Platforms with Free Online Courses

Know and understand the main concepts of different platforms for free online courses.

Where to start

Online education have come a long way and became quite popular in the recent years. Distance learning courses are a reality and a great way to improve your knowledge, acquire new skills and even increase your curriculum.

The possibilities range from simple free tutorials on open platforms like Youtube to formal and expensive courses offered by renowned institutions. Whether to advance in your profession, start a new career or just start a hobby, there will certainly be an online course with the subject and the price that interests you.

As the possibilities are endless, this article provides tips and information so that you understand the main concepts and can evaluate different options. Grouping courses according to their characteristics will facilitate the choice.

Set goals

First of all, it is convenient to establish your objectives. For example, if you want to improve your curriculum, a course from a renowned institution with a certificate of completion may be ideal.

On the other hand, acquiring or improving a set of skills or learning a new language are often highly valued and could help you to advance your carrier and get a salary raise or a promotion. This things can make a difference, even without a certification.

Organize the agenda and contents

Two other important characteristics to be considered are the deadline for completing the course and the class schedule. While some have a set timetable for classes and a set deadline for completion, others, which are more flexible, do not impose a fixed timetable or specify a completion date. That is, they can be taken at the pace and duration that the student decides.

There are also those mixing these two features offering most of the content for unlimited time and flexible hours, but with certain features that are only accessible during the official duration of the course.

An example is to have pre-recorded video lessons, which can be consumed at any time, and some live classes or activities (in the form of individual or group video calls), which are only available on an established date.

Another example is to have content available indefinitely, but a finite period to answer questions, usually ending at the end of the course.

As for the language, it depends a lot on the chosen platform. Schools and universities usually offer courses in the language of their country of origin, but you can eventually find courses in your own language even at international institutions. It’s common for independent platforms to have instructors and courses in different languages.

Speaking of technology, there are many courses in this area. Courses in programming languages or web design are quite common. Major technology companies like Microsoft or Google offer courses to qualify and recruit new employees.

It is worth noting that there are courses in practically all areas of human knowledge: Administration, Finance, Project Management, Industrial Engineering, Bio-mechanics, Fashion, Psychology, Literature, and more. The list is huge.

Further on, we will indicate some known platforms, but it is only a starting point. A quick search will reveal many other options.

How much it costs

And how much does a online course cost? There are also all kinds of options here.

Surprisingly, even renowned entities can offer free courses. To mention just two examples, Harvard and Fundação Getúlio Vargas have some free courses.

The business model for each platform varies widely. Some charge for each course individually. Others adopt a subscription model and charge, for example, an annual fee and you can take as many courses as you like over the course of a year.

Many do promotions and offer coupons that result in great discounts. USD 100 courses can run for just USD 11 during a limited time promotion. Some offer courses for free but charge a fee if you want to issue a certificate. The payment method is usually via credit card or Paypal.

Differences between platforms and content presentation

Try to familiarize yourself with the content and how the course will be taught. There is no standard formula.

There are those that can be followed on different devices, from cell phones, tablets or conventional computers. The vast majority works directly in the browser, but some may require the installation of their own application. In this case, a specific system such as Windows, Android, IOS or Linux may be necessary.

Each course has its particularities. The most common are lectures in the form of pre-recorded video lessons with instructors talking about the content. Others may have exercises to be downloaded or solved online. And there are even those that involve carrying out a project or preparing and delivering a thesis at the end.

Support materials are not limited to videos only. It is common to have handouts and books in digital format available for download or online reading, recommendations of physical books, live video sessions and group work.

As you may have noticed, the fact that it’s an online course doesn’t mean it’s easy or superficial. Some may be easy, but good courses may require as much or even more dedication than a face-to-face presential course.

Your self-discipline and determination will be put to the test. Not all courses are taught by teachers with academic backgrounds. Many instructors are experienced professionals in their field. This can be very good.

Remember that before formal education as we know it today, people learned directly from renowned professionals who welcomed apprentices and made them their disciples.

Training with a renowned professional can be as valuable as a diploma from a famous university.

Online Platforms

MOOC means Massive Open Online Courses.

