about literature (and why it matters).
Theater and Drama (Crash Course)
Attending a theatrical performance can be a joyous (not to mention, classy) way to spend an afternoon or evening. But without a bit of background, much of theater can seem incomprehensible.
How are you supposed to tell if you’re watching good acting? And what role do the director, backstage crew, and producers play in making a show a reality?
Studying theater can help you answer these questions, plus have more fun the next time you see a play or musical. To increase your understanding of the dramatic arts, watch this introduction from Crash Course.
Film Criticism (Crash Course)
Even if you watch movies every day, you may never have stopped to consider why a movie looks the way it does, or how film arises out of a collaboration among hundreds of talented creatives.
Film studies can help you gain a greater appreciation for the movies you love (as well as introduce you to new directors and genres outside your comfort zone). If you want the knowledge of a college film studies course without the high tuition, then Crash Course Film Criticism is the place to get it.
Design is all around us, even if we rarely pay it much attention. If you’re looking to add some design skills to your resume or just want to make your living space more pleasing to the eye, you’ll enjoy these free design courses.
Interior Design Basics (Skillshare)
At its most basic, your home is a place to shelter from the elements. But it’s also an opportunity to create an inviting, personalized living space that showcases your tastes.
To start designing your perfect space, check out this Interior Design Basics course from Skillshare.
Typography That Works (Skillshare)
Typography is all around you; you’re experiencing it even as you read this article. And if you’re interested in graphic design, then typography is an essential skill to learn.
This introductory course from experts at the Smithsonian Design Museum will get you started.
Intro to UX (Skillshare)
User Experience (UX) refers to how a person interacts with a product (typically a website or software). The goal of a UX designer is to make products as easy and intuitive as possible to use (without sacrificing power or features).
If you’ve ever been curious about how UX works (and why it matters), check out this introductory course from Skillshare.
5 Illustrator CC Essentials for Beginners (Skillshare)
Adobe Illustrator is an essential tool for modern graphic designers, but it can be overwhelming to learn. That’s why we love this introduction to the essentials of Adobe Illustrator. You’ll learn the basics of the interface, as well as how to create shapes and make your own letterform.
Making art is a wonderful pursuit, even if you don’t have aspirations of becoming a professional.
Luckily, there are many free online courses on how to make art with a variety of media, no matter your current skill level. Here are some of our favorites:
Art Fundamentals (Udemy)
Are you a complete newbie to visual art? No problem. This Art Fundamentals course will teach you what you need to know to get started making art. It covers basic concepts like sketching, color theory, and composition. By the end of the course, you’ll have completed a basic still life.
Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Procreate (Skillshare)
While Photoshop still gets a lot of attention when it comes to digital painting, there are many other tools out there to try. One of the most popular is Procreate, a digital illustration app for the iPad. This introductory course will teach you how to use Procreate to bring your visions to life.
Intro to Photography (Udemy)
You probably take photos all the time with your phone, but perhaps you’re interested in learning how to use a more serious digital camera.
If you want to become a more confident photographer and get beyond using “Auto” mode for everything, take this Intro to Photography course.
Photoshop Fundamentals in One Hour (Skillshare)
If you want to do any kind of digital media work, it’s worth learning to use Photoshop. It will make it much easier to get images to look the way you want.
But if you’ve ever opened Photoshop, the sheer number of options is overwhelming. This course aims to alleviate your confusion, teaching you the essentials in just one hour.
Digital marketing is a growing, in-demand field. If you’re looking to enter this vast space, the free online courses below will help you get started.
Introduction to SEO (Skillshare)
At its most basic, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means getting a web page to show up when someone searches for a particular word or phrase in Google (or another search engine).
If you have any kind of online presence, learning the fundamentals of SEO will help you promote yourself more effectively. And if you learn enough, it could even turn into a job. To demystify SEO, take this course from Rand Fishkin (one of the foremost SEO educators).
Google AdWords Essentials: Using Search Campaigns (Skillshare)
Online advertising is a massive industry, and Google is one of the foremost players in the space. Learning to use their AdWords platform will give you a valuable skill that you can apply to your projects or your employer’s.
Get started with this free course on Search Campaigns, one of the fundamentals of AdWords.
How to Make a Podcast (Skillshare)
In just a few years, podcasts have grown from an obscure form of digital media into a massive, high profile industry. Whether you’re looking to share your ideas or promote a business, podcasting is an excellent tool to use.
