The internet has transformed the way we gather, process, and deliver information, making it a perfect accompaniment to tried-and-true methods of learning and teaching. As a result, we now have many online learning websites that are literally at our fingertips, and many of them are free. To compile this list of 24 impressive online learning sites, our editors scoured the web for platforms offering courses in both traditional and nontraditional areas of study. What results is a curation of the very best online education websites available today.
Reviewing the Best Online Learning Sites
As one of the oldest free education websites on our list, Academic Earth has been curating online courses from the world’s top colleges and universities, such as Stanford, Princeton, Yale, and Carnegie Mellon, since 2009. Their mission is to make high-quality education accessible to people all over the globe, despite economic burdens. As a comprehensive online learning site, Academic Earth also offers original video electives on a wide range of captivating topics, including titles such as How the Internet is Changing Your Brain, How the End of World War II Made Us Fat, and The Psychology of the Internet Troll.
Alison is a free online learning site offering over 750 courses leading to either certification or a diploma. All courses are self-paced and designed to help students become eligible for college, get a job, or earn a promotion. Alison provides courses on a diverse range of topics, including carpentry, banking, entrepreneurial skills, geography, and human resources, among many others. Popular diploma options include diplomas in psychology, project management, customer service, and nursing and patient care. At the time of this writing, this free online education website has reached over 9 million learners in 250 different countries.
A unique online learning website, BBC Podcasts offers free educational programming for pre-school students, primary school students, secondary school students, and adult learners. Learning series include Learning English Drama, 6-Minute Grammar, Shakespeare Retold, and The Great Fire of London. All podcasts are available for free download from your computer, tablet, or phone, and members can subscribe to multiple podcast series. Some podcasts are only available for a month at a time, but others are offered indefinitely.
Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative
The Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative was founded in 2002 through a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for the purpose of advancing and transforming higher education. This free education website currently offers 27 courses, including titles such as Anatomy & Physiology, Arabic for Global Exchange, Introduction to Visual Design, and Probability & Statistics. Students receive consistent feedback as they progress through course modules, so they know whether or not they are mastering the content or need additional review. It is important to note that this particular online learning site does not offer credit or certification for courses taken.
Code.org is a targeted free education site offering full courses in computer science at no charge to the learner. The non-profit organization behind Code.org believes that computer science classes should be just as easily accessible as traditional courses such as Math and English and that women and minorities should be encouraged to pursue careers in computer science. Courses available from this online learning website are offered on various levels, from kindergarten to high school, and reach learners worldwide. Classes are taught in over 45 different languages and accessed from more than 180 different countries.
The online learning website edX was founded in 2012 through a collaboration between Harvard University and MIT. The courses offered on this premiere online learning site are curated from the top universities and organizations worldwide, including UC Berkeley, Microsoft, Cornell University, and the Smithsonian, for example. Some popular programs available from edX include Cybersecurity, Marketing in a Digital World, Solar Energy Engineering, and Artificial Intelligence. In addition to advancing teaching and learning, edX also works to conduct meaningful research, enhancing many fields of study.
The Open University on iTunes U
The Open University has physical locations in the UK and delivers educational content in several formats, but one of the best ways for individuals around the world to access Open University content is through iTunesU. OU was the first university in Europe to reach a million subscribers on iTunesU, and it continues to be one of the service’s featured content providers. Learners can download courses from this free education site onto any device that has iTunes. Courses contain a mix of audio and visuals and cover a wide variety of topics.
Khan Academy is an online learning website that serves a diverse community of millions of learners by offering a wide selection of courses. Difficulty levels range from kindergarten to college, and courses are available in many different subject areas. One thing that makes Khan Academy unique is its coaching system. This system allows parents, mentors, and teachers who are using this program to teach younger members to track their child’s progress. Khan Academy also offers standardized test prep, as well as college admissions prep.
Open Culture doesn’t produce its own content as most online learning websites do. Instead, the Open Culture editors find free courses from other sources and organize them into a list. Currently, the website lists about 1,200 free online courses from respected universities such as Oxford, MIT, and Yale. It also curates lists of free movies, textbooks, and audiobooks for cultural education. This free education website may not be the most polished or easiest to navigate, but it’s a great way to find several courses and lectures on a subject from multiple sources.
Udemy is an online learning website that allows experts to sell lessons and learners to buy them. Unlike many of the other websites on this list, Udemy is more focused on developing skills than on academics. Lessons are available for skills such as programming, animation, and Microsoft Office, as well as more unusual skills such as ethical hacking. Some people may be deterred by the fact that these lessons aren’t free. However, many people find it a great source for high-quality lessons on useful or unusual skills.
Stanford Online is a prestigious online learning website that offers online courses in both academics and professional development. There are three major types of courses offered through this website: in-session, self-paced, and self-study. In-session courses are the most like traditional university courses. They are live, and instructors are heavily involved in the discussion. Self-paced courses give learners more freedom to progress through coursework at their own pace, but they still are limited to about a year. Self-study offers an unlimited amount of time to finish but does not offer a Statement of Completion or access to instructors.
