Ten of the best FREE online education resources that you should know about


We recently published an article that listed the free online learning resources offered by the best 40 colleges in America (here).

In the process of doing so, we came into contact with all of the major, most important and professional FREE online education sites on the internet. This article will present you with ten of the best of these.

There is a distinction between, on the one hand, sites that are driven by a concept or theme, and that have some form of evaluation and feedback, and sites that are simply video archives for lectures and events. This list will contain both, but the former were emphasized and given priority.Online Learning Illustration2


1. Khan Academy: online education for the masses – that works

Khan Academy Screenshot

ConceptThe brainchild of an MIT and Harvard educated Bangladeshi-American; the non-profit Khan Academy was started in 2007 with the mission of providing “a high quality education to anyone; anywhere”; and has delivered more than 160 million lessons since.
Course formatVideo lectures; progress tracking; automated exercises; and peer-to-peer tutoring based on data collected by the system.
TopicsFive main areas: Math; Science; Finance and Economics; Humanities; Test Prep and  TED-like talks and interviews; spanning  more than 3200 creative-commons licensed videos.
Why we chose itBecause Khan Academy is able to reconcile its massive; global ambition with a system that apparently works and keeps learners coming back for more..

2. Udacity: technology courses on the cutting edge

Udacity Screenshot

ConceptWith the stated aim of ‘democratizing education’; Udacity; a for profit organization; is founded by two Stanford University professors in 2012 and has had enrollments in some of its classes in the tens (and occasionally hundreds) of thousands.
Course formatVideo lectures; quizzes; and follow-up homework. “Learn by doing”
TopicsComputer science; software design and algorithms; physics; statistics; and the like.
Why we chose itBecause Udacity courses are in the cutting edge of their field; these are not you typical; run of the mill computer science classes.

3. Coursera: free courses from some the best colleges in the world

Coursera Screenshot

ConceptOffers courses from top universities; for free. It’s partners at the time of this writing includes Princeton; Stanford; University of Michigan; University of Pennsylvania; and UC Berkeley. Like Udacity; Coursera was created by Stanford professors as a for profit institution.
Course formatShort video lectures with periodic weekly assignments. A peer review system is also used in some instances.
TopicsA wide range that runs the gamut from the Humanities; Medicine; Biology; Social Sciences; Mathematics; Business; Computer Science; and many others
Why we chose itBecause Coursera delivers high-quality courses from some of the best universities in the world; for free. And because it isn’t just an archive of videos; but employs a methodology for evaluation and feedback.

4. Udemy: connects some of the best teachers with a worldwide audience

Udemy Screenshot

ConceptLaunched in 2010; Udemy is a platform that allows instructors to create and publish online courses and reach their target audience without worrying about the technology that is needed to do so. Udemy provides both free and for-pay courses; and includes courses from instructors from the best colleges in the country.
Course formatProvides educational materials including videos; presentations; documents; and audio files. Online discussion boards enable students to connect with instructors.
TopicsA wide range of topics; including business and entrepreneurship; academics; the arts; health and fitness; language; music; and technology.
CostThe majority are free courses but there are paid courses as well. The cost for the latter ranges from $5 to $250 USD.
Why we chose itBecause of it’s unique concept as a marketplace that connects instructors that want to teach with their prospective audience; in the process engaging students with some of the best professors in the world (also see the related website The Faculty Project).

5. The Open Courseware Consortium: the web’s biggest source of freely available college level educational materials

OpenCourseware screenshot

ConceptLaunched OpenCourseware consortium brings freely available college level educational materials  from almost every college that offers them the world over; into a single place. These are freely available for use and adaptation for anyone who wants to learn or teach; mostly under a creative commons license.Materials are available from universities in 45+ countries (see map above). In the US they include such universities as MIT; Notre Dame; Michigan State; and Tufts; just to name a few.
Course formatThe site offers downloadable materials organized as courses. These contain any or all of the following: course planning materials; syllabi; lecture notes; handouts; video lectures; presentations; audio files; and tests and evaluation tools.
TopicsEvery conceivable topic; in most world languages.
Why we chose itBecause this is the single; biggest and most important resource on the internet when it comes to open courseware.

