Online education tools have revolutionized the way we learn. Motivated students can learn at their own pace, with college-level courses that can be taken at any time to fit within today’s busy lifestyles.

You may wish to embark on a new career, learn a new language or simply want to expand your knowledge of certain subjects for personal development. Free online classes are an excellent way to try out a new area of study, without the financial or time commitment that comes with enrolling in a traditional college.

In this guide, we focus on classes that are free of charge and available to learners of all ages and income levels. All that is required for home learning is a computer or mobile device, an internet connection and a strong desire to learn.

Read about the top websites for learning new skills — to broaden your skill set and your understanding of the world.

Best Websites for: Diverse learning

These online learning platforms are ideal for those who wish to learn about a wide variety of subjects. They bring together courses from the world’s most elite institutions.  

  • Academic Earth: This website presents free online college courses and lectures from leading universities like Berklee College of Music, California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Princeton University and the University of Notre Dame. Courses range from accounting and biology to finance, world history and health care administration. The platform also features original video presentations and curated playlists of college lectures.
  • Alison: With a mission to bring the learning experience to everyone, Alison offers free courses for skills training and personal improvement. There are courses in information technology, languages, science, health, business, software development, the humanities and more. Lifestyle programs range from photography and music to food and beverage and arts and crafts. You can also choose from courses in skilled trades like plumbing and carpentry.
  • Coursera: In partnership with more than 190 of the world’s leading universities and businesses, Coursera is one of the largest online learning sites. Their nearly 2,000 free adult education courses combine video lectures, discussion groups and coursework that is graded or peer-reviewed. Guided projects let you learn a job-related skill in less than two hours from an expert through an interactive experience.
  • CreativeLive: With a focus on the arts and creative pursuits, CreativeLive offers online classes — many of them free —  in photography and video production, art and design, music and audio, and crafts. There are also free classes in other areas such as business, social media, writing, communication skills, self-improvement and wellness, entrepreneurship, marketing and sales, management and finance.
  • edX: With edX, you have access to more than 2,500 free online courses from 140 world-class colleges and universities. Founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, edX offers classes in computer science, business and management, engineering, languages, data science and the humanities. You can browse courses by subject, school or partner, level (introductory through advanced) and language.
  • Khan Academy: Khan Academy offers free education, from kindergarten through early college, in a wide variety of subjects. In partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), MIT, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and other institutions, Khan Academy offers instructional videos, practice exercises and a personalized experience that identifies strengths and weaknesses and encourages students to learn at their own pace. Subjects include science, history, math, computer programming, economics, art history and more.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare: MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a project by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to publish materials from more than 2,400 courses offered by the university to make the information available to everyone. You can find courses by topic, MIT course number or department. Choose from business, engineering, fine arts, health and medicine, mathematics, humanities, science, education and other subject areas. Materials may include course syllabi, instructor insights, summaries of lectures, readings and assignments.
  • Udemy: This popular online learning platform offers both free and paid courses from top universities and professors in 50 different languages. To find the free classes, filter your search by price (free). They offer online video courses in a wide range of subject areas, including business, design, information technology (IT) and software, photography, marketing, personal development and music. You can combine lessons and build your courses on a customizable platform.

Best Websites for: Coaching

Do you want to embark on a new career or replace a habit with behavior that leads to greater success, happiness and productivity? These free online coaching and professional guidance sites help you focus and take the right steps to achieve your goals.    

  • Class Central: With courses collected from the world’s leading universities, Class Central offers a wide variety of career development, personal development and self-improvement courses that include time management, problem solving, personal growth and other topics. They focus on free (or free to audit) classes. The site lets you track subjects and courses, and offers personalized course recommendations.
  • Coach.me: Their free Habit Tracking App provides the inspiration you need to create and build new habits. Do you want to exercise more, learn a skill or be more productive? Track your patterns, set reminders and targets, receive daily instructions, get support from the community and view your progress. You can use the Coach.me app on the web, with your iPhone or Apple Watch, or with an Android phone.  
  • The Muse: This comprehensive professional site lets you research companies and careers and get free career advice. You’ll find articles about finding a job, maintaining a work-life balance, getting ahead, resumes and cover letters, interviewing, exploring careers and more. You can also search for jobs in your area and learn about popular companies. 
  • Skillshare: Describing itself as an “online learning community,” Skillshare offers thousands of classes in many subjects, including life coaching. They have a premium membership, but many of the courses are free. Topics include: “Learn How to Motivate Yourself,” “Creating Habits That Stick” and “Turning Procrastination into Productivity.”  

Best Websites for: Languages

If you’re interested in learning a new language — whether it’s for your career, a planned vacation or to explore a new language and culture — there are free online classes available.

