Free Online Courses in Response to Coronavirus

Free Online Courses in Response to Coronavirus
portrait of Anne Dennon
By Anne Dennon

Published on April 15, 2020

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Online courses are offered by hundreds of colleges worldwide — for credit, not for credit, or just for fun. There are more than 5,000 Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that are always free, but in response to the COVID-19 crisis, some online providers are offering additional free courses.

Now could be the perfect time to enroll in a free online course. You can take your career in a new direction by learning to code, improve your communication skills at work, or even enrich evening hours with a cooking course. MOOCs are great for learning specific skills, but some of the most popular online courses aim to be more mind-opening.

Whether you're working from home or searching for a new job, you can enroll in free online courses to enhance your resume and build skills that are in demand.

Consider Yale's popular happiness course, titled the Science of Well-Being, which was an on-campus favorite before moving online. Or the reigning champ of MOOCs, Learning How To Learn, which teaches study and memory tools borrowed from neuroscience.

The economic repercussions of coronavirus could pose real career challenges. Whether you're working from home or searching for a new job, you can enroll in free online courses to enhance your resume and build skills that are in demand.

If you're interested in enrolling in a MOOC, check out Coursera's list of online courses they've made free in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can also read on to discover some of the most popular free online courses available today.

A man in a denim button-down shirt and over-ear headphones smiles as he looks at his laptop computer propped on his kitchen counter.

MOOCs Bring World-Class Classes to You

A little over five years ago, MOOCs were the big education buzz. Back then, mass online education felt like a loss for traditional higher education, but a win for access. Now, we are seeing a gradual merging of traditional and online higher education. And while professors experience a diverse MOOC user-base, the majority of MOOC learners are college-degree holders.

Dr. Michael Webber, a UT-Austin professor who taught Energy 101 to over 44,000 enrollees worldwide in fall 2013, says that MOOC students represent "all society." High schoolers can use MOOCs to prepare for college, college students can use the free credits to reduce the price of their degree, and working professionals can groom themselves for a promotion or new career.

The quality of MOOCs, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce, reflect the quality of institutions backing them. The first MOOC provider, Coursera, was launched in 2012 by Stanford professors. EdX, which hosted Dr. Webber's Energy 101, is the joint creation of Harvard and MIT scientists.

Those prestigious universities admit under 10% of applicants per year. Meanwhile, MOOCs have been accessed by 100 million learners and counting.

Online Learning Supports Comprehension and Memory

Learning How to Learn is the most popular MOOC of all time with total enrollment above 2 million. The class doesn't just describe how the brain best learns; it leverages this science to enhance its own course materials.

Many of the course's features, starting with the lecture graphics, align with the focus and memory "hacks" it teaches. Because our danger-sensing brains are alerted by quickly approaching objects, visuals include dynamic graphics. Because we digest information best in portions, lessons can be paused and reviewed. And because the instructors have been able to finetune their lectures, you are getting them at their best.

Of course, these advantages are now common to all MOOCs. That's why Dr. Barbara Oakley, co-creator of Learning How to Learn, says that online classes are better suited to the brain.

A woman in a short-sleeved blouse and glasses intently eyes her laptop computer with an open book in hand.

The Best Free Online Courses

The Science of Well-Being

Field: Personal Development

Available through: Yale University via Coursera

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Programming for Everybody

Field: Technology

Available through: University of Michigan via Coursera

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Improving Communication Skills

Field: Personal Development

Available through: University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

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Marketing in a Digital World

Field: Business

Available through: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via Coursera

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Data Science

Field: Technology

Available through: Johns Hopkins University via Coursera

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Photography Basics and Beyond

Field: Arts and Humanities

Available through: Michigan State University via Coursera

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What Is a Mind?

Field: Humanities

Available through: University of Cape Town via FutureLearn

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Learning How to Learn

Field: Personal Development

Available through: University of California, San Diego via Coursera

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Introduction to Engineering Mechanics

Field: Engineering

Available through: Georgia Institute of Technology via Coursera

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Modern and Contemporary American Poetry

Field: Arts and Humanities

Available through: University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

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English for the Workplace

Field: Language Learning

Available through: British Council via FutureLearn

View Course

Online Courses Are Innovative and Adaptable

With campuses nationwide slated for closure at least through spring term, college courses are being taken straight from the classroom to the Zoom meeting. But the best online courses do more than digitize the brick-and-mortar experience.

The online format helps educators put into practice what they know about learning. For example, we know that metaphors help explain the abstract. Now, detailed graphics can bring these metaphors to life.

Self-paced instruction allows students to take class for as long as they are engaged. Enhanced quizzing tailors students' next lessons to the results of their last test, so everyone learns at their own pace. Thanks to the scale of MOOC student data and feedback, online courses are also able to adapt and improve more quickly.

Online Education Will Continue to Grow

Self-quarantine measures in response to coronavirus have sped up what had previously been a more gradual shift online. As of fall 2017, one-third of students enrolled at degree-granting institutions participated in online education. Now, effectively all students are online students.

In the aftermath of coronavirus, we may see an enduring leap in both remote learning and remote employment. In addition to the subject matter of whatever MOOC you might choose to take, you'll also be adapting to a digital-first work life.

Feeling first-day-of-college jitters? Learn what to expect and how to prepare for the first day of class. Looking for a good school in the Southwest? Check out our list of the top 10 online colleges in the southwestern United States. Students can make college life easier by bringing 10 documents that are essential for study, work, and other aspects of student life.