The absolute best free online classes for learning something new
Image by Luidmila Kot from Pixabay

The absolute best free online classes for learning something new

Originally published BY SHANNON CONNELLAN

Do you miss homework? SAME. 

Perhaps you’re someone who craves constant learning and upskilling, a regular Hermione Granger who’d happily use a Time-Turner to attend three classes at once. Perhaps you’re someone who feels she could benefit from understanding things a little better, even if it’s just learning how the hell HTML works. Or maybe you’re genuinely looking at a change in career. 

Whatever you’re after, what more productive way is there to use the precious time that pops up between work, family, friends, binge-watching The Jet Set, and self-care, than the noble pursuit of knowledge? Luckily, nerds, there are a whole bunch of reputable online learning platforms dedicated to helping you learn a few new things. 

Here’s a big list of places you can learn stuff for free, with some available for certification if that’s what your looking for. But most of these are just for fun, tbh. And remember, you don’t actually have to do anything with your downtime right now, these free courses are just here if you need a little brain spark.

So prepare your brain because here’s a big list of the best free online learning resources:

Get someone to hold you to your goal, whether you live with them or not.
Get someone to hold you to your goal, whether you live with them or not.

If you want to do free courses on the big academic platforms

Here’s what’s up with some of those major education platforms and how to enjoy classes for free (TL;DR basically you can do most courses for the fun of it but you don’t get a certificate — a verified certificate shows that you have passed an official course, plus you can add it to your CV or LinkedIn profile, which handy if you’re looking to find a new job. There’s also a difference between accredited and unaccredited courses, which you can usually check in the About page of the website.

edX

Everyone knows edX, the big name on virtual campus. If you’re looking for seriously legit online courses from the top universities in the world, this is your answer. Founded by MIT and Harvard, edX is a nonprofit platform aiming to change up education and allow people to learn without the usual financial or geographical restraints. And there’s a hardcore Star Trek course on there to presumably help you live long and prosper. (More on that below.)

If you have the coin, there’s a whole host of different types of courses on the site, and while yes, you could pay up and do a MicroMasters program (upwards of $1,200), MicroBachelors program ($166 per credit) or verified certificate (varies), you can also just study for fun for free. You can actually access plenty of the courses for free if you’re just doing this for the good of your own brain. 

Courses to check out:

FutureLearn

If you’re looking to learn a thing or two from cultural heavyweights like the British Film Institute, step this way. Privately owned by UK public research body The Open University and job-seeking giants The Seek Group, FutureLearn has teamed up with top UK educational and cultural institutions for some niche courses that you can truly sink your teeth into. They’ve even built a section of “boredom busting” courses for people spending a lot of time at home these days — one of which is a virtual tour of Ancient Rome, while another teaches you how to build your own mobile game

There are short courses and online degrees, depending on what you’re after, and you can access course content for free for 14-day periods, pay for an upgrade for a certificate, or an unlimited membership (meaning you can get certificates and take as much time as you like to finish the courses), which is $250 for a year. But if you want to just spend two weeks playing student on one course, it’s free online learning!

Courses to check out:

Coursera

Founded in 2012 by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera works not only with the top universities in the world — Stanford, Duke, Penn, University of Michigan, Imperial College London, Johns Hopkins — but also tech companies like Google and IBM to offer courses in computer science, data science, language, business and other areas. 

Coursera Plus is the platform’s paid annual subscription, which lets you access the majority of the courses and get those sweet certificates. It’s about $399 per year. That being said, most courses are available for free without the accreditation but with all the delicious knowledge. Hot tip: they’re offering free certificates for 85 of their courses.

Courses to check out:

General Assembly

If you’re looking to upskill with some of the preferred talents many employers are looking for in this digital age, General Assembly is a strong place to learn them. Started in 2011 as a humble co-working space, GA is now a global learning business attempting to close the “global skills gap.” GA runs a whole bunch of online courses in coding, design, data, marketing, business, and career development, so it’s all useful stuff in terms of stacking your CV, although notably, GA isn’t accredited by the US Department of Education.

GA’s full-time and part-time courses are pretty expensive (some up to a huge $15,960 for a full-on immersive course), but other shorter courses are free, like their handy coding course.

Free courses to check out:

Udemy

Launched in 2010 by founder Eren Bali, Udemy was set up as a means for teachers and instructors to create and run their own online courses. Now, it’s pretty massive, with 57,000 instructors around the globe, and 150,000 courses that you can open up on multiple devices — it’s even on Apple TV.

