18 Best Free Online Courses With Certificates


When it comes to filling in your time either productively or with something that adds to your mental library, free online courses with certificates are a way of doing both of those things. Online courses are increasing in popularity, especially since the start of lockdown and related responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Certification courses are by no means boring – the variety of courses available out there is massive, as this guide will show.

Recommended Reading Before Choosing A Certificate

Depending on why you are undertaking a free online course with a certificate, double check before registering whether it comes with a certificate of accreditation or a certificate of completion. While both are useful in their own way, the former is a qualification in its own right and the latter is not. If you are looking to demonstrate an interest in something new to be considered for re-training or want to add to your own personal knowledge, a certificate of completion is best. If you are actively re-training or wanting to add a new string to your bow between or around a job or studies, then a certificate of accreditation is the most optimal.

It is also important to bear in mind how long you have to complete the online course. For some, the material is only available for a limited time. For others, fees may be incurred for not returning the work on time.

And now, onto the best free online certifications!

2021’s Best Free Courses With Certificates

[1] Learning Curve Group

  • Cost: Free if certain parameters are met.
  • Course Type: Distance learning (most). Classroom learning (course-depending)
  • Certification: Level 2 – 3 (UK)

Ideal for US students working or studying in the UK looking to add an extra string to their bow over summer, the courses offered by the Learning Curve Group are valuable as a first rung in re-training alongside undergraduate studies. Depending on the course, you have up to 12 months to complete your learning. Each online course comes with, at minimum, one workbook be it digitally or in paperback to work through alongside the course. They can flexibly be done around both work and study. Some courses, like Fitness Instructing and Personal Fitness and becoming a Lead Adult Care Worker, can only be done in a classroom setting as they involve real world practical knowledge. Level 2 loans are fully funded depending on your circumstances and Level 3 loans work as loans through the 25+ student loan system where you only need to start paying it back after you are earning a certain amount. The certificates arrive 2 – 3 weeks after course completion is verified.

[2] Coursera

Cost: Mixed: some free, some at a cost ranging from $39 USD a month to $9,000 USD for full degrees.

Course Type: On-Demand Distance Learning

Certification: Professional Certificates. MasterTrack Certificates.

Coursera primarily focuses on subjects connected to the digital domain such as Google Cloud architecture, IBM Data Science and Machine Learning among others. This is not an exclusive specialization however as there are also courses on Psychology, Marketing and Finance. This is in addition to attention being paid to the intersections between different subjects which is very important in today’s world where subjects that have absolutely no influence on others – or are influenced in turn – are essentially non-existent. In addition to having a range in terms of cost as indicated above, Coursera’s offerings also vary in terms of the time commitment expected. Quickly learning for a couple of hours as an accompaniment to a university lecture or learning after work is at one end of the scale with 2 – 4 years dedicated to a degree at the other.

[3] Stanford Online

  • Cost: Varied. Free Content is clearly marked.
  • Course Type: At Stanford, In The Workplace, In Person and Online available.
  • Certification: For the Free Content, ‘CME Credit Available’ is in the corner.

With subjects ranging from Artificial Intelligence through to Education, Natural and Social Sciences and the Arts and Humanities, Stanford Online has courses across a broad range of careers and interests to meet the needs of people ranging from those seeking to enhance their professional understanding to those exploring a familiar or new interest in a more structured manner. Stanford Online offers degrees, professional certificates and graduate certificates depending on your needs or those of your employer. For those interested in a subject who don’t have a lot of time to dedicate, they also offer graduate seminars for viewing. CME credit is specific to Continuing Medical Education and goes towards the continued maintenance of medical licenses. All other free courses come with a Certificate of Participation.

[4] Futurelearn

  • Cost: Varied. Some free, some require a Futurelearn subscription.
  • Course Type: Online
  • Certification: Participation. Accreditation available (but not free).

Futurelearn can be best described as an aggregate of online courses with certificates as an option after completion. It collects courses from other institutions and displays them in an easily-digestible and centralized manner. However, while there are free courses available, payment is required to continually access the material after the initial course time has elapsed and to get a certificate. This may be important depending on whether you are engaging with the course for fun or for the purpose of professional development. Futurelearn has a broad range of course areas on offer including the Creative Arts and Media, Science, Engineering and Mathematics, Literature and Politics and Society, and more. New courses are being regularly added and the site rotates through what is on offer throughout the duration of the year. The interface is easily navigable and in terms of accessing the courses themselves, it is broken down into weekly segments for easier learning and knowledge retention.

[5] EDX – Professional Certificates

  • Cost: Free. Certificate available for a one-off cost.
  • Course Type: Online.
  • Certification: Participation (verified by the providing institution).

EDX, like Futurelearn, aggregates the courses provided by other institutions and non-university education providers in an easily accessible manner. The subjects available include Biology and Life Sciences, Ethics, Chemistry and Philosophy and Ethics, among others. The main focus of EDX is computing and technology however, and often the other subjects will interrelate with that domain. There are also a range of paid programs including professional courses and online Master’s degrees available if progression is the intention after a free course has whet your appetite for a particular subject or if there is an interest in re-training professionally. It is a good site because it provides both pathways of learning and progression. EDX is available globally which makes it ideal even for those who may need to relocate for work or study – so long as the internet can be accessed, the course can be engaged with.

[6] Harvard University

  • Cost: Free. Some courses may entail a fee for a certificate.
  • Course Type: Online. Some have a set time for completion.
  • Certification: Verified Certificate available at a cost. Free university credit.

