4 Online Courses You Could Take Instead Of Going Back to School

Matthew Hughes 19-08-2013

Graduation is the most important part of any undergraduate’s academic career. I expect that in a couple of years, I’ll be standing outside my university wearing an absurd hat, looking like a slightly more rotund teacher from the Bash Street Kids, clutching a degree and ready to take big confident steps into the real world. Oh, and I would have also accumulated an eye-watering £50,000 worth of debt for the privilege. Ouch.


Yep, going for a university education 3 Best Websites To Get A University Level Education For Free The idea that you are never done learning has never been more true than today. The Internet has revolutionized the way we access information and knowledge - formerly a luxury accessible only to the rich... Read More  is an expensive proposition. There’s no doubting that. In the US, student loan debt recently topped $1,000,000,000 – A number that is so comically large you could be forgiven for  holding your pinkie finger to the corner of your lips whilst saying it, a la Dr Evil.

Even in the UK, higher education is absurdly costly. Since 2012, new students face fees of £9000 per year. That’s an awful lot of money, especially when you consider that most British degrees last for around four years and that only ten years ago, tuition fees were limited to £1000 a year. A tiny fraction of what they are now.

For most people, this is totally worth it. The advantages that having a degree to your name totally outweigh the crushing indebtedness that usually accompanies it. That’s not to say that there aren’t any compelling alternatives online.

But do they match up to the real McCoy? Can you get a college-quality education without stepping into a classroom and forking over great wads of cash? Here are four online courses that are giving traditional bricks and mortar institutions a run for their money.

Introduction to Computer Science

Harvard University is an institution that oozes excellence. It is the place where Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook and where Bill Gates dropped out before founding Microsoft. To be a Harvard graduate is to be marked for life as a smart cookie indeed. And you – yes you – can study at Harvard.


Introduction to Computer Science is a course that looks very familiar to most Computer Science undergraduates. Besides teaching C and PHP 6 Free Sites To Learn About Programming in PHP Read More – two massively popular and useful programming languages – there is also a massive emphasis on learning how to think algorithmically. That is, how to break an action into small, logical steps and decisions.


This course is delivered by EdX and takes some serious time commitment. It consists of eight programming assignments, each taking up to 20 hours to complete. As a result, you can be assured that it isn’t half-baked and incomplete. Despite its lofty origins, it is free to enroll and all who complete it will gain a certificate of accomplishment.

Fine Art 101 on The University Of Reddit [No Longer Available]

Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of an earlier vacation to Rome was wandering around the Vatican City. In just a single square mile, you can find one of the largest collections of artwork in the world, including some fascinating Renaissance pieces.


I know that the Sistine Chapel is captivatingly beautiful. I can admire Michelangelo’s frescos. However, understanding why these pieces of art are beautiful and understanding the historical context behind them is something entirely different.


Thankfully, London based artist Rosa Nussbaum took it upon herself to create a complete, comprehensive guide to all things fine art. She aims to teach students about the history and theory behind some of the greatest pieces of artwork and in a manner which is accessible, captivating, and lacks any pretense.

This course is free and you can sign up on The University Of Reddit [No Longer Available]. Lectures are delivered by video on Vokle, with the slides available to download.


Learn To Code With CodeSchool

CodeSchool is a Florida based startup which has the lofty goal of teaching people to code. Touting lessons in Ruby, Objective C, and Javascript as well as some lesser known languages such as CoffeeScript CoffeeScript Is JavaScript Without The Headaches I've never really liked writing JavaScript all that much. From the day I wrote my first line using it, I've always resented that whatever I write in it always ends up looking like a Jackson... Read More , it aims to teach people how to code from the ground up.

Lessons start in the same way. Usually with some form of whimsical song. Lessons are shot in front of a green screen, and include examples of code and more special effects than a Michael Bay movie. Despite only being about six minutes long, they pack in a lot of content and present it in a really easy to understand manner.


Everything you learn in the videos is later solidified and consolidated with interactive exercises where you write code in the browser. This circumvents one of the biggest barriers to learning to code, which is setting up a development environment. You get instant feedback whenever you complete an assignment, and for each correct solution you provide, you are given points.


