The time has come that what you have learned at college is no longer sufficient to last you through your working life. Due to the rapid development of technology, some skills become obsolete faster than others but in general any skill needs to be updated every decade at a minimum. Constant learning is now part of our life and as busy professionals without time to attend college courses, seminars, workshops or conferences, we have embraced e-learning as the possible solution.

Knowing how pricy e-learning development can be, it comes as a nice surprise that there are great quality, free online courses. The massive open online courses (MOOCs) are one of the options to address the problem with access to constant learning opportunities, however there are other possibilities to find free courses as well.

What are MOOCs and Where Do They Come From?

Before the digital age, distance learning was also popular and was in the form of correspondence courses. This type of learning was practiced between the 1890s and the 1920s. The later version was radio and TV broadcast, which were popular even during the world wars.

The rapid technological development and the introduction of PCs and later internet lead to the emergence of e-learning and MOOC. The massive open online courses (MOOCs) are free web-based distance learning programs that are available to a large group of participants, regardless of their geographical location. Their appearance enabled people, who would otherwise have no access to a college education to enhance their knowledge, learn new skills and improve their working opportunities and living conditions.

The term MOOC appeared for the first time in 2008 and was coined by Dave Cormier, from the University of Prince Edward Island for a course offered by the University of Manitoba. The course was on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge and comprised of 25 tuition-paying students from the university and attracted nearly 2,300 other learners, who took the course online for free. The distribution of the course was facilitated by RSS feeds and participation was possible due to the Moodle learning management system, blog posts and even included real-time online meetings.

Today, MOOCs have evolved to become interactive courses that include all the elements of a successful e-learning course but are available to an unlimited number of participants. Some of the industry professionals predict a great future for the MOOCs while others doubt their efficiency since they attract a lot of learners but the drop-out numbers are also significant. Some other disadvantages include the lack of an effective system to track the progress of the learners and give personalized feedback.

Is Free Better for You?

Now, first and foremost, before you start looking for online courses you need to establish for yourself whether a free course will suffice or would it be better to opt for a paid one.

One of the main disadvantages of the free courses is that they don’t count for credit to students at universities nor award certificates. Therefore, you should check whether just acquiring or updating a certain skill is enough for your job or employer or is it the certificate that matters. The good thing is, that you can combine both. You can enroll in as many free courses as you need in order to polish your skills and enrich your knowledge and take an advanced or shorter certification course. Thus, you can have the best of both worlds.

It is worth noting down, however, that the term free course does not necessarily mean that it is of low quality. On the contrary, quite often a lot of organizations spend millions of dollars on preparing free online courses that target the most vulnerable members of the society around the world, who otherwise have no access to education. Quite often these courses are translated and localized in the native language of the region in order to offer better understanding of the subject matter.

Specialized Sites Offering Free Online Courses

One of the best ways to find a free online course is to browse through the specialized websites offering a selection of courses. They are quite easy to navigate and usually the courses are divided into categories by topic or subject such as:

  • Social science and humanities
  • Math
  • Design
  • Economics
  • Business
  • Geography
  • History, etc.

There are many sites offering thousands of opportunities for those who want to learn but here are a couple worth mentioning:

  • openculture.com offers nearly 1,300 free online courses, more than 1,000 MOOCs, 1,150 free movies, 700 free audio books, 800 free eBooks, 200 free textbooks, 300 free language lessons, 150 free business courses and free K-12 education;
  • futurelearn.com promises high quality online education with free online courses from top universities and specialist organizations. They offer a total of 14 course categories, most popular of which are Business & Management, Health & Psychology, Tech & Coding and Teaching. You can see which are the upcoming courses and join those which have started recently.

Choose a University and See What They Offer

Universities and colleges also organize and offer free online courses. You may wonder why would a university offer their expertise for free? The question is pretty simple – there is a push to make learning as accessible, open and attractive as possible and universities need to embrace that tendency in order to keep their position as leading education providers. If a university wants to be ahead of the game it has to show flexibility, give access to interactive education, and embrace the digital revolution and blended learning.

Among the names of the best universities that offer to share knowledge for free are leading institutions such as University of Cambridge, Harvard University, Yale, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John Hopkins University, Stanford University and many more.

The Open University, which launched the first online classes back in 1976, is naturally part of this list. Learners can choose courses in the field of arts, business, youth, computing, education, engineering, health, languages, sciences, law, math, and social sciences. The courses can be accessed online, downloaded and even printed out. They use materials in the form of text, image, audio, and video.

In conclusion it can be pointed out that there is an abundance of free e-learning courses accessible for everybody. Whether you would use a specialized site to access them or visit the web page of a specific university to find out what they offer is up to you. Inspire the change in the world by constantly improving your skills and broadening your views.

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