Where To Find Free Online Courses: Knowledge For All & What Else To Expect
by Daric Gill
As schools and colleges scramble to adapt to this age of online learning, students and educators are having to reinvent their ideas of education. Formally a college educator myself, I am familiar with the challenges of both sides of this coin. For the past 12+ years, I’ve built a collection of free artist resources for professional development in the creative field.
This article will cover a broader scope, listing searchable databases and online courses for arts and non-arts related interests. The hope is to help build equality and aid in the pursuit of greater knowledge for little or no cost at all! As an added bonus for the artists reading this, I will include a small sentence for each link explaining what to expect in the arts category.
Admittedly, the nuances of hands-on art-making is a particularly hard field to teach online, which is why it’s not as present as history or design-based fields. None-the-less, there are plenty of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at our disposal and I wish to share some of these resources with you all.
For simplicity sake, I’m categorizing the types of free online learning into 2 categories:
Research, education, and scholarship modeled after in-school or academic learning. Instructors are typically employed by the college or university you are taking courses from and are certified to teach. (e.g. Free Online college classes)
2. Skills Sharing
Education style based on communal knowledge sharing. Instructors often are enthusiasts that have knowledge through real-life experience and have various levels of expertise. Lessons can be quick bite-sized explanations or investigative deep dives into a specific topic. Instructor may gain income from individual class fees, sponsored ads, or other occupation not related to the instruction. (e.g. online tutorials, blogs, workshops).
What To Expect From Free Academia-Inspired Courses
General participation is similar to a in-school class audit. You’ll most likely be an independant learner with no grades or applicable college credits. Sometimes there’s an instructor that provides live lectures, while other times it is simply a pre-recorded lesson plan. Many courses provide some base level tests. The classes are typically scheduled at specific times, although participation may or may not be requested for that exact time-slot. Basic-level instruction is free, while additional payments are optional if deeper access is desired. These costs could range from small to large and would provide applicable college credits, added instructor access, additional quizzes and projects, as well as a course certificate upon completion. In some instances, you may be given access to student-priced software and extra online student portals.
What To Expect From Skills Sharing Courses
Most often the education is single goal or task specific, but longer more in depth classes are certainly possible. Instructors may or may not have official credentials and could rely more on experience than scholarly background. Costs range from free to subscription fees, depending on the platform from which you are learning. Most expenses would go towards paying an individual more directly than say a college would pay them. Paid extras might feature added instructor access or additional quizzes and projects. Learning and scheduling is often more at the discretion of the student rather than instructor.
Tagline: “Access 2500+ Online Courses from 140 Institutions.”
– Plenty of options: Engineering, Humanities, Computer Science, Business Management, etc. Arts & Culture section centers around ancient history, world cultures, foreign languages, & writing.
Tagline: “Choose from hundreds of online courses from top universities and specialist organisations.”
– Wide range of classes like Law, Politics and Society, to Environment. Plenty of arts-specific courses, taught by active professionals.
Tagline: “Class Central is a search engine and reviews site for free online courses popularly known as MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses.”
– Good general classes. Art courses primarily centered around music & history.
Open Education Database
Tagline: “Open Education Database is the most comprehensive collection of online college rankings and free courses anywhere online.”
– Great searchable database of over 10,000+ free online college courses. Advice section is a good feature.
Tagline: “We envision a world where anyone, anywhere can transform their life by accessing the world’s best learning experience.”
– Access to hundreds of on-demand video lectures, exercises, and community discussion forums from numerous colleges. All the normal courses you may expect: computer science, business, and engineering. Arts & Humanities classes range from Graphic Design, Fashion Design, Guitar for Beginners, etc.
Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative
Tagline: “OLI provides dozens of college-level courses, and a platform that enables research and experimentation with any aspect of the learning experience.”
– Not all courses are free, but costs are reasonably low priced. Nice spattering of courses centering mostly in sciences. Arts courses are limited.
MIT Open Courseware
Tagline: “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.”
-Mission statement says it all. If you’re interested in crossing your art with some science/math/technology, look no further. I’ve been watching Erik Demaine’s lectures on Geometric Folding Algorithms on Youtube (computational origami).
Harvard Online Courses
Tagline: “Advance your career. Pursue your passion. Keep learning.”
-A mixture of free and paid courses ranging from: leadership, computer science, health, business, religion, etc. Quality free art history and education/teaching classes.