  • Babbel: This popular online language learning platform offers monthly subscription services, but you can try out one of their courses for 30 days. There is also an app available for smartphones. They offer classes in 14 languages, including French, Spanish, Danish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese and Turkish. Babbel uses proven strategies to optimize the learning experience for fast results.
  • Duolingo: Duolingo is free to use, though you can pay to remove ads, and there are apps available for iPhone and Android phones. They offer courses in 35 languages, from French, English and Spanish to Japanese, Arabic, Hindi, Greek, Scottish Gaelic, Swahili and Navajo. The short lessons are designed to feel more like a game than a serious textbook — a learning style found to increase retention.
  • Memrise: Featuring real-life language content, phone apps, and user forums, Memrise is an online language community that offers instruction for 22 languages, including German, Spanish (Spain or Mexico), French Arabic, Polish, Korean, Mongolian, Russian, Icelandic and Slovenian. Like Duolingo, Memrise’s language studies are like a game, using spaced recognition to speed up the learning process.

Best Websites for: Life insights

Improve and enhance your life with these unique online learning platforms that provide valuable insights into your physical and mental health. 

  • Daily Burn: Get and stay fit with the help of the Daily Burn, an online fitness training site that offers group workouts or personal training sessions. The platform features thousands of unique workout videos. You can try a group workout for free or a 30-day free trial.  
  • HighBrow: This learning platform has hundreds of interesting topics, with five-minute lessons delivered by email. Sign up for their 30-day free trial to try it out. There are courses in personal growth, productivity, health and fitness, finance, arts, entrepreneurship, photography, psychology, professional training and many other subjects.
  • InsightTimer: This free app is designed to help you improve your sleep and reduce anxiety and stress. InsightTimer is the world’s most extensive library of free guided meditations. There are meditations for a more peaceful sleep and to reduce stress, music tracks for relaxation, healing meditations, Buddhist teachings and more.

Best Websites for: Workplace development

Enhance your workplace skills for a greater chance of career advancement. These free online learning resources focus on professional skills and workplace development.

  • MaxKnowledge: MaxKnowledge provides a comprehensive online learning community for professional development. Through their free resources, you can identify and set out to achieve your goals, learn essential workplace skills and join a community of more than 120,000 career education experts. There are tutorials in career development, communication skills, creativity and innovation, supervisory skills and training management.   
  • OpenSesame: With a broad offering of e-learning courses, OpenSesame helps companies build productive, highly skilled teams. They have more than 20,000 courses in business skills, human resources (HR) compliance, information technology (IT), leadership and management, language skills and safety. While there is a charge for their platform, they do offer a 30-day free trial. For a limited time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re offering free courses for furloughed workers.
  • Thinkful: Thinkful offers both free coding tutorials and fee-based prep courses and materials to teach you digital marketing and how to manage engineers, designers and clients, among other highly marketable skills. Courses are in software engineering, data science, data analytics, UX/UI design, product management, technical product management and digital marketing. They also offer coding bootcamps in various U.S. cities with free webinar events.

Best Websites for: Skills practice

Are you considering a career change or looking for something fun to do? Unlike the diverse learning sites, these platforms focus exclusively on teaching you required skills for a certain career, project or hobby. 

  • Codecademy: Focused exclusively on computer programming and coding, Codecademy offers a basic plan at no cost. It includes interactive lessons and daily practice sessions. Subjects include web development, programming, data science, partnerships, design and game development. Choose from popular languages like HTML and CSS, Python, JavaScript, Java, Ruby, C++, C#, PHP and others. They also have a “make a website” course.
  • Drawspace: If you want to explore your inner artist, Drawspace teaches people how to draw and enhance their creativity. Browse their courses and individual classes for free offerings that include beginner introductions, contour drawing and how to buy the best drawing supplies.
  • Fstoppers: Visit this popular photography site for free how-to videos. Articles focus on specific cameras and photography software, as well as general information about lighting, landscape photography, flash photography, indoor portraits, at-home printing and more.
  • General Assembly: This online learning community, which focuses on coding, marketing and business, design and data analysis, offers Dash, their free online coding courses that teach you HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. These are the building blocks for web development and highly in-demand skills. Use these skills to launch a new career or to learn how to build your website.
  • OpenLearn Fiction Writing Class: The Open University offers many free courses in a variety of subjects, from money and business to history and the arts. This course is for budding fiction writers who are interested in writing but could use professional guidance. In the course, students learn about character, setting and genre.
  • SkillCrush: SkillCrush offers online courses in coding, design, user experience and digital marketing. Their free coding camp is a beginner-friendly introduction to coding, teaching you the lingo, career paths and learning marketable skills in computer coding and programming.
  • Skillshare: Skillshare’s free offerings include lessons in WordPress, simple JavaScript apps, PowerPoint slides, 3D printing, wearable technology, technical writing and much more.
  • SoloLearn: Learn how to code, free of charge. SoloLearn has tutorials in Python 3, C++, Java, Javascript, C, C#, SQL, PHP, HTML, CSS, Ruby and Swift 4 languages. They offer fun lessons and quizzes to teach the fundamentals and test your skills. The platform also has message boards for posting code and Q&A discussion groups.

The bottom line

Online learning gives busy people the opportunity to explore new subjects and broaden their knowledge of the world. From highly technical instruction to over-arching studies in the arts and humanities, today’s internet is a global classroom waiting to be discovered.

About the Authors

Julie Stoller is a freelance writer, editor and researcher with more than a decade of experience. She has collaborated with more than 160 clients, including a business training organization and universities in the Boston area.