10 Best Free and Affordable Platforms for Online Courses

by Chinh Ngo


What Are Massive Open Online Courses?


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer accessible and affordable remote learning opportunities to students all over the world. Many famous higher education institutions, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, deliver these online courses on a variety of topics and at a variety of educational levels. You can take a single class to delve deeply into a particular topic or take a sequence of courses to gain comprehensive knowledge of an area of study.


While you can access many MOOCs for free, certain platforms charge a small fee if you want to obtain a verified certificate of completion. Relatedly, some universities offer course credit for these online courses. As their name suggests, MOOCs often enroll hundreds, even thousands, of learners at a time. To accommodate such a large student population, these classes usually provide open enrollment — i.e., year-round enrollment or within a designated time frame — and a self-paced learning format.


In a self-paced format, you learn by viewing pre-recorded lectures and webinars instead of attending live sessions and interact with instructors and peers asynchronously through message boards. Depending on the MOOC, there may be weekly assignments assessed by other students using an established rubric. Auto-graded quizzes represent another popular form of evaluation.


At a time when retraining and upskilling are the norm, MOOCs give students and professionals the opportunity to continue their education outside a formal university setting. This guide details 10 popular MOOC providers, listed in alphabetical order. You will gain insight on each platform's credentialing, course offerings, and networking features. The guide also covers university and industry partnerships.

What are the best MOOC platforms to take online courses? Here are our top 10:


Canvas Network

Canvas Network specializes in professional development classes for teachers, school administrators, and other education leaders. Topics include leading and applying assessment in student affairs, supporting women in STEM fields, and research data management for librarians. Students can access MOOCs in English, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish.


Like other platforms, Canvas Network provides predominantly free and self-paced online classes. Educators benefit from open licensing options that allow them to freely share and reuse content as well as integrate third-party tools for their own purposes. This perk enables teachers to design and run their own MOOC to bolster traditional classroom instruction


Cognitive Class

Formerly known as Big Data University, Cognitive Class is an initiative by IBM to spread data literacy through free classes for students and experienced IT professionals alike. Users can pursue coursework at their own pace with no time restrictions for completion. These MOOCs cover individual topics like Python for data science, reactive architecture, and digital analytics and regression.


Alternatively, learners can enroll in more general learning paths, taking a series of classes on broad subjects like deep learning and Scala programming. Cognitive Class goes beyond pre-recorded lectures, enabling students to practice what they learn through a virtual lab environment. In lieu of a certificate, candidates can earn verified digital badges, which reflect shareable and industry-wide forms of recognition.



Coursera was founded in 2012 by two Stanford professors and is one of the largest massive open access course providers in the world. The platform partners with 190 companies and universities to provide fully remote and self-paced learning opportunities leading to digital certificates at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. Coursera boasts a high satisfaction rate, with 87% of users reporting career benefits.


The catalog contains over 3,900 courses and specializations that span areas like business, computer science, physical science and engineering, arts and humanities, and language learning. Coursera also offers affordable online degrees through its partner schools. Students can earn a master of science in accountancy from the University of Illinois or a global master of public health from Imperial College London.



Created as a joint venture between Harvard and MIT, edX is another leading MOOC platform. Students can access more than 2,500 courses from 140 higher education institutions covering popular subjects like data science and the humanities. The platform also offers computer science classes in Python, front-end and full-stack development, and cybersecurity.


edX uses an open-source learning system that allows technologists and educators to augment their MOOCs freely, adding tools that support the specific needs of their students. In addition to professional certificates, learners can earn college credits through the MicroBachelors and MicroMasters programs. edX also delivers full online graduate degrees, including master's credentials for supply chain management, nutritional sciences, and marketing.



FutureLearn is a massive open online course provider founded in the United Kingdom in 2012 by 12 university partners, including King's College London and the University of Leeds. Students can complete one of 418 short courses to learn new skills in areas like digital product management, ecology and wildlife science, and the future of globalization. They may also obtain microcredentials from leading universities and major companies.


Additionally, FutureLearn provides low-cost online academic programs that enable candidates to earn a bachelor of arts in international business or a master of science in cybersecurity. Unlike other platforms, FutureLearn structures its courses through narrative, with weekly to-do lists that help students stay on top of coursework. Learners can also access one-on-one support from a network of tutors.



Based in Berlin, iversity partners with a variety of companies, nongovernmental organizations, and universities across Europe to deliver more than 60 courses in English, German, and French. The platform maintains industry standards with the help of web designers and UX developers, ensuring the highest levels of usability and student engagement. The organization also offers corporate training services through its "iversity for Business" initiative.


Students can access traditional MOOCs or fast-paced "Espresso" classes in areas like data-driven marketing, international labor standards, and climate change and health. Iversity also offers intensive "Pro" courses that require candidates to pay a tuition price. Students can save money by bundling "Pro" classes.



Kadenze was launched in 2015 as a for-profit company with the support of 18 institutional partners, including Princeton University and the Rhode Island School of Design. This MOOC provider focuses on music, visual arts, creative technology, and other fields of study that lagged behind due to the prominence of STEM education. Students enjoy self-paced, mobile-friendly content that lets them showcase their skills with professional portfolio tools.


Users can access individual classes that cover topics in cinematic storytelling, project management for designers, and sound production in Ableton. Although Kadenze offers most of its MOOCs for free, students can pay to access in-depth feedback and other premium content. Kadenze also offers curated programs that enable learners to specialize in a subject.


Khan Academy

Khan Academy bases its organizational mission on the belief that education is a human right. To this end, the platform offers entirely free online courses that integrate instructional videos, practice exercises, and a personalized learning dashboard. Unlike many other MOOC providers, Khan Academy largely supports K-12 students, with content for pre-algebra, English language education, AP chemistry, and U.S government and civics.


Learners may also access preparation materials for standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, GRE, NCLEX-RN, and even the Praxis exams. Furthermore, Khan Academy offers resources for teachers and parents, who can assign standards-aligned course materials and track student progress. Through networking tools, users may connect with students and teachers across the globe.



Udacity is a for-profit MOOC platform that focuses on career development through technical and vocational online courses. Topics span six areas of study, which include data science, cloud computing, autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence. Students can also take programming and development classes in C++, Blockchain, and Android developer.


Additionally, working professionals may complete MOOCs that help them gain product management and marketing analytics skills. Beyond diverse course offerings, Udacity delivers comprehensive career services, including personalized job coaching, resume writing guidance, and LinkedIn best practices. The Udacity Talent Program lets users create detailed profiles and connect with major employers like Google and Mercedes-Benz.



As the largest online learning provider, Udemy offers over 150,000 courses in 65 languages. While students can take a variety of free courses, many MOOCs require a fee. By paying for premium content, users also gain access to features like direct messaging, Q&A, and certificates of completion.


Topics cover 11 broad categories, including office productivity, health and fitness, and photography. Students can also complete finance and accounting classes, learning the key elements of Bitcoin and blockchain or developing global market analysis skills. Additionally, Udemy provides personal development content that enables users to manage stress, improve their self-esteem, and cultivate meaningful relationships.


The sheer variety of MOOCs allow you to use these courses to supplement a college education or gain entirely new skills and knowledge. MOOCs also benefit working professionals who want to learn specialized and technical competencies to advance their careers. Lastly, these online classes are a great tool to network with other learners and industry experts worldwide.


First Published on April 01, 2020

Used with permission from Elise Cameron—BestColleges.com