Online learning is a flexible, convenient route to self-improvement. Whether you want to train for another occupation while working, improve your skills to increase your current career prospects, learn more about a topic you’re passionate about, or simply improve your knowledge levels, there are myriad options available.
Thanks to the generosity of educational institutions in the United States and further afield, there are a plethora of MOOC college courses available online for free. (MOOC means “massive open online course,” aka “a course of study made available over the internet without charge to a very large number of people.”) In most cases, after you complete the course, you can choose to receive a verified certificate for a small fee to add to your resume.
One such platform that offers free online college courses from a large variety of educational institutions is edX. Created in 2012 by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it’s a nonprofit organization, so it invests any proceeds straight back into the platform and is open to everyone to access.
We’ve curated a selection of American universities on the edX platform offering free online college courses that you can start today from anywhere.
Boston’s Berklee College of Music is the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world. Its alumni, which includes John Mayer, Melissa Etheridge, and Aimee Mann, have won more than 400 Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards, more than any other college, so you’ll be joining an esteemed group of people if you choose to study from its syllabi.
BerkleeX’s edX options currently consist of five courses in both Spanish and English: vocal recording technology, introduction to the music business, creativity and entrepreneurship, introduction to music theory, and music for wellness.
These courses are all short, achievable options varying from four to six weeks, requiring a manageable weekly time commitment. Once you’ve completed the courses, you can add a verified certificate for $40.
Caltech is a world-renowned science and engineering research and education institution based in Pasadena, California. You don’t have to travel to the Golden State to enjoy its teachings, as there are plenty of CaltechX courses available for free online.
Caltech’s scientific, engineering, and technological contributions are world-famous. Faculty and alumni have racked up an impressive 32 Nobel Prizes, including two for Linus Pauling, who was awarded Nobel Prizes for both chemistry and peace. This means you’ll be in good hands if you choose to take on a CaltechX course, and if you want to impress your friends and family with a Caltech certificate on the wall, you can pay extra to get one once you’ve completed the course.
CaltechX has a carefully curated online offering of five courses, including principles of economics with calculus, pricing options with mathematical models, quantum cryptography, and learning from data, all of which are 10-week courses. The evolving universe course, a fascinating look at the formation, function, and evolution of stars, galaxies, black holes, quasars, and more, can be completed in just four weeks.
One of the United States’ eight Ivy League universities, Cornell University, based in Ithaca, New York, is a highly-respected educational institution with alumni that includes over 60 Nobel laureates, four Turing Award winners, and one Fields Medallist. The list includes Toni Morrison, Wole Soyinka, and Pearl Buck, who each won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Cornell doesn’t have the largest selection of online courses, but it does offer a select few via the edX platform, all of which are free to take, with a certificate available if you want to prove you’re a Cornell scholar.
Alongside STEM, engineering, and technology-themed offerings, CornellX also offers the fabulously monikered “Sharks!” in conjunction with The University of Queensland in Australia, to teach you all about the history, anatomy, and even cultural impact of the sea creatures. There’s also “The Ethics of Eating” and “American Capitalism: A History.”
Another Ivy League establishment, Dartmouth College is a prestigious research university based in Hanover, New Hampshire.
The College’s online offerings via edX are a varied assortment of arts and science topics you can access and study for free, with those prized certificates available for a fee. As far as science goes, there are a wealth of courses to teach you about computing with Linux and C programming content. There’s also an introduction to environmental science, and a five-week look at “Bipedalism: The Science of Upright Walking.”
On the arts side of things, you can get a free four-week look (or listen!) to German and/or Italian opera. There’s also the ability to study the classic literature of the 19th century.
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is one of the United States’ leading research universities, offering a technologically based education to over 25,000 students. You can join those thousands of scholars online through edX’s GTx portal.
GTx offers a large selection of free technology-based classes and courses that range from five-week courses you can study part-time at home, as well as paid-for options, on topics such as human-computer interaction and an introduction to Python programming, that can lead to a professional qualification, or even a master’s degree.
Sticking with the free options (you can, of course, choose to pay for a certificate), you can attend virtual Georgia Tech to learn about computing in Python, data structures and algorithms, and linear algebra.
As the oldest institute of higher education in the United States, Harvard University needs little introduction. You could join Harvard’s more than 350,000 alumni around the world if you invest some time in one of the institution’s MOOCs.
Harvard University’s edX courses can be audited free or students can choose to receive a verified certificate for a small fee. The courses vary greatly in terms of time to complete and the time commitment you need to make on a weekly basis, but all this information can be found on the courses’ information pages.
Subjects are varied and plentiful, with some giving you work-related skills and knowledge and others more suited to the pure joy of learning. Current offerings include an introduction to biochemistry, a wealth of data science topics, various studies of classical music, and understanding world religions through their scriptures.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a research university “dedicated to advancing knowledge and educating students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.”
Many of the freely available online MITx courses use the same materials developed for MIT residential courses in the Institute’s five schools across 33 academic disciplines. MITx courses can be audited free, or students can choose to receive a verified certificate for a small fee.
MITx courses encompass modern finance modules, studies about supply chains, a look at entrepreneurship, examining the challenges of global poverty and economic development, and an absolute ton of science-related studies. It’s worth noting that due to the complex nature of the topics, some MITx courses require a serious time commitment of up to 20 hours a week.