The Harvard Extension is an online learning website that hosts several educational opportunities, including full degrees and graduate certificates. However, the offerings that most people will be interested in are the open-enrollment courses and professional development programs. There are almost 800 open enrollment courses across several subjects. Learners can take these courses in one of several different formats depending on their needs. The noncredit professional development programs are less flexible but will prove useful to most managers and other workplace leaders.
Open Yale Courses
Open Yale Courses is an online learning website that hosts free recordings of lectures and other materials from Yale introductory courses. Courses are available on a wide variety of subjects, including Environmental Studies, Economics, and Music. Lectures are available in many formats, including full videos, audio, and transcripts. Students also have access to syllabi, readings, and practice problems. In addition, OYC allows individuals to redistribute, build upon, or remix these materials, making it a great source for educational content creators.
UC Berkeley Class Central
UC Berkeley Class Central is a free education website that offers several free online courses across nine different subject areas. Learners can take courses live and receive supplemental materials and some access to instructors. Depending on the course provider, old courses may be archived so learners can watch the lectures. However, these archived courses may not offer all the features and materials available when the course was live. This online learning website also offers a handful of courses specifically designed for a more flexible self-study format.
MIT Open CourseWare
MIT Open Courseware’s online learning website is part of an effort to publish all of MIT’s course materials online so that they are available to more people. Materials are available for roughly 2340 MIT courses. Most of the available courses include full video lectures with transcripts and lecture notes, as well as exams and solutions. Many also include assigned reading materials and a free online textbook. The impressive amount of high-quality content makes this free education website one of the best sources of college-level materials.
University of London Podcasts
The University of London’s online learning website links to podcasts and videos recorded by its affiliated colleges and institutes. Some of these colleges have recorded hundreds of episodes that can be accessed for free on iTunes, Soundcloud, or their own websites. Most of the podcasts are recordings of lectures, but there is also some content made specifically for the podcasts. This online learning website is great for learners who want to listen to or watch content on the go.
University of Oxford Podcasts
The University of Oxford’s free education website runs several regularly-updated podcasts that cover many different topics. Most of the university’s colleges and departments record podcasts, so almost any topic you can think of is covered. Some of these podcasts have only a handful of episodes, but others have over one hundred, covering everything from traditional academics to current events and hot topics. Some of the most popular podcast series available from this free online learning site are Philanthropy, Children and Youth in a Changing World, and Chemistry for the Future.
TED Ed is TED’s youth and education initiative that creates original educational videos and allows teachers around the world to create and share their own lessons. Lessons from this free online learning site are typically short videos followed by questions and supplemental materials. One of the most unique aspects of TED Ed is its club feature. Clubs facilitate collaborative learning and make learning a more social experience. They also allow young students to take a leadership role in an educational community.
Lesson Paths is an online learning website that allows learners to create and browse “playlists,” a series of educational videos, readings, games, and quizzes on a particular subject. Playlists are divided into two main categories: academic and recreational. These two categories are then further broken down into subjects such as math, social studies, music, and sports. This website isn’t curated like many of the other online learning websites on the list, so it can be hard to find high-quality content just by browsing. However, it is a great tool for teachers and parents to use to create interactive study guides and lessons.
Memrise is an online learning website that offers several courses created by both its own team and by the community at large. Lessons are mostly based around vocabulary, and the most popular courses are language courses. However, courses are available for other subjects as well. One of the main features of this website is that it’s mobile-friendly. Apps are available for iOS and Android devices, making it easy to access lessons on the go. Most of Memrise’s content is available for free, though some features do require a “pro” account.
Hubspot Academy is an online learning website specifically geared for marketing and sales training. Users set goals, watch videos, and read articles on the most effective ways to draw in and retain customers. The website also walks its users through various projects, such as blog optimization and contact re-engagement. While this website is narrowly focused, mostly on getting users to purchase the main Hubspot product, it’s definitely one of the most comprehensive sources of marketing and sales education online.
Moz is primarily an SEO optimization service, but this online learning website also offers plenty of free education on SEO and Search Marketing. It is most known for its free Beginner’s Guide to SEO, which gives readers a comprehensive explanation of what SEO is and how search engines operate. Other free content includes webinar recordings, an SEO cheat sheet, and a short quiz on SEO basics. More in-depth content, such as workshops and conference videos, require payment.
Saylor Academy is a nonprofit online learning website that aims to make high-quality education accessible and affordable. Saylor offers almost 100 professional and college-level courses that provide digital certificates and college credit. Not all schools accept Saylor course credit, but if your university is part of Saylor’s network of partner schools, this is a great way to earn up to 64 credit hours for free. All courses offered through this free education website are flexible and self-paced, making them ideal for busy students and life-long learners.
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