When our team began researching free online courses with certificates for this article, I was shocked at how spammy this field has become.
I've had pretty extensive experience in alternative higher education models, I know a bit about this topic. However, it's been a long time since I really dug deep into what's out there.
And it's bad.
We didn't stop researching.
Because we wanted to find some legitimate online certificate courses that you can take to further your career and enhance your resume. Who doesn't want that?
Here's what we found:
There are some great online courses with certificates out there. It's just about careful research and narrowing down the options to free online courses that are actually legitimate.
And, let's be honest, you're too busy to take the time to separate the junk from the real opportunities. So sit back and settle in, we've done that work for you!
A Brief History of Online Courses and Distance Learning
Did you know that distance learning technically began in the 1700s?
OK, they weren't exactly online in terms of the internet, but in 1728, the first distance learning class was established in Boston:
They were lessons sent via U.S. mail.
And it's only gotten better from there.
Let's Get Real: The Pros and Cons of Online Learning
Like any kind of learning, online learning has its own set of pros and cons.
While most people probably think they'd love online learning, there are specific challenges.
Here's the main one:
Online learners miss out on the interaction between other students and the instructors that occur in traditional learning settings.
But, you'll never get hit with bits of an experiment they're doing, either...
Here are some more of the pros and cons of taking online courses.
Why You Should Consider Online Certificate Courses
Online courses aren't just for harried parents who are finishing up their college degrees at midnight every night after a hectic day with work and family.
Many people have taken an online class.
To take that one step further, the majority of colleges and universities offer many online courses, and some state and private higher education institutions even offer entire degrees online.
What to look for in an online course
When you're choosing online courses, there are some important aspects you should look for.
- If this is important to you, will your course transfer to other colleges and universities?
- Does it come from a certifying body that is legitimate?
Your education is one of the biggest decisions you'll make in your life.
Therefore, make sure you're making the best possible decision.
17 Best Free Online Courses with Certificate of Completion
After tons of online research and talking with experts in the subject, here is the list we've come up with. As of this writing, these are the best free legitimate online certificate opportunities out there.
1. Microsoft Azure Virtual Bootcamp
In the world of cloud computing, Microsoft Azure has gotten a lot of attention.
There are tons of online schools offering them, but we found a free Microsoft Azure certification:
When you sign up for this yearly bootcamp, you'll be enrolled for seven weeks and watch two to three videos per week.
At the end of the bootcamp, you'll get a certificate of completion. To get the free certificate, enter promo code VirtualCloud in your application form when you register.
2. Google Partner: Google Analytics Certification
Do you love marketing? Then getting Google Analytics certified should be one of the first things you do.
At one time it actually cost $50 but now it's completely free.
You'll need to study for about a week before you'll be able to pass the exam.
Here's why this certificate is so valuable:
Every company who has an online presence needs to be making use of Google Analytics.
3. Google Academy for Ads Certification
Mastering Google Adwords is a challenge, but Google Academy for Ads has made it easy for marketers to learn how to grow their businesses with the biggest advertising medium on the planet.
And that's not the best part:
You can get certified.
Some of the great stuff you can explore in this course:
4. Google Fundamentals of Digital Marketing Certification
Want to master the basics of digital marketing with the biggest advertising company in the world?
Well, hello, Google!
In Google's Fundamentals of Digital Marketing, which is accredited by the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Europe and The Open University, you will explore 26 modules created by Google trainers. The modules are chock full of real-world examples and practical exercises.
Some of the topics covered in the modules:
Upon completion of the 26 modules, you'll take the 40-question final exam and can then download your certificate.
5. Cisco Certified Network Associate by Cybrary
Do you dream of being a Cisco networking ninja?
Who doesn't, right?
Usually, the courses and exams for this certification are pricey, but we've found a free one.
Cybrary is offering for free a Cisco CCNA training course. You can learn all of the topics that are normally covered in a CCNA curriculum, including troubleshooting and configuring WAN and LAN environments.
Here's the best part:
It includes free certification.
But wait, there's more:
This course qualifies for 20 Continuing Education Units (CEU).
6. Hubspot Inbound Sales Certification
With this free training and certification from Hubspot, you can demonstrate your knowledge of the latest sales tactics and research.
Among other things, you'll learn the following:
- SEO basics
- Conversion analysis and reporting
Furthermore, you'll learn to develop inbound sales processes for your team. These processes will help you deliver predictable, quantifiable revenue.
7. Hubspot Social Media Certification
With Hubspot, you can gain several certifications, but perhaps the most valuable is the Social Media Certification.
Here's some of what you'll learn:
The course modules include steps and videos with several different qualified instructors.
Best of all:
You can take this course and get your certification in about a day.
8. Hubspot Email Marketing Certification
Email is not dead, and with Facebook's algorithm affecting business page reach more than ever, one of the best ways for a company to reach customers is via email.
For that reason, Hubspot's free Email Marketing Certification is a valuable certificate to have.
What you'll learn:
This course takes just a few hours to complete.
9. Hubspot Sales Enablement Certification
We found one more great certification from Hubspot: the Sales Enablement Certification.