Learn the basics of podcast creation with this introductory course.
Getting Started with Email Marketing (Skillshare)
Social media gets a lot of attention, but email marketing remains a powerful way to connect with people (and, of course, sell them things).
There are dozens of email marketing apps out there, but MailChimp remains one of the largest players in the industry (as well as one of the easier ones to learn). Learn the basics of email marketing with this great introduction.
Social Media Marketing (Hubspot)
I don’t need to tell you how influential social media is in the contemporary world.
But if you’re curious about how you can use some of social media’s power to benefit you or your organization, then check out this social media marketing course from the folks at Hubspot.
You’ll learn the basics of social media strategy, as well as some more advanced topics like social media advertising.
Just because you didn’t major in a STEM field, doesn’t mean you can’t learn about fascinating STEM topics on your own. And in a similar vein, learning about key social science fields such as psychology or economics is also within your grasp, no matter where you are in your educational journey.
Here are some of the best free online courses to learn more about STEM and social science topics:
Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies (UC Berkeley)
Bitcoin (and cryptocurrency in general) is a hot topic in the news these days. But how much do you really understand about it?
If you’re looking to go beyond the surface level and learn how cryptocurrencies work (and why they’re so revolutionary), take this free course from UC Berkeley.
Statistics (Crash Course)
You probably read dozens of statistics each day without giving much thought to how they came to be. But a proper understanding of statistics is essential to being an informed citizen.
Once you understand statistics, you’ll be able to recognize faulty statistical reasoning (or even deception). Plus, you’ll be able to more compellingly use statistics to make your own arguments.
To start learning statistics, check out this primer from Crash Course.
Introduction to Cyber Security (The Open University)
With more and more of business and life happening online, cyber security only grows in importance.
If you’re curious to learn how this field works (and how to better protect yourself online), then check out this free cyber security course from The Open University.
Psychology (Crash Course)
Why do people act the way they do? How do we learn? What is “intelligence”?
These are some of the (many) questions psychology seeks to answer. For a great overview of the ideas and practice of psychology, check out this free course.
Economics (Crash Course)
Do your eyes glaze over when a political candidate starts discussing the economy? Are you curious about how larger economic forces shape your everyday life? Or, maybe you’re just trying to pass your college Economics course?
Regardless, Crash Course Economics is a great place to start.
Chemistry (Crash Course)
Chemistry was never my strong suit in school. But, looking back, I can see that the knowledge I did gain has given me a better understanding of the world around me.
Whether it’s the products you buy or the meals you cook, chemistry is everywhere. If you’re looking to better understand it, Crash Course Chemistry can help.
Whether you’re curious to learn more about business on your own or looking to supplement the business classes you’re taking, you’ll find something useful in one of these free online courses:
Financial Accounting (MIT)
Accounting can seem like an arcane, inscrutable discipline to outsiders. But understanding basic accounting principles is key if you plan to start a business.
And even if you don’t plan to strike out on your own, a working knowledge of accounting will help you better understand the next business meeting you attend.
For a rigorous introduction to financial accounting, check out this free course from MIT.
Bookkeeping for Freelancers (Skillshare)
When I started freelancing, one of the best investments I made was consulting with an accountant to help me set up my bookkeeping system.
Staying on top of your business’ books will help keep you solvent and save you lots of headache at tax time. While I do advise talking to an accountant if you can, this Bookkeeping for Freelancers course will get you started.
Excel Pivot Table Basics (Udemy)
Even if you learned the basics of Excel in middle or high school, you likely don’t understand its true power. Pivot tables let you analyze huge data sets that would take hours to process using other methods. And this free course on Pivot Table Basics will teach you how to start using them in your work.
Public Speaking (RIT)
Public speaking is something we all have to do at one point or another, so it’s worth getting good at it to spare yourself some stress.
While the best way to learn public speaking is lots of practice, taking a course on the fundamentals can also help. This free public speaking course from RIT is a great place to start.
Speaking in public often means giving some sort of presentation (PowerPoint or otherwise). But creating a great presentation is an art unto itself.
If you’re interested in making your presentations more appealing and compelling, then check out this class on visual storytelling.
Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills (University of Michigan)
Whether it’s bargaining with a vendor at a flea market, closing a big business deal, or trying to agree on a place for dinner, negotiation is a useful skill for everyone.
Learn how to negotiate like a pro with this course from the University of Michigan.