6. iTunes U: the world’s biggest distributor of online courses (free and paid)

iTunes U screenshot iTunes2iTunes U screenshot iPhone

ConceptiTunes U can refer to the free iOS app of the same name; but it can also refer to a section in iTunes that contains mostly free videos; lectures; podcasts and other educational materials published by a wide range of universities; instructors and learning institutions. iTunes U lets anyone easily publish their course on iTunes for free or for pay.
Course formatVideo lectures and podcasts; as well as ebooks; documents and other materials packaged neatly as courses.
TopicsEvery topic you could think of from every conceivable college and university in the US and worldwide.
CostMostly free. Some courses are for pay.
Why we chose itiTunes U is a remarkable achievement. Apple; via iTunes and it’s iOS devices has somehow succeeded in making itself the de-facto distribution network for online courses and materials for what seems to be every college in the US and beyond. Just download iTunes (free); go to the iTunes U section; and browse freely. To download the iTunes app go here.

7. OpenStax: provides open source, professional-quality college textbooks

OpenStax illustration

ConceptOpenStax is a Rice University affiliated nonprofit organization that aims to provide completely free; professional-quality open source textbooks on most subjects that are standardized and peer reviewed.
Course formatDownloadable open source ebooks (in Web/PDF/EPUB formats) that can be customized by the instructor to fit their needs.
TopicsAt the time of this writing: College Physics; Introduction to Sociology; Biology; Concepts of Biology; Anatomy and Physiology. Others may have been added since.
CostFree to download. Printed versions will be provided at cost of printing only.
Why we chose itBecause high quality; customizable open source textbooks can have a huge potential impact on democratizing higher education; and because textbooks are frequently one of the highest expenses that a student has to incur..

8. Alison: certification-focused online learning

Alison logo

ConceptCourses geared towards certifiable standard of proficiency. Once you complete the requirements for a certificate you will get credit for it and can print a certificate or buy a hard copy; however; Alison certification is not accredited.
Course formatPowerPoint presentations; videos; and audio content. Courses have a number of modules; followed by a graded assessment.
TopicsA wide range of topics that tend to be certifiable; such as IT (a lot of Microsoft courses); Project Management; Business Management and the like; but they also include English Language Skills to Personal Development courses.
CostAlison’s courses are free to take; however; on completion you will have the option to pay ($20-$60) to get a hard copy your certificate; alternately; you could just print one.
Why we chose itAlison’s certification oriented courses are unique among online education sites; and fill a very practical niche.

9. The Open Learning Initiative: high quality courses with a sophisticated teaching methodology

The Open Learning Initiative logo

ConceptTo provide high quality open courses combined with continuous feedback to anyone who wants to learn. The Open Learning Initiative is a project of Carnegie Mellon University.
Course formatStructured courses that include all sorts of media (readings; video lectures; and frequent exercises and assessments) designed to collect real time data on the student and his/her progress; which in turn is used for better course design.
TopicsA hodgepodge that includes the sciences; IT/computers; math; statistics; languages and economics.
Why we chose itbecause of the way courses are designed. These are not merely video playlists; but structured; interactive courses of very high quality.

10. Webcast.Berkeley: high quality video lectures on a wide range of subjects

webcast berkely illustration

ConceptWebcast.Berkeley is an archive of video lectures and other media organized as courses. Started in 1995; it now contains hundreds of courses are offered completely free
Course formatCourses are spread over a number of video lectures that are provided in sequence; although there is no interactivity or a system for evaluation.
TopicsUndergraduate courses and events (i.e.talks and seminars and the like) Topics range across very conceivable subject from art to statistics to philosophy.
CostFree. Creative Commons licensed; and can be used by instructors and others for their own teaching purposes.
Why we chose itBecause the content and courses are of the highest standards; coming from one of the best Universities in the world. Moreover; unlike many other video archive based e-courses that typically consist of a single video; Webcast Berkeley strings together multiple videos in a sequence that make up a course.

Note on course credit: there is no online education resource that we know of that offers free courses for credit. The courses offered in these sites are for personal learning; earning credits and degrees will involve enrolling into a paid program, unfortunately.

Know of an important FREE online education resource that we missed? Please share in the comments section.

  • John


    Also pretty good. Well organized and covering many areas of study.

    From their homepage:

    Saylor.org is a free and open collection of college level courses. There are no registrations or fees required to take our courses, and you will earn a certificate upon completion of each course. Because we are not accredited, you will not earn a college degree or diploma; however, our team of experienced college professors has designed each course so you will be able to achieve the same learning objectives as students enrolled in traditional colleges.

  • Me

    For engineering and IT related courses, this one is rather amazing: http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/

  • Alaa

    I like Udacity

  • Ravi Kumar

    awssome this is the thing i wanted

  • zen

    update: received an email from udacity that you have to pay if you register as a student. as i understand their new policy, visitors can view the courses but not participate.

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  • Liam

    The best thing in all of these resources is that you don’t need to write any coursework or essay.. I hate this at my college and usually ask essayshark write it for me. But resources from this article are really interesting. I like Coursera!