If you currently work remotely or are thinking of making the transition to telecommuting, you may want to consider learning new skills or brushing up on existing ones. Luckily, whether you’re thinking of a career change, a promotion, or just a skills upgrade, it has never been easier or cheaper to pursue online education. In fact, it’s free!
Online Education Platforms: 5 Options with Free Training Courses
Thanks to advancements in computing and a growing global social movement to deliver quality online education for free, there are thousands of high-quality training courses available at the click of a button. These learning opportunities are perfectly suited to freelancers and telecommuters because these courses can be worked on anywhere at any time. Even if you don’t think you need to acquire new skills right now, a study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that, due to rapid changes in automation and artificial intelligence, up to one-third of the U.S. workforce will need to learn new skills and change occupations by 2030.
What Is a MOOC?
The name given to this growing group of online education platforms is MOOC—massive open online course. MOOCs generally feature unlimited participation and open web access. Course content is optimized for online learning and uses a variety of educational methods to ensure successful course completion. Online education materials may include text-based resources, but may also feature video and audio lectures, images, and interactive features such as games, quizzes, and assignments.
MOOCs have been only been around for just over a decade and they continue to evolve. Early MOOCs often emphasizing free and open-access, but now most integrate free and paid content using tiered access and subscriptions.
For example, some offer free courses but charge for a “verified” certification, a method for proving you successfully completed the course. This can be useful if it is a required course for your employment. Other ways to tier access include offering unlimited access to courses materials and providing college or continuing education credits. Overall, costs are very reasonable and far less than traditional education.
Signing up for any of the options listed below is incredibly easy and you can start learning in a matter of minutes. The interfaces are all similar with subjects organized into industries or categories. Most options offer learning packages such as bundled courses designed to help you gain in-depth instruction in one area. Many also offer professional certifications, graduate certificates, and even online bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Course pages usually offer details such as a course summary, reviews, and how long the course will take. To begin, you just have to complete a brief registration and click the “start now” button.
1. Alison (Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online)
With 13 million learners in 195 countries, Alison is one of the world’s largest and most established platforms for free online education. Founded way back in 2007, this innovative website is a for-profit social enterprise that delivers education to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Students have access to over 1,000 self-paced courses designed by subject matter experts in a wide range of topic areas.
Alison is set apart from other free online education providers by its focus on job skills training. Alison especially excels in the areas of information technology, management, and business operations. However, there are also courses in languages, humanities, marketing, healthcare, trades, and many more. Students can choose courses singly or simultaneously for a specialized certification, diploma, or learning path for more in-depth study.
As mentioned above, this is a for-profit business. Alison earns money through advertising (so be sure to turn off your adblocker). The company also charges for certificates and diplomas following successful completion of a course. Students achieve successful completion by achieving a minimum of 80% on all course assessments.
The main drawback of Alison courses is that they are not accredited. This means courses will not count toward college credit or continuing education units (CEUs). While they do follow industry best practices, it is up to individual employers whether or not they will recognize earned qualifications.
Founded by Stanford professors, this online education provider aims to provide an online learning library in multiple subjects including sciences, marketing, engineering, and business. The site currently offers over 2,700 accredited and non-accredited courses and has more than 35 million registered users. Courses are developed in partnership with 150+ highly reputable university partners including Stanford, Georgia Tech, Yale, Duke, and Michigan.
Coursera uses a variety of payment models based on how the courses are organized. There are individual courses, specializations that consist of a bundle of related courses, professional certificates, and full-fledged degree programs. The majority of courses are free to audit, but you will need to pay for graded assignments and certificates. The specializations offer a monthly payment model, so if you sign up for a specialization that is estimated to take two months, you can try and finish quickly to save money. Professional certificates and degree programs are paid, but if you qualify, you can apply for financial aid.
As mentioned above, Coursera’s free options generally do not include access to graded assignments. However, the website Class Central did some online sleuthing and found 1,150 courses that still include the full course with assignments for free. They also conveniently organized all of the free courses into subject areas with links that lead directly to the course registration page on the website.
Founded by Harvard and MIT, edX is a non-profit, open-source online education platform that offers high-quality courses delivered by prestigious academic institutions around the world. Over 20 million students worldwide choose from 2,400+ courses in the humanities, math, and computer science. You can search for courses individually or as part of a professional certification or degree program.
Students can enroll in either self-paced or timed classes, ranging between four and twelve weeks. All individual courses are available for auditing with free access to course materials and discussions forums. However, they do not include graded assignments, unlimited course access, or a verified certificate.
OERu is a non-profit organization founded with funding from UNESCO. The online education platform provides access to open online courses for students around the world. Hosted by Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, OERu partners with organizations around the globe to advance open education efforts.
This platform stands out because the education partners can transfer academic credits within the network, overcoming the hurdles of culture, accreditation standards, and government regulations. Participating institutions include UTaz (Australia), National Open University (Africa), Thompson River University (Canada), and University of the Highlands and Islands (UK).
Courses are free to complete, however, in order to obtain college-level credit, students must pay to take a final exam or assessment. This cost is far less expensive than traditional college tuition and fees.
Owned by the Open University and the SEEK Group, FutureLearn has hundreds of global partners including prestigious universities, professional associations, multi-national corporations, and the UK Government. Courses are offered in a wide variety of subjects including management, history, health, psychology, law, teaching, and literature, among others.
There are short courses as well as in-depth programs created by several universities. When you complete all programs and pass all assessments, you can get an internationally recognized degree. This, however, would not be free. You can take all the courses for free, but FutureLearn limits access time to how long the course is supposed to take plus two weeks. In addition, you can’t take the tests and will not get credit or a certificate.
FutureLearn distinguishes itself by integrating “futuristic” learning method. Course delivery uses storytelling with challenging quizzes and tips to help you learn. There are no long classroom lectures and content is delivered using high-quality videos and articles. In addition, this learning method includes many opportunities to interact with fellow students. This is helpful because it is difficult to get personal support in a course with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of participants.
Industry-Specific Online Education Platforms
In addition to the large platforms offering thousands of courses in a vast array of subjects, there are specialized platforms with subject or industry-specific learning opportunities.
As the name implies, Microsoft Learn delivers completed free online courses to learn about Microsoft’s products and services. The courses are task-based using step-by-step tutorials and interactive coding with ways to track your progress and validate your coding. Products covered currently include Azure, Dynamics, Power Apps, Flow, with more to come.
HubSpot is a developer and marketer of customer relationship management software products for inbound marketing and sales. As part of its unique sales philosophy, the company developed the Hubspot Academy. A leader in free online training for inbound marketing, sales, and customer service professionals, HubSpot offers a wide variety of short topic courses. In addition, HubSpot offers more comprehensive certifications perfect for busy professionals looking to grow their businesses.
As you can see from the above list of free online resources, there are numerous online education options available to complete training you need to secure a remote job or get ahead in your current career. Online education has become mainstream and course content and services are continuing to improve every day in this young industry. Just click on a selection above to begin your journey.
Are you interested in online education to improve your professional knowledge and skills? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us your story. We’d love to know what you have to say!
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