In this course, you'll learn how to align sales and marketing to optimize efficiency.
Here's what the course covers:
Most people can finish this course in just a few hours.
10. Oracle Database and SQL Bootcamp
If you want to add an Oracle database and SQL certificate to your resume, you're in luck.
Oracle has designed a bootcamp and free certification program for you.
In this 12-week bootcamp, you'll learn how to build databases completely from scratch.
You'll also learn:
11. CPR/AED Certification Course
Being CPR/AED certified is a good thing for everyone, and now you can get your certification online for free.
The National CPR Foundation offers a free online course that comes with a free certificate and vinyl wallet card download.
The course is eight modules and takes about 20 minutes to complete.
This is even better:
This certification is AHA and ECC compliant.
Note: if you want a hard-copy certification, you'll have to pay a small fee. However, digital certification and card download will meet most people's needs.
12. FEMA Certification
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Institute (FEMA) offers a free certification in handling conflicts and knowledge of command structure.
This is really cool:
Depending on your region, the FEMA courses you complete may qualify for college credit or Continuing Education Units (CEUs).
13. Psychological First Aid
Some of the things you'll learn in this course:
Here's a video about the six-hour course and exam:
14. YouTube Certification
With the YouTube Certified program, you can learn the ins and outs of channel growth, creation, and monetization.
Available certifications include:
- Channel Growth: platform overview, channel revenue, and channel assessment
- Content Ownership: business operations, copyright on YouTube, and rights enforcement with Content ID
- Asset Monetization: Revenue reporting and analysis, asset optimization for revenue
After going to the certification link, you'll be asked to log into your Google account. Then, you'll be given the option to choose to share your Academy for Ads information with your company.
To complete certification, you have to score 75 percent or higher on exams.
The offerings and certificate opportunities are extensive.
15. Free Code Camp
Here are the certifications offered:
Every certification has 300 hours or more of training.
16. Facebook Blueprint Certification
In a whopping 86 modules, Facebook will teach you best practices for ad campaign optimization and planning.
In Facebook Blueprint, you'll learn to use Facebook's family of services and apps, and that includes Instagram.
Here's an important (and annoying) note:
The courses are completely free, but if you want a hard-copy certificate, you'll need to pay for and schedule an exam.
If you don't want to buy the certificate, you'll still be able to view your completion award online and can screengrab it for your portfolio.
17. Twitter Flight School
If you want to learn the ins and outs of Twitter marketing, Twitter Flight School certification is for you.
You can choose from two courses (or take both!):
- Twitter Video Advertising Foundations (six modules)
- Twitter Video Advertising Campaign Basics (five modules)
What you'll learn:
- Senior leadership for personal branding
- Account planning for incorporating Twitter into media plans
- Campaign management for launching and optimizing paid ad campaigns
The modules are offered in 10-15 minute bite-sized videos so that you can learn at your own pace.
Let's Talk Real World Benefits
Most people agree:
The benefits of online learning far outweigh the drawbacks.
3 Reputable and FREE (or Mostly Free) Sites
If you are looking for sites you can trust, overall, not just a course here and there, we've got you covered. These three organizations have solid reputations for providing free courses and certificates.
Not to mention...
All of these sites have hundreds or thousands of certificate programs available.
However, there are some important things to keep in mind about most online certification companies.
- Passing an exam and taking courses is not the same as completing a college degree.
- They're not implying that you've completed a college degree or reputable training program in whatever you've taken an exam for.
- Employers will not see these certifications as a substitute for relevant education.
- What they show is that you have demonstrated the ability to pass an exam in the subject matter.
After taking their courses, you'll be able to speak knowledgeably about the topic.
But the very best part of this article?
We created accounts on these websites and walked through one course on each site, so we can vouch for their authenticity and the value they offer.
Furthermore, we were very careful about this because as we mentioned previously in this article, we want people to be able to weed through the forest of online certificate programs.
For example, there was one organization (Brain Measures) that is recommended by many workforce professionals.
However, the site didn't make our list.
Because we encountered a few error messages when we tried to register for some of the free courses and exams.
Therefore, these three make the grade and met with the standards we were seeking for an online learning opportunity that provides a certificate of completion.
Here is a short list of the courses you can take at Saylor Academy:
Here are some of the features of Saylor Academy:
Saylor even offers a few free courses that are accepted as college credit at a limited number of universities.
Here are a few of the colleges that accept some of Saylor's courses as credit.
Here's a video about their college credit program.
Here is what a Saylor certificate looks like:
2. Advance Learning Interactive Systems Online (ALISON)
At Advance Learning Interactive Systems Online (ALISON), you can take more than 800 certificate courses.
Keep this in mind:
ALISON's point, as stated by them on their website, is to help learners gain critical knowledge of the individual concepts within specific subject areas.
Most of the certificate courses can be completed in two to three hours.
Here's how ALISON works:
- Register a free account.
- Choose your course and enroll.
- Begin and complete your course.
- "Graduate" by taking an assessment and receiving a score of 80% or above.
