Are you fascinated by a topic and you want to know more about it? Is the thought of attending a prestigious university appealing, but not realistic for you? The Internet and Open Courseware are making top notch educational opportunities available to the public on the Internet through free online courses from top universities and organizations.
You won’t earn course credits or a degree with these free online courses, but they’ll allow you to expand your mind by reading, listening to, and watching some of the best minds in various fields. Whether you’re interested in learning more about business and marketing, history, foreign languages, science, or the arts, you’re bound to find something you’ll love from these places offering free online courses.
Wouldn’t you love to sit in on a Yale lecture? Now you can with their Open Yale program, which offers several free online courses in topics ranging from The Old Testament to Biomedical Engineering.
There aren’t a lot of available courses online from Yale, but the quality more than makes up for the lack of quantity. This is one of several top universities that not only offers written course materials but also full videos of the course lectures or downloadable .mp3 audio versions so you can listen to the lectures from just about anywhere.
MIT’s OpenCourseware is without a doubt the biggest collection of free online courses from a prestigious university. Their list of offerings is huge to put it mildly. Interested in architectural design? They’ve got it. Want to learn about globalization? They’ve got that too. How about nonlinear dynamics or even toy product design? Oh yeah, you’re covered. Is there anything you can’t learn about with MIT’s OpenCourseware? Maybe, but I can’t find it.
The courses available online through MIT don’t follow a single format, so know that they’ll vary. Some courses will feature lecture notes. Some will include exams and solutions. Others will include multimedia elements like video lectures. In most, if not all, courses you’ll be told what texts the on-campus students used in the class, so you can purchase the textbook to follow along with the course if you’d like to.
3. U.S. Small Business Administration
The SBA may not be a university, but they offer some of the best free online business courses available on the Web. Whether you’re already a business owner or just thinking about becoming one, let them teach you how to write a business plan, market your business, understand basic accounting principles, and more with interactive online courses.
I’m personally a huge fan of their business planning resources, and recommend them to all prospective entrepreneurs or freelancers. You can even learn about things like international business and crime prevention. What’s not to love?
This UK university offers a pretty wide range of free online courses and learning materials through their OpenLearn program. What I love about OpenLearn is that they tell you up front in the course listings how long a course should take you to complete (18 hours for a climate change course and 8 hours for a social marketing course for example).
Each “study unit” in the OpenLearn program features its own discussion forum, allowing you to interact with other people following the same courses or sharing your interest areas.
5. UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley might not be the biggest compared to MIT’s huge offering of free online course materials, but you could argue they’re the best. What I love about UC Berkeley is that they offer all of their free online course materials in webcast form. You can find audio and / or video lectures, allowing you to feel like you’re right in the actual classroom or lecture hall (without worrying about being called on!).
UC Berkeley also does something other universities don’t — they offer webcasts of current semester courses. In other words, you can take a course right along with current students earning a degree with the school. Their webcast list lets you know the course schedule so you never miss a lecture. When you first visit the link above, the course list might look small. But don’t let that fool you! You’ll only be looking at the current semester’s webcast list. Check out the drop-down menu near the upper right of the screen, and you can pull up free online courses from past semesters as well (from as far back as 2001!).
No, you won’t earn a degree with these free online courses, but they offer an amazing wealth of knowledge. There’s no excuse not to learn anymore — not money, not admissions essays, nothing at all. Check out some of these free online courses and webcasts, and learn something new today. And when your friends or colleagues ask where you picked up that awesome little nugget of wisdom, just say “Oh, just [insert prestigious university here]. No biggie!”