I never thought I would write computer code. But after two hours of coding lessons I put together a simple program. It wasn’t very useful — in fact, it caused colorful circles to be left behind wherever the mouse pointer moved. But it was a fun first step, and the class cost me nothing.
Maybe like me you love to learn new things just out of curiosity, or for personal enrichment. What you learn might sometimes be useful in your work, or even lead to a new job. In any case, there’s no reason you have to stop your education just because you’re done with school.
Continuing education classes (sometimes called “adult and community education”) are available in most communities, often for less than $100. That’s not expensive, but wouldn’t it be nice to get free continuing education?
You’re in luck. Here are ten ways to do exactly that. You’ll find free offerings from major universities on academic subjects, along with classes on photography, masonry, scientific ways to increase your influence, and using a paddle-board.
1. Khan Academy
Khan Academy is where I took the free computer programming course. None of their online classes cost a cent. But you won’t find “How to Use Facebook” or “Cooking With Cilantro” here. Khan’s classes cover mostly academic subjects, like these examples from their listings:
- Electrical engineering
- Finance and capital markets
- Art in 19th century Europe
- Differential equations
Khan Academy also partners with other schools so, for example, you can take classes produced by the Stanford School of Medicine or the Brookings Institution.
Udemy offers 35,000 courses, covering just about every subject you can think of. The courses include video lectures, audio downloads, online worksheets and other formats. Most of them cost something, but not all.
For example, I entered “chess” in the search box, and got 13 results, ranging in price up to $147. But two of the classes were free. One of them, offered by a professional chess coach, included 25 lectures.
Not sure what you want to learn? Just enter “free” in the search box, and you’ll get plenty of options. At the moment that includes these free courses:
- Become an Android Developer from Scratch
- Financial Accounting – A Brief Introduction
- 7 Scientifically Proven Steps to Increase Your Influence
- Photoshop for Web Design Beginners
- SEO for SEO Beginners
- Secret Sauce of Great Writing
- Your Road to Better Photography
- Home Health & Herbal Remedies: Essential Favorites
- The Neuroscience of Reframing & How to Do It
- An Entrepreneur’s Checklist
Once you sign up for an account (free), you’ll get regular emails from Udemy. In my experience, if you wait a while you’ll start to get many promotional offers for $10 classes that normally cost much more. That’s not quite free, but it’s getting closer.
Coursera.org offers over 1,500 courses by partnering with 138 universities and organizations around the world. Theoretically the courses are free, unless you decide that you want a “verified certificate” showing that you completed the course.
Sometimes users complain about not being able to locate the free classes, and Coursera offers little help with this in their “help center.” A search of their course catalog for “free courses,” produces this:
“Looking for free courses? For all courses on Coursera:
- You can explore lectures and non-graded material for free
- Prices shown reflect the cost for the complete course experience, including graded assignments and certificates
- Financial aid is available for learners who qualify”
Alison.com is similar to Coursera. They offer 750 free courses, charging you only if you want a diploma or certificate. Like Coursera, they make it difficult to determine what it will cost if you want more than just the free auditing of a course. One report says a certificate will run you $30 to $120, the latter price for a nice parchment version you can frame.
In any case, if you’re interested only in personal enrichment, there’s no cost. Here are some examples of the subject areas they cover:
- Social Work Skills
- Workplace Safety
- Masonry Skills
- Social Media Techniques
- Law and Legal Skills
5. University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, like some other major universities, offers a selection of free classes online through a program called UC BerkeleyX. These have essentially the same content as the on-campus courses (the only difference is that they may not be updated as often).
In addition to the free educational opportunity, you can get a “verified certificate” for a “small fee” that varies from course to course. Here are some of the courses currently offered online:
- The Science of Happiness
- English for Journalists: Key Concepts
- Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Computation
- How to Save Money: Making Smart Financial Decisions
- Science at the Polls: Biology for Voters, Part 1
- Solving Public Policy Problems: UC Berkeley’s Eightfold Path
6. Yale University
Open Yale Courses offers introductory level courses that “span the full range of liberal arts disciplines, including humanities, social sciences, and physical and biological sciences.” Here are some examples:
- PHIL 181: Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature
- BENG 100: Frontiers of Biomedical Engineering
- ECON 159: Game Theory
- EVST 255: Environmental Politics and Law
- PHYS 200: Fundamentals of Physics I
- CLCV 205: Introduction to Ancient Greek History
They do not offer certificates, but they are also entirely free.
7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT OpenCourseWare offers “virtually all MIT course content” for free. That includes material from over 2,200 courses. No credits or certificates are offered. Here are some of the subjects in their current offerings:
- Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
- Linguistics and Philosophy
- Music and Theater Arts
- Urban Studies and Planning
- Women’s and Gender Studies
- Nuclear Science and Engineering
- Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Wikiveristy.com has pulled together over 21,000 learning resources. These include “learning projects, and research for use in all levels, types, and styles of education from pre-school to university, including professional training and informal learning.”
To find the more-structured content, click “Courses” in the box that says “Explore Wikiversity.” That will take you to an alphabetized list of hundreds of courses.
9. Open Culture
OpenCulture.com is essentially a portal for online cultural and educational media. It’s useful if you want to find a list of resources for a particular subject area. For example, they have a list of places to learn 48 different languages for free.
There links to 200 free textbooks you can download in various formats, and you can also choose from hundreds of free audio books, which can be downloaded for your iPod, MP3 player, or streamed online.
10. Local Classes
To find free continuing education classes locally, Google “free classes” plus the name of your city or county. To get the most current information, click “Search tools” and choose “Past month.”
Doing that for Sarasota County, Florida (where we lived last year) I found a free marketing seminar and free paddleboard lessons on the first page of results. Now that I live in Tucson, Arizona, a Google search turned up free computer and pilates classes, as well as some free lectures. For those interested in more free courses, check out our list of the Top 20 Free MOOC’s for free online courses.
If you’ve taken advantage of any opportunities for free continuing education, please tell us about it below. Happy (and smart) frugaling!