You’re asking us to simplify a message’ says the Dean of Social Science ‘When our whole orientation is to complicate it’. 

Hired to introduce impact skills training to senior academics at a university, I ask them to choose a constituency they wish to influence.

Then they are to come up with a one phrase mission for their message, to this constituency.

This turns out to be quite a challenge, which foxes some of them.

Travelling home, my concern about our teenagers getting to university is slightly less than it was before the session…

Astonishing Learning Opportunities

While online learning booms though, nothing beats live discussion for getting quickly to the heart of a matter.

And currently in the UK, A level students are writing the dreaded personal statement to put on their university application forms.

To help keep a sense of perspective then – plus a way of sampling course material – and for all self-improvers, here’s a list of online alternatives/tasters:

MIT Open Courseware

This is a fantastic resource from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where you can study anything from Soviet History and Politics to Natural Light in Building Design. Overused word I know, but it is awesome.


Started by Sebastian Thrun, Professor of Computing Science at Stanford with two partners, this mostly offers courses on Computer Science for free. There is a Lean Start-Up course available too, and some certification available, with more to follow.


199 different courses here, again free and starting at prescribed times, mostly but not entirely from US universities. ‘Why We need psychology’ ‘Know Thyself’ and ‘Why We Are Irrational’ all tempt, here.


A mixture of courses, some free and some paid for. You can study anything from Greek Philosophy to Body Building. A new start-up business, full of potential. Self- improvement junkies may need to avoid.


Founded by Harvard and MIT, currently this looks to be offering computer science, electronics, science and public health courses. Again, free.

Carnegie Mellon

As well as the more predictable computing and science options at Carnegie Mellon, you can do French, American English Speech and something called Argument Diagramming. A more interesting alternative to marriage guidance possibly?

Open learn

The UK’s Open University with over 600 free courses, and about to get a site redesign.

Open Culture

Again with Stanford University connections, a most amazing curation of free culture and educational resources on the web. Warning: there are 100s of watchable movies, here. Seriously, with sites like this, who needs the tv?

Khan Academy

Set up by visionary Salman Khan, this has over 3000 free videos and over 400,000 You Tube subscribers. It’s for kids and you if you’re ‘a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy’s materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.’

I don’t know about you, but the extraordinary capacity for generosity behind this listing makes my heart sing.

Oh brave new world, indeed – and here is hope.

ps Thanks to the Linked-In Learning Without Frontiers group, Muvaffak Goyzadin added suggestions to this post, which lead me to his fine academic earth resource, which includes courses from Yale, Stanford and if you fancy it, Dr David Starkey at Cambridge.

By szcz

8 thoughts on “10 Free Online University Experiences”
  1. There are some amazing courses on offer here – whatever your interests – just a shame work gets in the way sometimes…Glad you like

  2. I’ve signed up with Udacity and EdX, the courses are great! And, if they are to be believed, will be viewed well by employers too, why spend thousands on paid for course (none of which are particularly affordable) when you can learn so much online for free! I love it!

    1. I know – there must be something for every interest amongst this crowd. Great to hear from you Esther and hope new job going well, thanks for the comment.

  3. i read this blog as it was mentioned in a comments on a Guardian article and quite right too.
    The list is great – does anyone have experience of free courses which include tutor or at least peer student forums / interaction.
    i’m happy wading through online alone but its enriching to share with like minded souls. I guess even FB or so would do.
    I think some OU students used it.

    1. Hi Andrew

      Thanks Andrew for popping over and commenting.

      I’ve organized a Ning group – very like a FB closed group – of grads and post-grads on employability courses which were free. What tended to happen there was that there would be a small number of very active and vocal participants, which I think is what happens in a lot of forums.

      Agree strongly with you more about sharing with like minded souls… anyone else had relevant experience please?

  4. I love these open platforms – from a student and trainer perspective. I think they we will see more of them and ultimately there will be a kind of Amazon approach where we can buy training as easly as we buy books (meaning the retailer not the jungle although I can see analogy would also apply!). And btw that cafe was my local when I was doing my MPhil

    1. And I can picture you having very happy times there…

      Thanks Cathy for coming to commment and your vision is an inspiring one.

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