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Food for the Mind: 7 Free Online College Course Programs for Teachers

By The Editorial Team

Recently, two well-known American universities—Vanderbilt University and the University of Florida—announced a free online college course program that allows anyone to take classes without paying tuition. The classes, known as massive open online courses (MOOC), are free of charge and available to anyone with an Internet connection and a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity, although students will not get actual credit for completing them.

But how does one find a good, free online program? The  seven options listed below are a great start.


Leading the charge for free online college course programming is Coursera, a “social entrepreneurship” Internet startup and industry heavyweight that already claims well over a million members. Coursera’s vision is a world where the top professors at the top universities offer their expertise to millions of interested learners. Coursera’s courses include video lectures, testing, feedback from experts, and interaction with fellow online classmates. Both Vanderbilt and the University of Florida have partnered with Coursera, along with 31 other colleges and universities, including Princeton University, Caltech, Duke, and Brown.

Coursera is a heavy hitter in the free online college course movement, but it’s by no means the only player. There are many other websites that would-be students can access to take tuition-free, full-featured college courses.

MIT OpenCourseWare

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”) offers more than 2,100 separate courses across most of the school’s departments, from Aeronautics and Astronautics to Writing and Humanistic Studies. Students can take advantage of the school’s vaunted dedication to science and technology by taking online courses in mathematics, mechanical engineering, nuclear science, and physics. The program works by publishing MIT course materials on nearly all subjects taught at MIT. Coursera focuses more on community and interaction, whereas MIT OpenCourseWare allows students to work through the challenge of an MIT course at their own pace.

The Open University LearningSpace

The Open University is a tuition-free learning concept website based in the United Kingdom. More than 600 classes are available in a broad range of liberal arts and science topics. Learners can take classes ranging from introductory to postgraduate levels, and are assigned materials to assess their progress. The Open University offers a unique feature: “supported open learning” whereby students learn with the support of a tutor and online forum to assist with completion of assignments and tests.

Tufts OpenCourseWare

Tufts OpenCourseWare works in the same way that MIT OpenCourseWare does: by offering access to course materials that students can work through at their own pace. What makes the Tufts program unique, however, is that learners have access to its catalog of medical and dental courses, including veterinary medicine and zoology.

Stanford on iTunes

Many Stanford courses are available through Coursera, but for potential students who are already invested in the Apple ecosystem and comfortable using iTunes, Stanford on iTunes (SoiT) may be a better bet. SoiT uses iTunes and the iTunes U app to provide students with audio and video lectures, assignments, tests, and access to an Internet community.

Harvard Open Learning Initiative

Harvard is also getting in on the free online college course game. Harvard offers an Open Learning Initiative through its Extension School. Extension School’s classes cost money and award course credit, but the Open Learning Initiative is free of charge. The catalog of free courses is not as extensive as is available elsewhere, but that has to be balanced against the quality of the offerings. The Open Learning Initiative offers an unparalleled series of video lectures taught by some of the world’s leading subject matter experts.

YouTube EDU

It’s safe to say that while free online college course enrollment is still a nontraditional way of learning, some websites are more unconventional than others. So it is with YouTube EDU, a site which offers thousands of video courses for adult learners. Traditional video lectures from well-known colleges and universities are available, as well as briefer video crash courses in interesting but offbeat topics like the “Origins of Cute.” There are also motivational speeches and inspirational calls to action by historical figures and world leaders.

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