RegisterSign In

How to Take an Online Course for Free

Mar 1, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 3 Comments

There are plenty of ways to get money for college. But what if you don’t want to go to college and get a degree—you just want to take one course? Maybe you need a specific course to advance your skills at work, or a certification to improve your resume. Or maybe you just want to take a class and learn a new skill for personal development. Whatever the reason, you can’t afford it on your own—but there’s no financial aid for individual classes. Here are a few ideas for getting online courses for free.

Get your employer to pay for it

If the online class you want to take is at all related to work, you can ask your employer to finance it. Your company may already have a tuition assistance program in place, and it might accommodate single classes as well as tuition for entire degree programs.

If not, your boss may be the best person to start with—and you’ll have to be persuasive. Here are a few ideas for what to say:

  • Explain how the class will improve your skills—and help the company as a whole.
  • Explain how having those skills you’ll learn in the class will save the company money in the long run—or help it earn more.
  • Since some companies are reluctant to fund worker education for fear they’ll simply start working for a competitor, offer to sign an agreement stating that you agree to stay at the company for a certain amount of time after the class.
  • Offer to teach the skills you learn in the class to other employees as part of your agreement.

Get a grant

Most grants, loans and work-study programs offered at the federal and state levels are designed for people who are trying to go back to school and earn a degree. But there may be work training funds available for you in your specific state—it’s worth it to do some research. Many worker training funds available are for organizations interested in establishing training programs, not individuals interested in funding their own training—and if you do find a grant like this for an individual, you may have to show that the program you’ve selected is accredited or approved by the state.

One thing you might be able to do is get your company to look into a workforce training grant program that gives money to businesses and other organizations to train their workers. These are often administered at the state level; for example, Massachusetts has a workforce training grant program geared toward businesses.

Look into Open Courseware

Open Courseware is completely free—and the trend is growing. Under the Open Courseware model, universities put a wide range of class materials—recorded lectures, reading materials, professors’ notes, and even tests and quizzes—online for free. You don’t get personalized instructor attention—nobody will grade your tests, although the programs usually have the answer keys so you can grade them yourself. But you don’t have to pay tuition either.

Open Courseware is a great option if you want to improve your skills but you don’t need a degree or credential. Colleges that offer Open Courseware include MIT, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Utah State, and Notre Dame.

Look into free education sites

There is a wide range of free education sites out there, some of them offering better courses than others. In most cases, a free course won’t get you teacher attention, but you’ll get all the materials to study on your own. If you’re studying for a fairly simple certification test or just want to pick up a new skill, this might suit your needs. Some websites that offer free classes include the Small Business Administration for business classes, GCF for computer classes, or Free-Ed for a range of topics.

Online education is all about accessibility—and part of making it accessible is making it affordable. While it’s not always easy to find free classes, it is possible—especially if you’re willing to make some sacrifices, such as lack of instructor attention. And if you want tuition help on a class that isn’t free, it’s sometimes possible—especially if your company is willing to help you. With some research and persistence, you may be able to find free online classes that are right for you.


Thomas Clark Over a year ago

This is good information. Do you know about some online free colleges?

Stacy Over a year ago

It's been my experience that most of the free courses available online leave out several valuable elements. However, the free training material at SBA looks rather intriguing, particularly the courses aimed at starting and growing an online business.

adamedward84 Over a year ago

I am a professional who has been out of school for 5 years. I am interested in going back, but taking relevant classes with little to no cost sounds a lot better than taking night classes or putting my career on hold while I get another degree.

I plan on researching open coursework and hopefully increasing my skills at work without having to actually pay for classes.

Thanks for the help!

blog comments powered by Disqus