Tagline: “Stanford Online offers you a front row seat to some of the brightest minds at Stanford. Our robust catalog of global and extended education provides a variety of ways to expand your learning, advance your career, and enhance your life.”
-Great general platform for anything from America’s Poverty & Inequality to Rocket propulsion. Mixture of free and paid general courses that are great. Arts and Humanities center on more pragmatic and/or social avenues like Audio Signal Processing For Music Applications and Love as a Force for Social Justice.
Tagline: “Find with multiple criteria MOOCs and Free Online Courses from Coursera, edX, FutureLearn and other Top Providers and Universities in a wide range of categories and subjects.”
-Directory aggregator pulling courses from several resources listed in both categories of learning (academia-inspired and skills sharing). Free. Although some providers may charge for things like graded items, course completion certificates or exams.
Skills Sharing Links
Free!– The king of all video tutorials. We all know this. But it may surprise you to know that most of my education outside of college has come from great tutorials on this free awesome site. Anything you want to know could potentially be found here. From home repairs, to quality software education; Skilled photography tutorials to engineering. Reputable colleges also upload their content here. There are drawbacks though. With such a massive platform, you may have to look a while before finding the instructor that most jives with your learning style. Also, an ad blocker extension for your web browser may be an optional aid.
Free!– Yes, Google also has a searchable database of online courses about a lot of topics. Digital Marketing, data and tech, career development, social psychology, mindfulness, and machine learning — to name a few. Some courses are through academic institutions while others are created by Google for more specific skill sharing applications. They offer certificates (paid), webinars, remote work, and partnerships. Good for artists with an interest in enhancing their web presence or developers looking to bone up on codes for interactive artworks.
Tagline: “Unlock a passion, side hustle, or new professional skill with thousands of classes in design, business, and more.”
-Free trial. Then subscription fee. Very artist friendly. Classes range from Drawing, Photography, and Animation to Entrepreneurship, Leadership & Management.
Tagline: “YOURS FOR THE MAKING. Instructables is a community for people who like to make things. Come explore, share, and make your next project with us!”
– Free. As the mission explains, great step-by-step tutorials for people who want to learn how to make things. Centered around technology, arts, crafts, and DIY.
Tagline: “150K courses… Udemy is the leading global marketplace for teaching and learning, connecting millions of students to the skills they need to succeed.”
-Most courses require a subscription, but often on discount. “Lifetime Access”. General course offerings ranging from Health & Wellness to Finance & Accounting. Plenty of hand-skills classes for artists (like Drawing) as well as Photography and Music.
LinkedIn Learning (formally Lynda.com)
Tagline: “Keep learning in the moments that matter. Courses for every step of your career. Instructors with real-world experience.”
-Free Trial. Then subscription. Lynda provided great web and design software tutorials for creatives. LinkedIn is obviously job training/spreadsheet/business oriented. Lessons feature both sets of interests.
Tagline: “Founded by innovative and award-winning filmmaker George Lucas in 1991, we take a strategic approach to improving K-12 education through two distinct areas of focus: Edutopia and Lucas Education Research.”
– More of a teacher and education-related resource than a typical online learning center. Articles and studies that surround re-inventing the educational system for educators, administrators, and parents.
Tagline: “Watch thousands of lessons from the best as they share their stories, skills, shortcuts, failures, and successes.”
-Subscription. Pre-recorded professionals teaching via video anything from Business, Culinary Arts, Entertainment, Sports, etc.
Local Community Centers, Collaboration Spaces, and MakerSpaces
Many of these spaces have had to start expanding their shared knowledge online as a result of recent events. A quick Google search for “local makerspace” or “Your town + community center” could yield classes that range from resume building to beginning software development.
Open source electronics have put their fingerprint on the world of education with their exceptional tutorial platforms. Businesses like Adafruit and Sparkfun have secured themselves as a future business model in part by providing excellent tutorial platforms for the products they make. Combined with example-rich code repositories like Github.com, many DIY electronics can give you the product, examples to set them up, and tutorials on how to continue learning.
I just found this article by Artsy, “10 University Art Classes You Can Take for Free Online”. It was written a couple years ago, but all the classes are still listed at the time of this article.
You can find more free articles like this on my Artist Resource page. My mission is to provide free and accessible tools for artists, educators, and enthusiasts. I encourage you to share and refer people here as often as you wish. Naturally, these articles take many hours to thoroughly research and write. If you’d like to support me as an artist and advocate, please consider donating whatever you can. Thank you!