There are a large number of schools, institutes and associations that offer free online courses. The popularity of this method of teaching has spread as the cost decreased. When selecting free online courses, there are five things to consider: course selection, program quality, administration, relevance and support. All these items are central to getting the best possible value for the time invested in taking a course.
The first item to consider when looking for an online course is the subject. Decide what your personal goal is and set a schedule to achieve that goal. For example, a professional association's free online course in beginner carpentry might provide all the instructions that you need to learn a new skill. Select the education level based on your interest and background. Although advanced courses are available in a wide range of subjects, it is not a good place to start without prior training.
If you are looking for a course in proprietary software, free courses will typically provide a basic overview of the current version. Free intermediate or advanced courses are usually for an outdated version. These courses are still worthwhile if you are willing to develop problem solving, analyzing and business analysis skills. The basic functionality of the software rarely changes in different versions.
Check the program quality carefully before starting a free online course. The time and energy required to complete an online course is the same, regardless of the program quality. For academic, university level courses, try the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open Courseware website (http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm). It provides over 10,000 free online courses, complete with coursework, lecture notes and textbook reference.
Look at universities and colleges that support a large online course offering. They have already invested the time and money needed to create the online courses and many provide these courses for free in the interest of spreading knowledge and education. Online media streaming sites, such as YouTube (www.youtube.com), have a growing section of free online courses and tutorials providing university level lectures to everyone.
When looking at free online courses, read the course administration section carefully. Some schools allow students to submit coursework to instructors, but most do not. Review any requests for donations, registration fees or access fees in detail. Think about the value of the program to you before making any payments.
Many free online courses are no longer available in tuition-based programs. Others are advertising tools for a new software or application or as a trial version of other courses the institute offers on a fee basis. Check the date of the material and determine if it is relevant to you. History, typing and English language courses do not become outdated, but software based courses might. The level of support available with free online courses varies widely, depending on the organization, target audience and purpose. Many specialized schools offer free introductory courses and provide support as a method of advertising their product or other services.