It seems like these days you can learn just about anything online for free, but of course some of that information is better than others. The good news is there are plenty of reputable places to educate yourself online for free, and here’s a good 20 of them to get you started.
The coolest thing about Internet learning is that you can take college courses which in the past were only available to people who forked over immense sums of money to attend elite colleges. Coursera brings a bunch of those classes together into one site, offering nearly 400 courses ranging from Introduction to Guitar from Berklee College of Music to Constitutional Law from Yale.
Courses typically include videos and certain coursework (such as online quizzes) that must be completed in a certain amount of time, as these courses are monitored by a professor. Stop by regularly to see what’s new, or search for topics that interest you can put them on a watch list so you’ll be notified when a new class begins.
2. Khan Academy
Home to more than 3,000 videos on subjects ranging from SAT prep to cosmology, art history to calculus, Khan Academy is a great place to learn. Detailed courses are broken into smaller sections of text or videos for ease of learning that fits into your schedule, and all are self-paced so you can spend as much or as little time with the subject as you like.
You can also leave comments or ask questions if you want more information or if something isn’t clear in the lessons.
The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a worldwide effort to make college and university level course materials accessible for free on the Internet. Search for a specific topic that interests you, or search by language (20 are available) or the source of the coursework.
There are more than 5,000 classes in English alone, covering everything from statistical thermodynamics (Middle East Technical University) to Epidemics in South African History (University of Cape Town) and Creole Language and Culture (University of Notre Dame).
A global-learning resource with courses in English, French and German, ALISON covers everything from SAT prep to health and safety courses required in Ireland. There are lessons on everything from study skills to American copyright law, currency exchange to nonprofit fundraising, and general accounting to negotiating when buying a house.
Completion of a course grants you “certification,” which is a British designation, but it’s still kind of fun.
5. MIT Open Courseware
If you always wanted to attend a big-name school like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now you can do the next best thing by taking many of its courses for free from your home on your own time. The MIT Open Courseware site posts course materials from a wide variety of classes you can search by department.
Choosing a course will show you when it was originally taught and by whom, and will give you access to the syllabus, course calendar, readings, assignments and study materials. You can download the course materials and work through the course at your own pace.
6. Academic Earth
If you’d like a broader collection of courses than MIT provides, Academic Earth is a great place to look. This free course aggregator has a stunning collection of courses from around 50 universities across the globe. You can search by source or general subject.
Don’t miss the curated playlists on topics such as natural laws, the nature of evil and the economic crisis. The video electives—with subjects like how to take a punch and why World War II made us fat—are lots of fun, too.
7. Open Learning Institute
The Open Learning Institute from Carnegie Mellon University allows access to a handful of course materials so you can learn at your own pace from the same kind of materials and self-guided assessments that would be used in a classroom. Their offerings are limited, but there’s a lot of detail in the coursework. Instructor-led courses are also sometimes available.
8. Open Culture
This site isn’t very pretty, but Open Culture does boast a collection of more than 700 downloadable courses, including college-level, certificate-bearing classes, language lessons, educational materials for K-12 and more.
There are also just some interesting links that aren’t to courses but you’ll still learn something from, such as this post on a reading list suggested by Ernest Hemingway.
9. Open Education Database
The well-designed Open Education Database claims more than 10,000 courses from universities from around the world. Search by topic and you’ll see the number of full courses, as well as which courses have audio lessons, video lessons or mixed media, so you can learn in whatever way you like.
You can also use this site to learn about online and offline schools, should you choose to continue your education in a more formal way.
10. iTunes U
Many of these same online courses can be accessed away from your computer with the help of iTunes U, a free app that can be downloaded to you iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. It says that it includes 500,000 different courses, with material ranging from elementary school to college-level.
There’s also educational material here from respected institutions like the New York Public Library and MoMA. You can also add notes to the videos, share with friends and keep your course materials in iBooks so you have everything you need to learn wherever you are.
The TED talks are a legendary source of information on all sorts of topics, and any discussion of how to educate yourself for free online needs to include them. There are now thousands of videos on all sorts of topics available on the site.
If you’re a fan of whimsy you can also get the site to suggest a fascinating, beautiful or informative video for you, among other tags. This may not be formal education but it certainly can be life-changing.
Love videos by experts on all sorts of topics? After you visit TED, check out 99U, which is another great source of educational videos on all sorts of topics. It has a strong focus on the subject of creativity, business development and innovation, so it’s sure to be of interest if you’re an entrepreneur or in a creative line of work.
If you want to learn something new and you’re really pressed for time, check out Ignite videos. The purpose of this series of speaking events is to have each person share something innovative or inspiring in just five minutes. Sounds silly, but you can get a big dose of greatness in a short amount of time.
If you prefer your learning to be text-based, check out Wikiversity. As you might imagine, this site is part of the Wikimedia Foundation and includes detailed pages on a variety of subjects. It includes information of value to learners from preschool to college and beyond, and like other wiki projects is open-source and collaborative.
This is a good site or browsing, and the “random” button is a lot of fun.
15. Project Gutenberg
Access more than 4,200 free ebooks at Project Gutenberg, an excellent source for public domain books from throughout history as well as contemporary free ebooks. You’ll find literature, historic documents, nonfiction books on all sorts of subjects and much more, all free and downloadable to your computer or ereader.
A similar resource is Bartleby, which boasts a large collection of reference works, poetry, fiction and nonfiction. There are some really great resources here such as The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, Oxford Shakespeare, Bullfinch’s Mythology, Bartlett’s Quotations and much more.
This is a great site to look at if you’re looking for quotes about a specific subject or just want to delve into the classics you probably should have read in school.
17. The Free Library
Boasting a collection of more than 21 million free articles and books, The Free Library is the place to go for access to newspapers, magazines, journal articles (from 1984 to the present) and classic books. It’s a great place to start if you’re doing research for an academic paper or just want to find out more about a particular topic.
You can search by keyword or browse by source, topic or author, or just look at random articles and see what develops.
Video courses in math, computer science, business, physics and psychology are available for free at Udacity. This clean site is easy to navigate and has the added bonus of a little icon next to the videos that shows you how advanced a course is so you know to start with an easier course if you’re new to a subject.
It seems that just about anything you could ever want to learn is available these days on YouTube for instant, bite-sized, free consumption. Browse channels to find general topics that interest you, or search for the specific thing you want to learn and you’ll be on your way in no time.
There are more than 6,000 channels in the science and education section, more than 600 in cooking and nearly 2,000 in DIY, so whatever you want to educate yourself about you’re sure to find something good here.
20. Google, etc.
The search engines are a great place to start if you have something specific you are looking for. Google in particular provides a great overview of subjects right in your browser. Search for a person and you’ll get a mini bio without clicking on any other pages, and you’ll have lots of places to go for more information. This is your best bet if you’re looking for specialized information, because all of these sites are general and Google can let you know the best places to go to find exactly what you’re looking for.