Strategic Design: The Art and Science of Branding (Skillshare)
A strong brand is key to building a lasting business. But what makes a great brand can be difficult to define, let alone replicate.
To help you gain a better understanding of branding (and how to start building a brand), check out this free course.
Want to learn a new language but aren’t sure where to start? These language courses will help you get started completely for free:
The odds are good you’ve heard of Duolingo. But in case you haven’t, it’s an online platform/app where you can learn the world’s most common languages (as well as some fictional ones, such as High Valyrian).
For most beginner language learners, it’s our number one recommended resource for getting started. Start learning a new language with Duolingo here.
Learn ASL for Free (Gallaudet)
Duolingo is great if you want to learn the basics of a spoken language. But what if you’re trying to learn American Sign Language instead? For that, we recommend the Learn ASL for Free course from Gallaudet University.
We love listening to music to improve focus (check out our study playlist), but we also love playing music for fun and fulfillment. If you’re interested in learning to play or write music, these free online courses will help you get started:
Guitar for Beginners (Berklee College of Music)
Guitar remains a popular instrument to learn due to its affordable price, portability, and prevalence in many genres of music. But learning guitar without a teacher can be challenging, especially if you’ve never played music before.
To start learning guitar, we recommend this Guitar for Beginners course, taught by one of the faculty at Berklee College of Music. You’ll learn the basic chords, scales, and techniques you need to start playing real songs.
Learn Piano Basics in 50 Minutes (Skillshare)
Besides guitar, piano is another instrument that many people want to learn. While somewhat more intuitive than guitar, it can still be a challenge to learn on your own.
Luckily, Skillshare has a course that can teach you the basics in just 50 minutes. You’ll certainly need to spend more time than that practicing if you want to jam like the pros, but the course will give you a solid foundation.
Production and Music Theory (Andrew Huang)
If you know the basics of music and are looking to expand your knowledge of theory and music production, then you’ll find some great material in this playlist from Andrew Huang.
While not a course per se, the videos in this playlist do a great job of explaining (and demonstrating) many useful concepts for producing and writing more interesting songs.
For this last section, we have some courses that are worth mentioning but didn’t quite fit in the other categories on this list. Here are some of the best free online courses on topics as diverse as yoga, cooking, and coffee.
How to Brew an Amazing Cup of Coffee (Skillshare)
You probably drink coffee every day, but how much thought have you put into making it?
If you’re still using a Keurig (or, even worse, instant coffee), then this course from Blue Bottle Coffee will rock your world. You’ll learn how to buy, grind, brew, and taste the perfect cup of coffee at home, while also gaining a greater appreciation of this magical beverage.
Fundamentals of Cooking (Basics with Babish)
Want to cook better food at home but are overwhelmed by the jargon and vagueness of recipes? Learn the fundamental techniques you need to cook great food with Basics with Babish.
From the creator of the popular YouTube series Binging with Babish, Basics with Babish covers how to make everything from pot roast to bread. Your cooking will never be the same.
Basic First Aid (University of Glasgow)
While all of the courses on this list teach valuable skills, this one could literally save a life. Basic first aid is something everyone should learn, as you never know when you might need it.
While I encourage you to take an in-person first aid class if you can, this Basic First Aid course from the University of Glasgow will teach essential skills such as how to help someone who’s choking.
Yoga for Complete Beginners (Yoga with Adriene)
Learning basic yoga can help you improve your flexibility, reduce stress, and overall enrich your life.
In-person yoga classes are great, but they can be quite expensive. As an alternative, check out this Yoga for Complete Beginners video from Yoga with Adriene.
Happy Houseplants: Caring For Your Plants (Skillshare)
Struggling to keep your houseplants alive? You probably just need to learn a few basic principles of plant care.
This course, taught by a botanist, will teach you how to keep your plants not just alive, but thriving.
As you can now see, the number of free online courses is incredible.
The true challenge, then, isn’t a lack of learning resources. Rather, it’s finding the motivation to use them. With free courses, in particular, the lack of monetary commitment can make it trickier to finish the course (and, you know, actually learn something).
Therefore, it’s important to spend some time learning how to learn effectively. To help you with that, we recommend these resources:
- How To Learn More Outside Of Class Than You Ever Could Inside It
- Use the Dreyfus Model to Learn New Skills
- How to Learn Any Skill in Under 20 Hours
Image Credits: Skillshare home page