If you haven’t heard, Coursera is an online platform that offers accessible education for all from some of the world’s leading institutions. Education offered by Coursera comes through a few channels: specializations, online degrees, and individual courses.

Coursera specializations are multi-course packages that intensively focus on specific career skills. Over the course of about 4-6 months, learners can earn a shareable certification to share with colleagues or potential employers. This certificate shows that the learner underwent a series of courses and took on hands-on projects related to a specific skill. Specialization packages are priced every month.

Coursera also offers online degree programs. If you are interested in institutional, accredited proof of education rather than a certificate from Coursera, you will want to look into an online degree from Coursera. Pending admission to your chosen institution, Coursera’s online platform facilitates a comprehensive degree-earning journey. Coursera has partnered with several universities to offer fully-online Master’s degrees in business, data science and computer science.

And Then There are Individual Courses Offered by Coursera

Coursera was founded under the premise of providing a few, individual courses to prospective students for free. Professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, two computer science professors from Stanford, created the platform to put their own courses online for the world to access.

Since then, the purpose of the platform has shifted and evolved.

Coursera began offering more and more courses, which drew in hordes of potential learners. Originally, many courses were offered for free on Coursera, but the pricing structure changed in 2015. Now, many courses offered on Coursera are offered for a small fee.

Luckily, there are many Coursera free courses. There is a caveat, however: courses taken for free cannot earn a certificate. Some courses do not have this option at all, but over 1,000 courses do. This option is labeled as, “Full Course, No Certificate,” by Coursera with the added note, “You will still have access to all course materials for this course.”

This option is not well-known by many as it is not natively advertised.

We have, however, compiled a list of some of the best Coursera free courses available to you.


1. Machine Learning – Stanford University

Stanford University campus

This course is one of the most popular courses taken on Coursera. Taught by Andrew Ng, one of the original founding members of Coursera that we mentioned earlier, the Machine Learning course by Stanford University dives into supervised learning (parametric/non-parametric algorithms, support vector machines, kernels, neural networks), unsupervised learning (clustering, dimensionality reduction, recommender systems, deep learning), and explores the best practices in machine learning (bias/variance theory; innovation process in machine learning and AI).

These subjects are of the utmost importance as artificial intelligence and machine learning have their moment in the tech spotlight and as society prepares for the intelligent-future.

The course takes approximately 54 hours to complete and is totally online. This equates to about 11 weeks long at the suggested pace.


2. Financial Markets – Yale University

statue at Yale University

Taught by Bob Shiller of Yale University, the Financial Markets course on Coursera certainly deserves a place on our list of the best Coursera free courses.

This course offers insight into the reality of current and future financial markets across the globe and helps advance knowledge on economics, financial leadership skills, risk management, and the functionality of real-world financial industries.

One past student of this online course spoke highly of the lectures and guest speakers the course offers.

“Awesome Introduction into the international world of finance from (probably) one of the most fascinating personality in modern finance - Robert Shiller. I really liked that - after every subject - you could hear a famous guest speaking about the topic (for example George Soros). Would recommend it for everyone who is interested in better understanding the financial architecture in which we are living in.”

The course takes about 7 weeks at the recommended pace.


3. A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment – Indian School of Business

Indian School of Business campus

When you think of business school, a class on happiness and fulfillment is probably the last thought that comes to your mind. The course is taught by  Dr. Raj Raghunathan, a tenured professor at the McComb’s School of Business at the University of Texas.

Dr. Raghunathan taught this particular course while a guest professor at the Indian School of Business.

Dr. Raghunathan noticed a trend among his successful colleagues that prompted him to create this course.  

“I met up with my classmates from 15 years ago and I discovered…there was [little] correlation between career success and life success. The guys who were really successful…clearly weren’t very happy.”

In addition to the most traditionally-recognized sources of happiness: intuition, tradition, reason, but mostly, religious and spiritual wisdom, we now have the scientific layer with new information to add.

The course should take about 6 weeks if you invest 2-3 hours per week and the payoff is an advanced understanding of the science and psychology behind happiness.


4. Hadoop Platform and Application Framework – University of California, San Diego

college professor beside the sign: University of California, San Diego

In 2018, topics of big data are becoming more common for the layman business professional. As the amount of digital information in the world increases, the need for data solutions will increase.

The Hadoop Platform and Application Framework course offered the University of California at San Diego is a perfect course for both novice programmers and laymen who want to learn more about the Hadoop and Spark frameworks.

We would like to stress that this course is very much for beginners. Many past participants in this class remarked at the simplicity of the course in both the positive and negative light so it is something you should be aware of prior to enrolling in this course.


5. Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects – University of California, San Diego

cemented sign of University of California, San Diego

You may have thought that “learning” was something that everyone knew how to do, but this course helps you to “learn how to learn.” If you struggle with procrastination, poor time-management, or even understanding how to undertake daunting tasks, “Learning How to Learn” is for you.  

