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Free Online Courses: How to Find the Best Course

There are thousands of modern video courses. Which of these are actually free? And what's the best way to find them?

Free Online Courses: How to Find the Best Course
Picture: africastudio / Shutterstock

Millions of people around the world know how to use video courses to learn about many topics. Our directory already shows courses from 22 subject areas.

But what about free courses? 

(Jump directly to all of the free courses in our directory.) 

Which Online Courses Are Actually Free?

Usually, course providers have to finance their operations through various fee models. Despite this, there are still many online courses that enable you to learn for free.

In general, there are 2 possibilities:

  1. Modern video courses or MOOCs (massive open online courses) from international platforms (check out the current list here)
  2. Free video lectures from universities around the world (check out the current list here)

In this article, we show you how to access the free courses.

Video Courses (MOOCs) Without Fees

With video courses from MOOC providers, there is often a possibility to learn for free. ("How Does a MOOC Work?")

The general idea is this: 

  • The learning content of the MOOC (video tutorials and other materials) is often accessible free of charge.
  • A fee will apply only if you want to receive an optional certificate for the MOOC.

MOOC providers use a "mixed calculation": If only 2% (or 200 learners out of 10,000 course participants) choose the optional paid certificate, this will fund the course for all participants.

How to Learn with MOOCs Without Paying

How this works depends on the individual MOOC platform. In addition, there are often different course models and changes to the system. (All the information below is therefore provided without any guarantee.)

In general, free access to the most important providers works as follows:


  • The Coursera MOOCs offer many free learning options.
  • If you click on the "Enroll" button, you will often see the options "Purchase Course" or "Full Course, No Certificate". The latter option (no certificate) is the free one. (Sometimes it is called "Audit".)
  • BUT: If the MOOC is part of a course series (known as Specialization), it could require paying a fee to participate. This will be clearly indicated. You will have to register for the Specialization. (You can participate in one MOOC or in the entire series.) Often, there is a 7-day free trial period.
  • Please note: The exact cost options are only shown after clicking on the “Enroll” button, which can be slightly confusing. 


  • Most of the edX MOOCs are also free (if you don´t need a certificate).
  • Upon registering for a MOOC, you have 2 options: "Verified Certificate" or "Audit this course".
  • Choose the “Audit” option so you can access the learning material for free.
  • Some course series (MicroMasters, XSeries) are only accessible after paying. This will be clearly displayed.
  • We have learned that edX may plan to introduce further paywalls - so please always check out the details on the individual course pages.


  • The FutureLearn MOOCs are free in their basic version (click the button "Join free" or "Join course").
  • If you choose the optional, fee-based "Upgrade", you will receive unlimited access to the online courses as well as a certificate.


  • Many of the Udacity courses (covering computer science topics) are also available for free.
  • However, their comprehensive course series (Nanodegrees) require payment of a fee.

You should always check the current status on the respective course website.

Free Online Courses: How to Find the Best Course
Screenshot: Free online courses in the Edukatico directory

Online University Lectures: Always Free!

Besides the MOOCs mentioned above, there are many free online lectures available from a variety of universities.

In contrast to the MOOCs, these lectures do not include tests or discussion forums, and they do not offer certificates.

They are, however, always free to learn.

Key universities with free online lectures include:

You can find these online lectures here. You can also filter this list according to your topic of interest.

So Why Pay for Online Courses?

Other than the listed free options (MOOCs and online lectures), many online courses can only be accessed after paying a fee. Large providers such as Udemy mainly offer fee-based courses. 

So why are many online learners choosing these paid courses (or the paid version of a free course) despite all of the free options?

  1. Certificates: Many online learners would like to receive a certificate for their learning efforts to document their success, or to use it when applying for a job. ("Are the Certificates Worth It?")
  2. Quality of the content: Paid video courses made specifically for online learning are often of a higher quality. They are well designed and use content from established universities and experienced professors. This way, students will spend their precious study time on high-quality content and not on videos of unknown quality. 
  3. Full course experience: In contrast to simply watching videos, full online courses can offer a learning experience similar to classroom-based courses. Besides the certificate, this also includes options for interaction or further support. For instance, course provider Udacity offers complimentary career support for graduates of their fee-based Nanodegree courses.
  4. Moderate prices: A video course (MOOC) from a leading international university that includes online interaction, tests, a final course certificate and lasts a number of weeks can often be obtained for less than $50 USD. This is significantly cheaper than most classroom-based courses. 

What's the Cost of MOOC Certificates and Fee-based Courses?

Depending on the provider, content and duration of the course, prices for fee-based online courses or for the certificates may differ.

As a general guideline, you can assume you will pay a fee of approximately $50 USD for a single MOOC certificate and around $50 USD/ month for a paid course in a subscription model.

Here are a few selected examples (always check the current course details!):

  • At Coursera, the (optional) certificates for individual MOOCs cost between $50 and $100 USD. Longer course series (Specializations) are often accessible for around $50 USD/ month (with a free 7-day trial period).
  • The edX certificates (optional) are also available for approximately $50 - $100 USD.
  • FutureLearn charges approximately 60 GBP for an “upgrade” that includes a certificate.  
  • Learners at Udemy will have to pay anywhere from $15 to $100 USD per course. The courses differ greatly in terms of scope.
  • Udacity charges several hundred USD for their Nanodegrees (in-depth courses on a topic).

Edukatico Is Your Search Portal for Online Courses

In our course directory, you will find thousands of online courses, MOOCs, and online lectures from 22 subjects

Using the filters, you can easily search for free or paid courses. Sign in to the Course Manager to organize your individual online learning.

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