Free Courses, Online Programs, No-Tuition Universities, and MOOCs

Online institutions are a maze not only for potential students but also for education specialists.  Some are profit generators.  Others are nonprofit organizations that offer respectable courses, while others are extensions of brick-and-mortar universities that use free courses as outreach to the community and as supplemental materials for traditional classrooms.  Many of these courses are like tutorials, others are extensions of the classroom experience, and some are massive open online courses (MOOCs) with animated instructors who teach thousands of students.  Students completing the courses obtain badges, certificates, or transferable credits (usually available only through a proctored exam).  Those who do not know if they have the discipline or the educational background to complete a college degree can try a course or two before matriculating at a traditional institution.  Another option is to use the free courses to acquire a skill, such as a foreign language or a computer language, for which an individual does not need formal credit.  Politicians are beginning to see MOOCs as a means of reducing the cost of education without much consideration for the quality of instruction that students receive from a professor with whom they have little contact.  The list below is by no means complete, nor is an institution’s presence on this list an endorsement.  This information is strictly to inform students of options for seeking a degree or supplementing their course of study.  Visitors must make their own determination if a program offers accredited courses.

Two useful tools for students seeking to navigate the maze of free courses, regular online programs at non-profit colleges and universities, online offerings at for-profit universities, no-tuition universities, and MOOCs are and

List of Free Courses, No-Tuition Universities, OpenCourseWare Courses, and MOOCs

Please note that the list below is incomplete, and the information in the descriptions may not provide students all they need to know in order to determine whether such courses are best for them.  Do not neglect to consider the articles and my occasional commentaries in the "Miscellaneous Articles" section that follows.

2U --
This is a private firm that offers undergraduate online courses for a consortium of 17 institutions (as of July 2013) that includes Wake Forest, Brandeis, Notre Dame, University of Rochester, George Washington University, Duke, Northwestern, Emory, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt, and Washington University in St. Louis.  In 2013, Baylor, Temple, and Southern Methodist became affiliate institutions.

Annenberg Learner --
Providing resources to teachers and students, Annenberg Learner is part of the Annenberg Foundation, which since 1989 has been involved in a variety of education initiatives.  Annenberg Learner has video programs on the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and some are available for credit.  One of the organization's most famous productions is "The Western Tradition," lectures on European history by Eugen Weber (1925-2007), the noted Romanian-born scholar who taught at the University of California at Los Angeles.  Weber's lectures appeared on PBS, as do many of the series that Annenberg produces, and are available free of charge on the Annenberg Learner web site at

John Boyer's Geography 1014 at Virginia Tech --
Boyer teaches this course to more than 3,000 students in any given semester.  The lectures are available free through iTunes, and the web site to accompany the course is  The dog-and-pony show attracts a great deal of attention, but there is a good deal of useful content in this introductory course.

BYU Independent Study --
This program does not offer certificates or accreditation.

Canvas (Instructure) --
Instructure is a company that provides course-management systems for various universities.  It now offers MOOCs that originate with any of the institutions that use its services.  See also Blackboard's CourseSites.

Carnegie-Mellon University, Open Learning Initiative --

Codeacademy --!/exercises/0
Primarily a web site that teaches computer coding, Codeacademy in October 2012 partnered with New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development to teach coding to NYU's students who then discuss questions and problems in a traditional classroom.  See the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the partnership at

Coursera --
This is a partnership of the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, Yale, and several other institutions in the United States.  In December 2012, the University of London and the University of Edinburgh announced that they will offer courses through Coursera.  It is one of the leading for-profit providers.

CourseSites (Blackboard) --
Like Canvas from Instructure, Blackboard's CourseSites makes MOOCs available from institutions that use Blackboard's course-management services.

EdX --
In the EdX consortium are Harvard and MIT, the founders, along with UC-Berkeley, University of Texas, Wellesley College, and Georgetown University.  In the summer of 2013, EdX announced partnerships with 15 other universities in the United States, including Cornell University, and abroad.    EdX offers certificates of completion.  It is a non-profit MOOC provider whose main competition is Coursera.

Free Think U --
The creator of this site is Jim Van Eerden, a technology entrepreneur and adjunct faculty member at Grove City College, a conservative Presbyterian college in Western Pennsylvania.  Free Think U offers a series of short courses that qualify students for scholarships for various institutions or release to the students funding from parents or relatives who wish to ensure that their children or students they sponsor are "thinking about both sides of the argument about The Big Questions, including especially what they consider to be the under-represented conservative views,” according to Jim Van Eerden in an e-mail exchange with Dr. Daniel E. Miller.  An article about the program is at

MIT OpenCourseWare --
This program does not offer certificates or accreditation.  The MITx, however, offers a certificate of completion through the EdX program listed above. --
Announced in the autumn of 2013, is free not only to users but to professors who want to create a MOOC.  Dubbed the Youtube of MOOCs, is the creation of EdX and Google.

Notre Dame University, NotreDameX --

NovoEd --
A MOOC provider that began in 2013 whose originators are affiliated with Stanford University.  Some of NovoEd's courses are open to students anywhere, while some are specifically for those at Stanford University.  NovoEd claims that its platform is better designed to facilitate interaction within groups than its competitors.  More information about NovoEd is at

Open Culture --
This site contains courses from professors at major institutions and does not offer certificates or accreditation.

Open Education Consortium --
The OCW Consortium is a grouping of hundreds of universities throughout the world that offer free courses.  A few participating institutions are listed on this page.

OpenLearn (Open University) --

OpenStax (Rice University) --

Sofia (Foothill College) -- and Saylor Foundation  -- and offers several majors to students for $99 per month and $39 per course and accreditation through 38 online-and conventional institutions (May 2012 information).  Students at now can take free courses for transferable credit through the Saylor Foundation, which is committed to developing a totally free education system and only offers its students a certificate of completion.  Alternately, anyone can take free courses at the Saylor Foundation and register to take the exam through for accreditation.  The Saylor Foundation offers a history major and an art history major, while StraighterLine has only two lower-level courses in history.   For more information, see the 2012 article about Saylor in The Chronicle of Higher Education at  There also are professors who set their own parameters and prices for courses through StraighterLine.  Information on that program is at

Tufts Open Courseware --

Udacity --
This site offers a few free courses in computer science from a Stanford professor, Sebastian Thrun, and others who left Stanford University.  The course offerings focus mainly on computer science and the sciences, and at least one institution, Colorado State University, accepts Udacity courses as transfer credit if students complete the proctored exam.  In 2013, San Jose State University announced a partnership with Udacity to provide credits for certain courses at one-third the cost of regular tuition.  See  Udacity began charging for completion certificates, but its courses still are free.  See

University of the People –-
This free university is strictly on line and has partnerships with New York University and Yale University.  It offers two-year and four-year programs in business administration and computer science.  It offers about 20 basic courses in the arts and sciences.  Students take courses for free and pay a modest price for exams.  It currently is seeking accreditation.  See also

Rev. 11. V. 2016