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Can Free Online Courses Be as Good as Paid Ones?

Many adults have had the desire to add to their knowledge and skills. Some simply enjoy the academic environment with its stimulating ideas. Another person may need to add to their professional qualifications. Others may have been out of the workforce for some time and need to build useful, updated skills for their resume. The availability of free online courses has exploded in the last decade. These courses are flexible and cost nothing (except perhaps materials like notebooks, art supplies, etc.). They rely on self-motivated individuals who love to learn or need courses that fit into their lives. Retirees can stimulate their minds as they explore the world from home. The person whose workplace is undergoing a shift in focus can gain technical skills that will add to his or her skill set and value as an employee.

Finding Free Online Courses

A basic internet search for 'free online courses' will pull up many resources that are recognized throughout the world. Also, the local library may offer classes or at least point a person in the right direction for the online opportunities they seek. Libraries often have many normally costly courses (like The Learning Company courses) which they provide free for anyone holding a library card.

Many universities offer plenty of free courses online. The difficulty here is making a choice among the variety that is offered. Here are a few of those possible resources:

  • Harvard: from coding to cooking, they've got it all.
  • edX: free courses in computers, languages, mathematics, and much more.
  • Open Culture: where anything from films to recorded lectures and textbooks is available for anyone to peruse.
  • Coursera: from basic courses to full degrees, Coursera offers a variety of ways to expand your education at a variety of levels of cost (from free to full tuition).

Certificate Courses

For many people, workplace requirements expect employees to stay up on the latest knowledge in their field. Others may be returning to work after time away. Many free courses require active participation, interaction with other students and the teacher online, timely assignment completion, and professional as well as personal skill building. They offer a certificate upon completion. These certificates can add value to a resume because they not only exhibit work-related skill sets, but they are evidence that the individual has initiative and the ability to complete tasks on their own. Free courses offer the versatility to meet the needs of a variety of individual students, their goals, and their time and energy constraints.

Language Courses

Language courses are readily available through multiple providers online.

  • Livemocha - Livemocha is only one example of a user friendly language learning platform. There a student can arrange to practice their language of choice with native speakers from around the world.
  • Duolingo - Duolingo uses game-style learning on many levels.
  • Live Lingua - Live Lingua offers free courses for beginners but expects paid participation for higher levels.
  • FluentU - FluentU offers a free trial of their video-based language learning. This is not the standard contrived lesson dialog of a schoolroom, but the latest movies and TV shows.

For more resources, read up on the variety of language courses that are available today.

Math Courses

Ask any school student about math online and they'll probably tell you about Khan Academy. Started as a way for family members to help each other with homework, it has expanded globally into every interactive field of study in mathematics and then beyond. Join for free and experience the way the lessons adapt to personal understanding so that real skills can be learned. Other sources for free online math lessons include the Harvard, edX, and Open Culture sites listed above. Websites like OEDB include further resources. Finally, YouTube carries a variety of math classes from grade school through college.

Other Free Online Courses

History, cooking, and art are often popular choices for online learning. While these are available through universities, don't neglect other sources. Homeschool courses can easily be adapted to the needs of many adults. These are often freely available online for anyone to use. Browsing YouTube.com will bring up multiple recorded lectures, DIY skill building videos, and more.

It helps to remember that many university courses that often cost money are also available for audited participation. This means they are either free or cost far less than the standard course because they can be completed without credit. To get credit for the class, the student will need to pay the tuition for that class. However, taking it for free can be a good method for gaining additional knowledge and skills in a favorite field of study.

Completing any given course takes a special effort for the student who is working on their own. Support is often available through specific course providers. Get a friend involved as a study buddy. Choose an hour each week to dedicate to the course. Finishing these courses is an immense reward in its own right.

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