Free College Courses? Try Open Online Classes

Mackenzie Hayes

With the rising cost of higher education, free college courses may seem unbelievable, but they do exist. These free online courses are called massive open online courses, or MOOCs. There are several websites devoted to providing lists of these free online degree courses.

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Credit: sheelamohan

How to Take Free College Courses

Paul Santos, the creator of, enrolled in his first MOOC in fall 2012.

How MOOC’s are Related to Free College Courses

According to Santos, after “jump[ing] from initiative to initiative” he decided to “make one aggregator of MOOCs to facilitate the search.” combines the free college courses offered by initiative sites, such as or, into one searchable database. While the majority of courses offered on don’t translate into college credit, most do offer certificates. It is important to remember that doesn’t offer courses, but acts as a way to find them, Santos stressed.

“We aren’t MOOC providers, the initiatives send us their courses’ info and we publish the info of the courses in our directory,” Santos said.

Whether a MOOC offers free college courses with credit or not is decided by the initiative site.

OpenCourseWare Consortium,, is a site that is similar to While OpenCourseWare Consortium doesn’t offer MOOCs, it does partner with universities to make course materials available to the public. Through OpenCourseWare Consortium, users can access course calendars, syllabi, materials, assignments, and resources from all over the world. This information is organized into courses known as Open Courseware, or OCW.

The difference between MOOCs and OCWs is the existence of an instructor and the possibility of a certificate. While students enrolled in MOOCs have instructors and a possibility of a certificate, OCW students must guide their own learning experience and will have no proof of their involvement.

Although MOOCs and OCWs are different programs, their user base is very similar.

How Valuable are Free College Courses

According to the Wall Street Journal, Instructure, which is the maker of Canvas, and Qualtrics, a research company, conducted a study of MOOC users.
In this study, it was discovered that, “of the highly-engaged students, those who completed several MOOCs, 55 percent have a master’s degree or higher. Age-wise, 74 percent of the highly engaged students are between 24 and 53 years old. And 63 percent of them are female.”

In March 2011, OpenCourseWare Consortium initiated a survey of their users. “Of those seeking OCW materials, nearly half, 45 percent, reflects students currently undergoing secondary or university-level education,” the results of the survey showed. “The second highest category reflects working professionals at 22 percent, followed by a group of self-learners with 19 percent. Teachers or faculty members form 8 percent of all the respondents.”

By comparing the results from both studies, we see that people who use MOOCs or OCWs usually possess, or are working on, a degree from a higher-education institute.

MOOCs or OCWs: Why People Enroll in Free College Courses?

“I think that the majority of people enroll because it is free to try, quality of the subjects, universities and instructors, and it’s a nice way to improve knowledge,” Santos said of why students enroll in MOOCs.

“Forty-four percent of respondents indicate that OCW materials help them with the concepts they are studying,” OpenCourseWare Consortium’s survey showed. “Fifty-one percent also use these materials for specific projects, or to supplement or even create teaching materials.”

“Of particular interest is the fact that 51 percent of respondents find OCW materials useful in order to update their skills or knowledge for and at work,” the survey also showed. “In addition, 54 percent reported having found OCW materials useful for their own interests.”

Santos also noted the possibility of using MOOCs for advancement in the workplace. “I think that in the near future the MOOCs can be used to advance in the workplace. The main problem is to prove [it] was really that student that [took] the course. However at workplace context you can prove that you gained knowledge with the course.”

MOOCs and OCWs are changing the way that we see the educational system. Someday maybe we’ll have a system where education is affordable for everyone. We could be approaching the day free college courses will be offered to everyone.

More to Read About Free College Courses

Ready Are Online Degrees as Respected as a Traditional Diploma? for more information about taking college courses online free.

Each day education is encroached by a new innovative future. Here’s to hoping we soon see the day that free college courses are available to everyone.

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