5 Options for Free Online Education

Online Education

If there’s one thing we can say about post-secondary education these days, it’s this: college isn’t cheap.

For the 2010-11 school year, the average annual undergraduate tuition cost, including room and board clocked in at $13,600 for public institutions and $36,300 for private not-for-profit institutions. That’s a financial burden that can stack up quickly in the form of student loan debt.

If you’re looking to continue your education without the hefty price tag, you might consider MOOCs, or massive online open courses. While these free online courses from prestigious universities typically don’t come with college credit and are not a replacement for traditional college degrees, they do present the opportunity to update skills in your current career, or help transition into a new one. And since it comes without the hefty cost, we can begin to think of education as a lifelong experience rather than a one-time thing.

Here are five platforms you can use to delve into  online education from top online universities.


Coursera partners with top universities to offer online courses that anyone can take for free. There are currently over 300 courses to choose from, covering a wide range of topics from humanities to medicine to computer science, and participating universities include Brown, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Princeton and Stanford. Content-wise, classes include short video lectures, interactive quizzes, peer graded assessments and live interactions with both fellow classmates and teachers. While the classes don’t currently count for college credit, a couple have been deemed “worthy of college credit”, and it is now up to universities to decide whether or not they will let these courses replace traditional classes.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a non-profit education website that provides a collection of free online lectures spanning topics from mathematics to history and economics. You can search by topic to find lectures and exercises, or use their “knowledge map” to pinpoint the topics you want to discover next. The platform also offers a community element so that you can ask questions of your peers as you progress. Khan Academy’s classes do not translate to college credit.


Most of Udacity’s online courses focus on computer science and mathematics. When you complete a course, you’ll be able to track your learning progress within Udacity, and you’ll also receive a certificate of completion. In some cases, Udacity offers options for college credit, though a fee may be required. As far as course content, students watch short videos, complete interactive project-based exercises, participate in “virtual field trips” and communicate with fellow students in online forums.


edX is a not-for-profit massive open online course platform governed by MIT and Harvard.

According to the edX website, online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects can earn a “certificate of mastery” – in other words, college credit — which will be issued at the discretion of edX and the underlying university that offered the course. This certificate typically entails a fee, however. Participating universities include UT Austin, Harvard, Berkeley and MIT, and course titles range from Energy 101 to Introduction to Statistics.

iTunes U

iTunes U is a hub for educational audio and video content. Some of these materials are made available to anyone, and can be accessed at any time. Content examples include Personal Finance from Missouri State University, Visualizing Data from TED and Computer and Cyber Forensics from Liberty University.


Stay tuned over the next several weeks as we share information and action plans for minimizing student debt.

Back to Top