Free Online Classes & Courses for Adults

This article examines three popular online, on-demand course websites that offer free classes. Learn about each resource, what style of courses are offered, and the origins of the classes.

Overview of Free Online Classes and Courses for Adults

Online education has improved and grown exponentially over the last few years, with many universities and academies turning to open course platforms to both promote their own programs and to offer free educational content to the masses. Websites that offer these classes typically have both free and paid options, where paid options involve receiving graded assignments, certificates, or even college credit that can be applied to degree programs. But many of these courses can be audited completely for free and taken on a self-directed basis. Topics range from hard sciences, business, programming, and writing to personal enrichment topics on health, culture, and self-development.


EdX, a non-profit created in 2012 by the joint efforts of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers thousands of free courses that cover nearly every subject imaginable. Though the site also offers some paid options, such as master’s degrees and professional certifications, most courses can be audited for free. Free courses also come with the option of purchasing certificates of completion, which can be uploaded to LinkedIn or listed on a resume. Classes are mostly video-based lectures that follow a traditional syllabus, with course readings, quizzes, and assignments available as well. Though the free option does not provide graded assignments, students still have full access to the course modules to maximize learning. Many courses are available, including the following:

  • Introduction to Computer Science, Harvard University
  • English Grammar and Style, University of Queensland


Coursera offers access to courses from respected universities as well as industry leaders. Paid options exist, but there are plenty of free courses across many topics. Students can participate in classes that teach everything from computer science, business, and chemistry to arts, languages, and humanities. Most courses follow a traditional structure of lectures, additional reading materials, and assignments. Some courses offer discussion forums and automatically graded quizzes so that even non-paying students can get feedback and participate more fully in the course. A few class options that are totally accessible for free from Coursera include:

  • The Science of Well-Being, Yale University
  • Financial Engineering and Risk Management, Columbia University


Udemy’s platform offers courses taught by professionals, industry experts, and by everyday people who have expertise in specific areas of interest. As a website that allows non-university instructors, Udemy boasts a robust, diverse pool of teachers totaling around forty-two thousand in 2019. At that time, this provider also had around 100,000 courses, available in many different languages. Udemy houses both paid and free courses, but even some of the free courses are offered at the advanced or expert level. Since courses are not required to be university courses, a much wider range of classes are available on Udemy. Academic subjects such as writing skills, sciences, and business are available, but there are also ample courses on personal enrichment topics like parenting, mindfulness, and public speaking. Classes contain video lectures and supplemental resources, and depending on the instructor may also include quizzes and discussions. Just a few of the courses offered include:

  • Self Leadership, Tony Brooks
  • Operations Management, Professor Gad Allon