The course, instructed by an engineering professor at Oakland University in Rochester and a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, blends neuroscience with study tactics to help learners develop an adequate learning foundation to make the most out of their education. Students of the course will learn about how the brain encapsulates learned information, how memory works, tactics for procrastination, and other best practice for information retention and comprehension.

The course is offered by the University of California, San Diego, and is estimated to take around 4 weeks if you complete it at the recommended pace – spending 3 or 4 hours a week on the course materials. Eighty-eight percent of the 4,000+ reviews of this course are five-star.


6. Mountains 101 – University of Alberta

University of Alberta campus

Mountains 101, offered by the University of Alberta, is one of the most interesting of the popular Coursera free courses offered. The class is an Environmental Science course that focuses on mountains around the world. The course is an overview of the following:

  • Origins of mountains – how they are built up and how they deteriorate over time
  • Micro and macro importance of mountains to biodiversity and the life cycle
  • Cultural and historical significance of mountains
  • How a warming climate is affecting mountains around the globe

The course is actually listed as one of Coursera’s all-time top 50 courses.

Mountains 101 takes 12 weeks to complete. The instruction of the course is taken on Zac Robinson and David Hik. They utilize their locale in Alberta, Canada for much of the course as a reference for larger, global topics.


7. Introduction to Programming with MATLAB – Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University

In 2018, tech is becoming increasingly relevant to industries it previously did not relate to. In the past, the only individuals that could benefit from programming knowledge were those directly involved in the tech sector – that is no longer the case. Programming knowledge is now applicable in finance jobs, the industry sector, engineering, and even in natural sciences.

A programming language with specific applicability in a wide range of industries is MATLAB.

MATLAB is a special-use programming language that is appropriate for moderate-sized programs – specifically those involving mathematics. It allows users to create powerful programs without writing copious amounts of code, making it perfect for programmers who only need to carry out minimal and specific commands. An understanding of MATLAB is invaluable in today’s job market.

Introduction to Programming with MATLAB offered by Vanderbilt University helps students to  “become familiar with general concepts in computer science, gain an understanding of the general concepts of programming, and obtain a solid foundation in the use of MATLAB.”

To accompany the course, all participants are provided with a free license for MATLAB Online that lasts for the duration of the course.


8. Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics – University of Cape Town

campus of University of Cape Town

If you’ve ever looked at a medical research paper, you may have noticed some overwhelming jargon that you didn’t necessarily understand. Terms like, “p-value” and “confidence interval” are not easily understood by the layman but actually reveal some of the most important information research can offer: statistics.

Whether you are a professional who wants a working knowledge of research report interpretation or a student aiming to eventually complete research of your own, you must understand how to report and interpret research results.

Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics, offered by Dr. Juan H Klopper of the University of Cape Town, is an introductory course that helps you do just that.

The course is 6 weeks long and is completely free, with the exception that applies to all Coursera free courses – the optional purchasable certificate.


9. Model Thinking – University of Michigan

aerial view of the University of Michigan

Society is undeniably intricate. World markets, political systems, societies, and more all interact with each other on a huge scale. Accompanied by a bevy of information on the internet, these systems are not easy to understand much less to make predictions in regards to.

One of the most effective ways of tackling immense information and forecasting the future of world systems is through the use of models.

Model Thinking, a Coursera free courses offered by the University of Michigan, is a sociology course that focuses on the rising interest of model-based analysis for sociological research – similarly to the trends that are already popular in the sciences and mathematics.

The applications for the future of participants’ education and careers extend beyond sociology, however. The course helps to “provide a foundation for future social science classes, whether they be in economics, political science, business, or sociology” and will undoubtedly aid in advanced courses.

It is estimated that if you spend between 4 and 8 hours weekly on the course, you can complete it in 12 weeks. The nature of this course is unique in that you can feel free to participate to whatever extent you would like. You can view the lectures only or choose to complete however many of the quizzes and tests you would like. It’s truly a lean-what-you’d-like course model.

With All the Free Coursera Courses Available, Why Not Take Advantage?

man in blue and white shirt at a desk taking notes on a notepad in front of a laptop

In this short overview, we covered just nine of the over 1,000 free Coursera courses available online. The list is seemingly inexhaustible and has subjects ranging from The Music of the Beatles, to Wind Energy, to The Finite Element Method for Problems in Physics.

Whether you'll be a student looking to supplement traditional education, a layman who is interested in learning new subjects, or a professional feeling stuck in your career, you can find a course to supplement your education that is 100 percent free on Coursera. The only thing you’ll lose is your time – but, its time wisely invested.

Take a look at some of the Coursera free courses today. There are multiple start dates for sections of courses each year so you can begin planning ahead right away. What would you like to learn?