Most courses sit around the $15 mark on Udemy, but can go all the way up to $300. Luckily, there are free deals popping up all the time — Mashable’s shopping team publishes them often. Plus, Udemy seems to be aware of the importance of online courses in this new weird world. In April 2020, the team released the Udemy Free Resource Center, a collection of 150 free online courses to help people upskill. Plus, their courses are taught in over 65 languages. 

Free courses to check out:

Kadenze

Calling all budding designers, artists, music producers, and general trendoids. If you’re looking for an online STEAM course, check out Kadenze. Specialising in courses in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, design, music, and math, this platform partners with a whole bunch of the world’s top institutions in these fields — Berklee College of Music, Stanford, Columbia University, Goldsmiths, Paris College of Art, Seoul Institute of the Arts, and more.

Kadenze works with two tiers of membership: free and premium, the latter of which allows you to get verified certificates and access to a whole bunch of online courses for $20 per month (not cheap but cheaper than paying one-off course fees). It also depends on what type of course you’re doing — micro-courses cost around $25 all in, while credit eligible courses can cost about $300. Some of these are free if you don’t want the certificate. 

Courses to check out:

Skillshare

Want to learn some sweet skills from someone whose work you admire? Launched in 2011 by Mike Karnjanaprakorn, Skillshare has a whole heap of classes in animation, design, illustration, writing, business, photography, filmmaking, and general lifestyle subjects taught by people who are smashing it at the top of those fields. 

Skillshare costs $19 per month for the Premium membership, which gets you access to all classes, and they sometimes do pretty good deals if you want to try it out. Luckily, there are plenty of free online classes available too.

Courses to check out:

Honourable mention: Class Central

If you’re looking for reviews of classes before you pick one, Class Central functions as a handy search engine and reviews site for free online courses. You can check out what’s new on platforms like Coursera, edX, Future Learn, and others, or you could look just at Ivy League courses.

Learn something new! Your brain will thank you.
Learn something new! Your brain will thank you.

OK, can you be more specific, please?

OK, now let’s get into the specific courses for learning a particular skill. What do you want to learn? Cooking? Dancing? A new language? We’ve got you covered… 

If you want to learn how to cook

So you want to join the bakers of Instagram and make your own sourdough? Perhaps you want to nail a truly decadent dessert just for you? There are plenty of places where you can stream free classes, whether it’s the larger educational platforms or Instagram and YouTube.

Most chefs whose restaurants have been shuttered during this time have seized upon the opportunity to welcome you into their kitchens online and some, like Massimo Bottura and Dominique Ansel, are doing this really well. Even Queer Eye‘s Antoni Porowski has done a fair few IGTV cooking classes. Alternatively, there’s a whole world of YouTube cooking classes you can take, from Bon Appétit to Tasty. Plus, some of the big education sites have free cooking courses, with a few in the list below.

Some classes to check out:

If you want to learn how to dance

If you have the space to throw a few shapes in the privacy of your own home, it’s a good time to learn some new moves. 

Established organisations like the Royal Opera House, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Edge Performing Arts Center, and Sadlers Wells have launched their own classes, and independent dancers are helping people put their best foot forward on YouTube and Instagram. You can literally dance like no one’s watching, just like that terrible cheeseball saying.

Classes to check out:

If you want to learn a new form of exercise (without anyone seeing)

Lockdowns and stay-at-home policies have made livestreamed dance and fitness classes a bittersweet necessity. The silver lining here is that there are plenty of free classes online that teach you a new type of exercise without you having to try it in front of a class of people. 

There are plenty of workout apps and YouTube channels for when you can’t leave the house, digital coaches to keep you accountable, and so much yoga (some free, some not).

Classes to check out:

Haven't tried yoga before? Everyone will recommend Yoga with Adriene classes, and for good reason.
Haven’t tried yoga before? Everyone will recommend Yoga with Adriene classes, and for good reason.

If you want to get crafty

There’s nothing like the satisfaction of being able to make your own stuff, whether it’s a new tote bag, a cuddly quilt, or a sweet origami frog for your significant other. 

If you’re after a whole platform for craft projects, Bluprint is your go-to for learning how to make all kinds of things, but it’s not all free. Classes range from $15 to $125, but you can preview a bunch of classes without having to pay. And there’s a free class for face masks below.

Classes to check out:

If you want to learn a language

If you want to build something truly useful into your daily routine, learn a language. There are so many online resources for this, whether you want to fire up a full-on course via edX or the like, or you respond more to fun apps like Duolingo. The key is to figure out which language you want to learn, and find the right kind of learning environment that you connect with. There’s a deeper dive into language apps here.

Classes to check out: