16 ways to expand your brain with free online courses

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16 ways to expand your brain with free online courses
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Are you a potential brainiac who can read/watch/absorb via online methods? Then free online courses may just be your window to the world. Or even the way you can get a professional certificate or an actual degree. You can be the brains of the ball with these 16 sites to take free courses and/or explore free ways to learn.

Learn what exactly? Think coding, technologies, languages, music theory, social sciences, arts, and tons of others. Some of these courses are even through Ivy League universities! For you, for your kids, for your book club… anyone can learn if they’ve got the drive and an internet connection.

Let’s see the sites, shall we?

Class Central

Class Central is a search engine and review tool for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which sounds like MMORPGs for learning. And they kind of are! You can use this portal to find free online courses about tons of subjects including recordings of real classes and actual syllabi, even from Ivy League institutions. And of course, from a lot of the places listed below.


Coursera partners with universities and organizations to offer courses online. You can even get professional certificates and masters degrees online. Topics include data science, programming, social sciences, and business.

Open Culture

Open Culture has free courses in culture, the humanities, and the social sciences including audio books, classic films, eBooks, languages, MOOCs from universities, and loads of resources for kids. Just check out their course selection and become enthralled.

Code Academy

Code Academy is what it sounds like: a place to learn to code for free. Think web developement, design, programming, data science, and the languages that accompany them.


Duolingo is an online language learning that I’ve personally used to learn French (and dally in a few other languages, too). They offer courses for over 30 languages (and growing), and have a pretty fun app.


If you’re interested in music (and especially a child interested in music), this site offers courses on rhythm and meter, scales and keys, intervals, chords, diatonic chords, and all kinds of other chords that I don’t understand. I probably need these courses, clearly.

Documentary Heaven

If you’re a fan of documentaries for entertainment and education (always with a grain of salt, of course), then Documentary Heaven is worth a look. The categories are super diverse.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is a wiki-style directory of over 56,000 free eBooks to immerse yourself in any subject you can imagine. In addition to English, it also has books in German, French, Italian, and Portuguese.


edX has lots of courses in their popular categories like business, computer science, and data science, but extend into art and architecture, education, philosophy, history, and engineering. They also offer certificates.


Udacity has degrees called “nanodegrees” in niche subjects like Google AdWords, deep learning, artificial intelligence, and iOS development. Their catalog is focused on bleeding edge and established technologies.


FutureLearn is really diverse, with focus on the usual suspects (business, coding, etc.) but also has lifestyle-focused courses like health and eating well, selling yourself in a career, and self-care. You can also explore career degrees here.


Google is the king of giving away free information, so here’s one more to pile on. Free online courses from Google can pretty much be anything you want. Give their course builder a try here.


These universities offer free online learning courses to explore:

(Let me know which ones I’m missing!)

Comments on 16 ways to expand your brain with free online courses

  1. Putting in my oar for Duolingo – three years of Duolingo (plus, admittedly, six weeks of immersion summer camp) as a teenager got me to place into German 201 when I started college without ever having a day of formal instruction. It’s not so useful for philosophy discussions and the like (although the German tree does actually have philosophy and religion at the end), but if you need to know “where is the bathroom” or “my ankle hurts”, it’s good.

  2. I’ve taken a few courses through Coursera, and some were better than others. I learn best by doing and having a post-mortem discussions, so while watching videos is informative, I prefer interactive courses.

    My favorite class was a negotiation class taught by a Yale professor. We never actually interacted with the professor; it was all video lectures, multiple-choice quizzes, discussion forums with other students, and real-time negotiations with classmates (the hardest and best part of the class). I felt 1000x more confident with my ability to negotiate after taking this class than I did after taking my very expensive business school negotiation class (my least favorite course of the program).

    One thing to note: To actually get a certificate, grade, or proof of completing the class, you do have to pay a small fee, which may or may not be worth it to you (it could look good on your resume). Even if you just want to increase your knowledge base (and maybe confidence), it’s a great resource!

  3. Also don’t forget your local library besides having lots of print books and educational programs (mine does ones on everything from crocheting to opening a business) also typically have ebook services like Overdrive and cloudLibrary; some like Hoopla also offer videos like the Great Courses series. Also many have language learning from services like Mango; if you are in NJ you can get access from the state library to Rosetta Stone. Some also offer instructor led online courses from services like Universal Class.

  4. This is such a fantastic article! I’m so excited by these links! I am nerrrrding out over here
    How long did it take for you to become fluent/confident with French? How long would you have spent each day using Duolingo do you think?

  5. Thank you for this! I am looking to change my career and need to beef up some of my knowledge and skills. Those nanedegrees from Udacity sound perfect, as many of the things I’m looking at require knowledge of things like Google Adwords. Thanks so much for sharing, this could NOT have came at a better time for me!

  6. Awesome list. I’m genuinely surprised I haven’t heard about some of these (MusicTheory.net in particular; I’ll have to pass that one along to our music department). I’m a programming teaching in Waterloo, Ontario and recently finished work on https://edabit.com. I’d say it’s got more in common with Duolingo than codecademy; so not exactly a course but it’s definitely free. Hope you or your readers find it useful!

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