This doesn’t come cheap, however. The free videos offered by CodeSchool are limited. If you want to follow a course to completion, you’re going to have to fork out around $25 per month. It’s not all bad though. For each completed course, you get $5 off your next month, and you can download all videos in DRM free, iPhone friendly MOV format.

Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology

Jurassic Park is one of my favorite films of all time. How much of it is accurate, though?  I’ve always been curious. Who better to ask than Philip John Curie? He is widely regarded to be one of the best paleontologists in the business. He even has a dinosaur museum named after him. There’s no greater teacher when it comes to dinosaurs, and you can learn from him on “Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology” on Coursera.


Launched in conjunction with the University of Alberta in Canada and with the assistance of graduate student Betsy Kruk, it promises to teach the student about how dinosaurs lived, from their eating habits to their mating habits, up to that unfortunate incident involving a meteorite.

Dino 101 is free and upon completion you can earn credit at the University of Alberta. Register here and start the course in September.


Udemy. Coursera. EdX. Codeschool. Despite the onslaught of online learning platforms The 10 Best Sites for Free College Courses Online Interested in accessing free college-level courses? Here are some of the best sites to take free online courses. Read More , there’s still a place for the humble university. Perhaps the biggest barrier to the ongoing success of online learning is the whilst universities are accredited, few online learning courses are. There’s not the same level of assurance that an online course will help your career prospects in the same way a degree will. However, universities have to catch up to these online platforms in terms of cost and the range of subjects on offer.

Have you taken an online course? Have you found an online course The Path Of Lifelong Learning - Three Educational Search Engines For Online Courses The path of learning is long and "costly". Perhaps, that's why we believe this too much and give up as soon as regular paychecks start hitting our accounts. But in today's age, staying skilled and... Read More that helped your career progression, or clinch your dream job? Let me know in the comments.

Related topics: Education Technology, Online Courses, Study Tips.

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  1. Abhishek
    August 20, 2013 at 7:11 am

    For Engineering Students

  2. Conner
    August 20, 2013 at 1:26 am

    What about MIT's free course ware? They provide TONS of course material for free including exams, lecture notes, questions and readings.


    • Matthew Hughes
      August 26, 2013 at 11:27 am

      I like MIT's free courseware. I actually know someone who works for them. Their quality is astonishing!

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Dalsan M
    August 20, 2013 at 12:07 am

    There are many universities around the world that offer free online courses, but you would only get a certificate of completion. In order to get college credit, you have to take exams that cost around $100USD each. Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and many other universities offer free courses to help figure out the effectiveness of having online courses. I was offered free courses to Stanford, MIT, and Harvard about a year ago in computer science, and Georgia Tech offered free computer science courses in the past few months. Definitely worth checking out for anyone thinking about going to college since it will allow one to know if he or she is ready for the commitment. $63,000 (for my bachelor's program in IT) is a bit much to wonder if it is the right choice, so these free alternatives (and don't think the free online courses offered by universities are easy or any different than the regular paid courses, because they are the same, only receiving a certificate of completion instead of college credit or diploma) would be a great choice to start or learn newer technologies and/or changes.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 26, 2013 at 11:32 am

      I totally agree. Accreditation is important, and is one of the biggest barriers to success that the likes of Udemy will face.

      With that said, I think it's important to understand that whilst passing an online course isn't a promise that the student has a complete understanding of the material, it does suggest that the student is passionate and dedicated. This is incredibly attractive to a lot of employers!

  4. dragonmouth
    August 19, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    I'm sorry but Harvard had very little to do with the success of Gates and Zuckerberg. That is like saying if it wasn't for Zurich Polytechnic there would have been no Albert Einstein. They would have achieved what they achieved even if they attended their local community college.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 19, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      Playing devils advocate, do you think that Harvard provided Zuckerberg with a venue where he could effectively network, meet Saverin and get the capital he required to start Facebook?

      • dragonmouth
        August 19, 2013 at 10:37 pm

        You're right. If it wasn't for Harvard, Zuckerberg would have never met Winklevoss brothers and Divyan Narendra and he never would have the chance to "borrow" their ideas. As to the funding, the serious money came after he and Facebook moved to Palo Alto.