If you have ever wanted to try something new but were afraid to invest too much time, energy and, perhaps most important, money into something you might turn out hating, then free online courses are the way to go. Higher-learning institutions have begun establishing open-sharing websites known as MOOCs (massive open online courses) to share a limited amount of educational opportunities with the general public. A MOOC is defined as a course of study available at no cost on the internet to a large number of people. Schools such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the like have all started sharing some of their courses on websites such as Coursera.org.
Coursera was founded in 2012 by two Stanford professors. Their purpose in doing so was to encourage access to of some of the most popular courses by a larger population. Coursera was developed as a platform where colleges and universities can post content that can be utilized worldwide by interested students. Not all classes on Coursera are free. They offer paid classes and professional certifications. A low monthly fee gets you access to every course on their website, which at the time of this writing totals some 2,000 courses. The paid membership does not give you certifications of completion, however. Those are available on a class-by-class basis for a nominal fee.
Trying to muddle your way through their website can be challenging. The free courses are not always easy to find. When we typed "free courses" into their search bar, we got a lot of results that were not truly free. Coursera offers a seven-day free trial; therefore, we kept getting some false results. To save you from wasting your time sifting through all the courses to find the actual free offerings, we have compiled the list below to help.
How We Chose Our Rankings
In putting together this list of the top Coursera free courses, we considered a few factors. First, as stated above, we had to read through quite a few class descriptions that purported to be free. Once we got to the truly free list, we took a look and compared the course overviews, the ways you can apply the information learned, the level of experience needed to take the class and understand it, and user reviews and comments. We then came up with an overall rating based on these factors and ranked the courses in order. We hope that this will help you make your decision on the free class you want to take first.
The 6 Best Coursera Free Courses
Course overview: The Science of Well-Being is one of the most popular online classes available on any platform. This is an adaptation of Yale professor Laurie Santos' popular class called, "Psychology and the Good Life." The course provides an overview of what psychological science has learned about how to feel less stressed, how to feel happier and how to succeed personally and professionally. The class has gained worldwide attention, especially since being offered through Coursera as a free course. Through a series of videos, you will learn what psychology science teaches us about being happy and living a better life. The class takes about 15 hours to complete, and the suggested timing is four weeks.
Application: Personal. Through the material presented, you are given a set of tools to help rewire your brain to develop positive and powerful habits.
Level of experience required: None.
User reviews and feedback: Many users have expressed experiencing a complete change in attitude. There is nothing but praise for Dr. Santos' development of this course from her full Yale course. People have reported the rewiring exercises are easy to implement and carry through. Among the feedback we reviewed, the consensus was the course was life altering.
Course overview: If you've ever felt that music was a dominant force in life, this course will solidify that belief. This course from the University of Melbourne takes the opportunity to delve into the neuroscience and psychology behind music's effect on people. Explore the ways music can be used to change society by inspiring and moving people to act in a certain way. By understanding how music works from the brain to the body, you can gain a better understanding of how it can be used to call people to action. The class consists of 20 hours of work and should take you about six weeks to complete.
Application: If you are a fan of music, you will enjoy this class. It doesn't have much practical purpose; it's just an excellent way to explore the science behind the dominant force of music. If you are a therapist who uses music as an aid in the treatment of autism or in some other cognitive behavioral therapy, this course might benefit you professionally.
Level of experience required: This is a beginner-level class and requires no knowledge of music or science.
User reviews and feedback: This is by far one of the most popular classes offered on Coursera. We found all positive reviews. Many people indicated they would like to see this class developed into a certification offering in music therapy or music fundamentals. People enjoyed the different theories on what makes music so compelling. There was nothing negative about the course.
Course overview: In this course developed by Michael S. Roth of Wesleyan University, learn the fundamentals of implementing social change one person at a time. Through the class, you will examine social injustice and explore such topics as poverty, disease and global health, and women and social change. Learn about utilizing the things we share in common to help unite us across all walks of life. The course contains over 15 hours of video and takes about 25 hours to complete. It is recommended you do this at a pace of two lessons a week. The class takes about six weeks to complete.