LanguagesEnglish, French, Chinese, Russian and Portuguese
University and associated partners
FeaturesIt aggregates courses from several universities and specialized companies. There are free courses, with and without certification, and in the most diverse areas and different duration.
Main categoriesPersonal Development; Art, Design & Creativity; Computer Science; Education and teaching; Health & Medicine; Mathematics; Science; Humanities; Data Science; Programming; Engineering
University and associated partners
FeaturesIt offers from free courses (duration of the course +14 days) to paid versions with unlimited access. Courses with different duration allow you to develop new skills or obtain professional or academic certification.
Main categoriesBusiness & Management, Creative Arts & Media, Healthcare & Medicine, History, IT & Computer Science, Language, Law, Literature, Nature & Environment, Politics & Society, Psychology & Mental Health, Science, Engineering & Maths, Study Skills, Teaching

EDX is an open platform founded by Harvard and MIT. It aggregates courses from renowned universities and companies from all around the world. It brings together courses from more than 120 partner institutions and companies

LanguagesEnglish and Spanish
University and associated partners
FeaturesIt has over 35 million users worldwide and offers free and paid courses with individual and business plans. It has degree programs whose credits are accepted at universities.
Main categoriesArchitecture; Art & Culture; Biology & Life Sciences; Business & Management; Chemistry; Communication; Computer Science; Data Analysis & Statistics; Design; Economics & Finance; Education & Teacher Training; Electronics; Energy & Earth Sciences; Engineering; Environmental Studies; Ethics; Food & Nutrition; Health & Safety; History; Humanities; Language; Law; Literature; Math; Medicine; Music; Philanthropy; Philosophy & Ethics; Physics; Science; Social Sciences

Fundação Getúlio Vargas Online offers refresher, graduation, improvement and specialization / MBA courses.

FeaturesOffers knowledge produced by FGV Schools and Units – Ebape, Eaesp, EPGE, Eesp, Emap, Cpdoc, Direito Rio, GVLaw, Ibre. It has some free courses.
Main categoriesAdvocacy; People management; International relations; Economics and Finance; Project management; Quantitative Methods and Technology; Education and Humanities; Business management; Sustainability and Social Responsibility; Management of Specific Sectors; Public administration; Logistics and Operations; Marketing and Sales.

Unlike the previous ones, Udemy does not have renowned institutions or schools behind it. Anyone can be a student or instructor.

LanguagesEnglish, German, Spanish, French, Bahasa Indonesian, Italian, Chinese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Thai and Turkish.
FeaturesOrdinary people, professionals, entrepreneurs, in short, anyone can prepare a course and publish it on the platform either free or charging the amount they want. The platform in turn earns a percentage of the amount charged for paid courses.
Main categoriesThe subjects are the most diverse.

Founded by two professors of Computer Science at Stanford University. It has renowned instructors from more than 200 universities and companies worldwide, such as Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Google, IBM among others.

University and associated partners
FeaturesPresence in 51 countries offering more than 4,309 courses in several languages. Courses prepared by both educational institutions and companies.
Principais categoriasArts and Humanities; Business; Computer Science; Data Science; Information Techonology; Health; Math and Logic; Personal Development; Physical Science and Engineering; Social Sciences; Language Learning

Conclusion and important tips  

Finally, there are some important tips. Check the availability of the course in your region. In countries with restricted access to certain applications, some courses may not work. Or perhaps, the resources are accessible, but the internet speed makes it impractical to follow classes.

Another tip is to see the evaluation of each course and its instructor. Read the comments and consider the number of students who have already taken the course. If there is an area for clarifying doubts, see if the instructor usually answers the questions presented there.

Make sure the course is current. Courses may be out of date. For example, a course that teaches you how to use advanced Excel features can be for a dated version of the program. When the course issues a certificate, look carefully at the criteria necessary to obtain it. It may be necessary to reach a certain grade in a test or to deliver a work of completion. Also in relation to the certificates, check if it has the due legal recognition from the respective regulatory body.

Check which forms of communication are used by the instructor. Otherwise, you may miss some important warning. Even though online courses have their specific platform, they may require to subscribe to an outside mailing lists or joining a social media to communicate with the students.

Make sure you have access to these social media. It may be necessary to create an account in some application or collaboration tool used during the course. This is a great way to increase your network and learn from other students.

Have a great learning!

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