- Download your free learner record as proof of achievement - or
- Purchase a hard-copy certificate of completion or diploma that they will mail to you.
If you want a hard-copy, it costs between $19 and $60.
Some of the features of ALISON's learning program:
- Offerings of individual free courses
- 150 diploma courses that take 8-10 hours to complete
- Attestation letter available after you purchase a hard-copy certificate or diploma
Like Udemy, there is a star rating system that will help you determine the value of a specific course.
Here's something that will bother some students:
ALISON sustains itself with advertising. Therefore, you will have to sit through an ad between most modules.
But, keep in mind...
You can buy premium access to go ad-free.
However, if you're learning by reading on the internet, you're probably having to endure advertising anyhow.
For every course you complete, Udemy provides a certificate of completion.
Many of their courses cost money, but they have a nice selection of free courses as well and include everything from chemistry to smartphone repair to computer programming.
Some of the free courses you can take at Udemy:
Although certificates from Udemy courses aren't recognized by employers, their rating system provides valuable insight into how beneficial the courses can be for independent learning.
Furthermore, while certificates you earn at Udemy might not be something you can present to employers, taking Udemy courses will definitely expand your knowledge and allow you to speak intelligently about any topic you study.
11 Tips for Success in an Online Course
If you want to be successful in your online courses, you'll need to develop good study habits.
However, it's not always easy.
Chances are, you're taking online courses while working and taking care of a family at the same time.
But if you follow these tips, you'll breeze through your online courses.
How to Add Those Shiny New Certificates to Your CV or Resume
Now that you've earned some valuable certificates from online courses, how should you list them on your resume?
Here's what NOT to do:
Don't list a zillion certificates on your resume.
Here are three reasons why you shouldn't.
- Your potential employer's eyes will glaze over.
- Employers (or HR) scan a resume for 6-7 seconds. Your resume needs to be concise and have lots of white space.
- Although some certificates may have value, they could look unprofessional on a resume. Stick to legitimate and credible certificates like the 17+ we listed in this article.
Now, let's get on to what you should do...
How to list those bad boys on your resume
1. An extra section
For the legitimate certificates you earn, such as the ones we list in this article, create an extra section on your resume.
This section will be separate from your educational credentials (associate's degree, bachelor's degree, trade school license/certification, high school if you've not gone to college, etc...)
2. The secret power of customization
You do not want the HR person reviewing your resume to look at it like this:
Ideally, for every job you apply for, you'll customize your resume to zone in on the requirements of that job.
Therefore, some of your certificates will go on one resume, but perhaps won't be applicable to another.
Example: you have complex tech certificates but are applying for a job in retail. Your Google Analytics certificate may not need to go on the resume you submit for that position.
3. Certificates, honors and awards
Be sure you put certificates in their own section, separate from honors and awards.
4. Use this format
This is important:
ALWAYS include the name of the certification, the certifying body, and the date you earned it.
Therefore, to include your certificates in the certificates section of your resume, use this format:
- Name of certification
- Name of certifying body
- Date obtained and expiration (if this is applicable)
- Location (only if applicable)
Another option, if space is an issue:
Name of certification, certifying body, location if applicable (date obtained if applicable)
Google Analytics Certification, Google (May 2018)
5. Keep a copy in your portfolio
Print your certification (or screengrab your completion if the certificate isn't free) and put it in your portfolio.
Do not attach all of these certificates to your resume. If the empoyer wants them, they'll ask for them.
And you'll have them handy right there in your portfolio.
Don't put that certificate for making the perfect green smoothie on your resume
At Udemy, you can actually take a course on how to make the perfect green smoothie and receive a certificate of completion.
How awesome is that?
Seriously, VERY awesome. Who wouldn't want this certificate???
Don't put certificates like this on your resume.
This is an extreme (and silly) example, of course, but remember that your resume is the official documentation of the value you bring to an employer.
Not only that, but it is also the first impression you'll give that employer.
In other words, your one shot at getting noticed and getting your foot in the door.
Unless you're going to work at Smoothie King, the smoothie certificate will not add value to your resume.
And even then, you should do this:
List the SKILL you've learned on your resume, NOT the certificate of completion for making the perfect green smoothie.
In the skills section of your resume, you could say "expertise in making the perfect green smoothie." (ONLY if you're trying to get a job at Smoothie King)
Don't put the actual certificate in the certifications and education section of your resume.
You want to only list legitimate certificates on your resume.
BUT...here's what you can do for the not-credible-enough-for-your-resume certificates
During your interview, you can mention that you're a dedicated lifelong learner and that you're constantly taking online courses in subjects that interest you and will enhance your overall knowledge about various topics.
If they ask for more details (and most potential employers will), you can tell them that you basically live on sites like Udemy, Alison, and Saylor learning new stuff.
Trust me on this:
Employers love employees who love to learn.
Never forget this:
Certificates, diplomas, and degrees may get you in the door, but what employers want is someone who can do the job.
Online courses are great. But being hungry for knowledge and growth is what will make you a winner. Good luck, and happy learning, from one polymath to another!
What courses do you have experience with, did we miss a winner? Let us know down in the comments!