Application: Personal. If you have been inspired by recent social movements, but aren’t confident your involvement can change things, this course will teach you how human beings have used an overwhelming sense of humanity and duty to each other to institute some of the most influential movements in history.
Level of experience required: None.
User reviews and feedback: The people who have taken this class had an overwhelmingly positive experience. Many claimed the course was a positive influence in their lives, forcing them to think about things they can do in their circle to stimulate positive changes. Michael Roth garnered high marks as an instructor. The negative comments revolved mostly around not addressing more radical initiatives such as gun control and animal rights. The peer review topics were deep, and while some people used them as a way to gain more knowledge, others complained that they were far more complicated than the class warranted.
Course overview: This class, taught by Professor Richard Florida of the University of Toronto, gives you an excellent basic overview of the roles cities play in shaping society. Through a series of videos and readings, you will be forced to think about why you live where you do, what it is about some of the most important cities that intrigues people and what it takes to find the perfect place for you to live. The class takes approximately 22 hours, and you should complete it in about four weeks.
Application: Personal. This class purports to help you figure out what is important to you in terms of where you live.
Level of experience required: None.
User reviews and feedback: The feedback on this class was positive overall. Quite a few participants who provided feedback said the course was enlightening, prompting critical thinking and providing clarity. Several people said the class assisted them in sorting out what made the place they chose to live so important. Others claimed it offered a blueprint to help them find what mattered most in a city. A few comments claimed the readings were a little too basic and the course could have been more challenging and in depth.
Course overview: If you are looking for a way to expand your literary knowledge, the Introduction to Who Wrote Shakespeare course presented by the University of London is an excellent one to try. In the six-week course, you will explore Shakespearean texts and engage in critical thinking and analysis in an attempt to resolve the authorship question. There has been some question through the ages about whether Shakespeare was, in fact, the writer of all his works. In the class, you will take a comparative look at a selection of texts to see if you can conclusively deduce whether Shakespeare is the author of all works attributed to him. The course is approximately 22 hours, and the suggested timing is four weeks.
Application: Personal or as part of a comprehensive course in literature. If you're a former English major and want to re-ignite your love of all things literary, give this course a try.
Level of experience required: This is labeled as a beginner-level class; however, we believe some level of Shakespearian prose familiarity would be helpful. The course is presented in an easy-to-follow format, but it can be a tricky subject.
User reviews and feedback: We found the reviews for this class to be quite interesting. On one hand, the students who gave it five stars all indicated they found the course helpful and the material presented well. Some students stated they would go on to take more literary classes after finishing this one. However, those who disagreed and disliked the class expressed extreme displeasure with many facets. We believe these folks don't like the subject matter. Their comments all seem to be directed in a manner that was almost insulting to the instructor and her viewpoint. While we took these into account, we did not give much weight to them.
Course overview: This class is presented by the University of Pennsylvania. The college admission process can be challenging to navigate and overwhelming, especially if you have never been exposed to it in the past. Whether you're a high school student, the parent of one or a professional returning to college, this class will help you get through what could otherwise be a daunting task.
How To Apply for College uses a combination of text material, videos and exchanges with students who just went through the admission process to guide you through the process with ease. You will also be introduced to the financial aid process and given information on grants and other financial resources you can apply to receive. This is a 20-hour class that should be taken over a six-week period.
Application: This class intends to aid in the college application process, so it is relevant to anyone going through it or who wants to help someone else go through it.
Level of experience required: None. This class is designed for people who don't have experience or exposure in this arena.
User reviews and feedback: The feedback by prior students was all overwhelmingly positive. Most people claimed this class was an integral part of their success in applying for college admission, financial aid and grants. The course is recommended to anyone who has the need or desire to learn how the admissions process works. We were unable to find negative reviews about this class. The ranking on our list is lower due to the specialization of the topic. While the other topics may also seem specialized in some way, this one has a very narrow scope.
We have presented a list of what we believe to be the six best free Coursera courses available. If even one of these appeals to you, make the time to take it. Engaging in learning activities keeps your brain younger longer. Even if you can't apply what you learn in the classes to anything other than your personal life, consider it a win. Coursera is a fantastic opportunity to keep your brain fresh.