Free educational courses online

You don’t have to be in college to get an education these days and you don’t have to commit thousands of pounds to get a feel for what a subject is like. Whether you want to dip into a few subjects out of general interest, you want to learn new skills, or to fill in the gaps of your current education there are lots of free educational courses online to help. Here are some options…

For bite sized chunks…

Educational podcasts or video equivalents are often around 15-30 minutes long and normally presented by experts to stimulate thought and debate. For global news podcasts check out these suggestions.


In the UK the BBC is a good starting point, where podcasts are available for most of their online non-music content and several special series continue that are not broadcast on the radio. One of the key advantages is that they are downloadable and as they are small audio files (no images which take up a lot of space) you can easily download a whole series to your smartphone and then play them when you have time – on your commute/in the supermarket, etc.

You will find free podcasts on almost any subject on the web, but be careful about the source of what you are listening too – most of the big newspapers and magazines do their own podcasts and at least you know that there is some authentic journalism behind what you are listening too. If you belong to an online music app, (Amazon or Apple or Spotify) you will find they also supply a list of interesting podcast series, normally you can sign up for one and click a box that will send you new ones in the series when they come out. If you want slightly longer more in-depth podcasts and blogs, look up things like the Reith Lectures on the BBC or go directly to any of the major Universities and see what they offer for free, you may be surprised by what you can access.

If you’re stuck for podcast inspiration, start with Marianne Talbot’s (Oxford University) ‘Romp through the history of Philosophy’ which was number one on the iTunes podcast list and was downloaded over 3 million times. It’ll get your brain ticking.


YouTube is a great source of bite-sized educational information. A lot of universities and established organisations like National Geographic and semi-government organisations like Unicef and World Health organisation use YouTube to distribute their content. Additionally, it’s a fantastic source of information for small specialist tasks, from how to program your Alexa to arranging flowers, etc. There are many big and small companies sharing their expertise on these subjects, which makes it an indispensable tool.   It’s worth noting that although this forum is very useful and accessible, because of the latter it’s only lightly policed so anyone can upload opinionated content – so make sure what you are watching and learning from is by a reputable source. 

Our top recommendation: Ted Talks

For the pinnacle of inspiring videos try Ted Talks, in case you aren’t already familiar, this is an organisation which sponsors leading thinkers and researchers in the world to share their ideas and discoveries with like-minded people. These are normally live conferences, but all talks are recorded and shared online for free. One of the great things about these is that there is a lot under 20 minutes, so easy bite-sized chunks to digest. So some of the greatest minds on the planet have to explain clearly and concisely sometimes years of research within a few minutes, the output is mostly astonishingly good and often groundbreaking. Try Tom Rivett-Carnac: ‘how to shift your mindset and choose your future’ for some up to date views.  

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

Malcolm x

For detailed academic courses…

Future Learn –

Future Learn carries a number of top courses from top universities around the world and many researchers that work at those institutions, many of these short courses are free and would maybe take 4-10 hours of video and presentations to get over a body of educational work. Much of this is led by the same professors that would teach these subjects and many of the participating universities, and in some cases you can submit questions.

The Open University –

The Open University is the biggest supplier in the UK, and has for years been supplying a largely adult population with access to what used to be called ‘distance learning’ – university education delivered at home.   They offer a selection of free course – new ones of which are being added all the time courses – and for those that are Furloughed can understake to add something to their CV whilst not working. There are many short free courses to stimulate interest which you can dip in and out of, look for ‘openlearn’ under The Open University website.   Otherwise, you can sign up to full time courses at The Open University at the normal university rates (about £9k per year for degree level, or £14k for Masters level). These days everything is so much simpler online and although the bulk of the courses are still chargeable for proper certified degrees.  

For something to add to your CV…

There are many other courses aimed at a range of common requirements, for example learning a new language, new instrument, new computer technology etc. Although they are quite often run by commercial organisations, there are a number of cheaper alternatives which might be worth looking into;

  • Courses Online
    For more conventional industry recognised courses
  • The Skills Tool Kit by the UK Government –
    The UK government is also offering helpful short courses to try and help people develop their digital as well as numerical skills, the courses are provided by specific organisations but are free and should be able to give confidence and fill in gaps in CV’s if necessary.