Harvard University is among the Ivy League universities that have been offering courses to online learners since the pandemic began. The subjects on offer are varied. Just some of them include the Humanities, Programming, the Social Sciences and Business. Some courses are unlimited in terms of how much time you have to complete them whereas some only run for a limited time in addition to starting at set times instead of being continually available. For each course available on the site, it tells you the duration of the course, the time commitment recommended, the pace and the difficulty level. This is ideal for people who enjoy browsing and comparing before making a final decision. Some offer free Harvard university credit which is perfect both for people intending to study at the university and current students.

[7] Alison

  • Cost: For the courses themselves and to register, free. For either a certificate or diploma depending on the course, there is a cost. The shipping of the certificate to your location is free.
  • Course Type: Online.
  • Certification: Certificate or Diploma.

Alison offers both certificate courses and diploma courses. Certificate courses are designed to be completed in under three hours as a succinct way of topping up your skills. The diploma courses are estimated to take between 8 – 10 hours, depending on your schedule and style of learning. Each of the subjects available is broken down into specializations to make finding the specific course that you want even easier. The broad subject areas include Health, Science, Lifestyle, Humanities, Language, Math, IT, Business and Marketing. For those looking to engage with a free online course to improve their employment prospects and job-related knowledge, Alison even divides its courses and advice according to the life stage you are at, such as a University Student, Re-entering The Workforce and Making A Career Change.

[8] Oxford Home Study

  • Cost: Free.
  • Course Type: Online.
  • Certification: Participation.

Oxford Home Study doesn’t so much offer its own courses as provide an accessible list of free courses for you to study at home with no fees, no strings attached and a certificate of completion at the end of it. Remember, even certificates of completion and/or participation are useful in their own way, even if they are distinct from certificates of accreditation. They demonstrate that you are still actively engaging with learning and are keeping your mind open to new knowledge. Familiarisation with digital learning platforms is also useful in an age where universities, workplaces and institutions are increasingly, if not exclusively, online for their assignments, schedules and non-classroom communications. The nature of the courses available is more geared towards employment and different professions rather than learning for pleasure, such as Interior Design, The Role of an Accountant and How to Start a Consulting Business. OHS is dedicated to facilitating free online learning and the course materials can also be either printed or viewed online depending on the learner’s accessibility requirements.

[9] LinkedIn Learning

  • Cost: Free if you pay a monthly or annual subscription.
  • Course Type: Online. Self-paced.
  • Certification: Certificate of completion.

LinkedIn Learning enables access to over 16,000 courses, making it by far the largest course subscriber on this list. While accessing the courses themselves does require a subscription outside of the free trial for a month, the number of courses that you can do after that is unlimited. That’s a lot of value for a month and even more afterwards as well, hence why it has been included. Some of the trending courses as examples include Strategic Thinking, Learning Python, Figure Drawing: Tonal Rendering and The Six Morning Habits of High Performers. Given how it is directly connected with LinkedIn itself, the courses will definitely be a boost to your profile. LinkedIn is increasingly popular as a professional networking site so a few badges relevant to your career and even to your interests will be attention-grabbing.

[10] Microsoft Learning

  • Cost: Free.
  • Course Type: Online. Modular.
  • Certification: Microsoft certifications. Industry-recognized.

Microsoft Learning focuses on certifications that will lead to you becoming certified with industry-recognized qualifications that it provides itself. Microsoft Learn is a completely free platform regardless of how far – or not – you progress in their suggested learning paths. Example modules include Azure Fundamentals 1 – 6 as separate modules and Getting Started With Microsoft Data Analytics. The platform is focused around Microsoft and the proficiencies required to become familiar with the technology and software. This is particularly useful for those intending to go into computing, be it as a hobby where you want a higher level of know-how or as a route to enhancing or developing your career.

[11] Saylor

  • Cost: Free. Fee potentially involved for converting the certificate of completion into external verified course credit.
  • Course Type: Online. Self-Paced.
  • Certification: Participation.

Saylor Academy, for learners, provides free courses for the purpose of learning new skills and finishing off your degree. The courses themselves are free as are the certificates at the end. You can gain accredited course credit upon completion but this is more involved. You need to reach a certain score benchmark, have a proctor (university-based official who will verify the course/certificate on behalf of their respective institution) and pay an administration fee. This is in order to verify the certificate. The courses offered include Art History, Chemistry, Geography, Physics and Political Science, among others.

[12] Free Code Camp

  • Cost: Free. Donor-funded /open to donations.
  • Course Type: Online. Project-based.
  • Certification: Verified.

Freecodecamp is ideal for those looking to get into coding in a way that doesn’t feel like you’ve got to scale a vertical cliff of learning with little to no handholds. It is a non-profit community where you learn through engaging with projects rather than completing courses. Each certificate is suggested to take around 300 hours to complete, so this is designed for people who really want to secure a useful foundation of knowledge. Some of the areas you can go into include Machine Learning with Python, Front End Libraries, Javascript Algorithms and Data Structures and Responsive Web Design. Freecodecamp uses videos, articles and lessons so there is a learning style for everyone.

[13] Shaw Academy

  • Cost: Free for 4 weeks. Monthly cost after the trial ends.
  • Course Type: Online.
  • Certification: Available for purchase.

Shaw Academy provides flexible online courses where you can pick the modules and lesson schedule that works best for you. You can also download the content to study offline if you wish to keep up with your learning without using data when you are away from your wi-fi. While the first 4 weeks are free, there is a subscription plan afterwards with monthly, quarterly, half-yearly and yearly options. All professional diplomas are made up of 4 modules and each module is 4 weeks long. Each module is made up of 8 classes. The 4 week trial – one module – gives you the perfect amount of time to decide whether it is something you want to invest in or not. Certificates – including hard copies – are available for purchase upon completion of the diploma. Subjects available include Coding and Computer Science, Photography, Creative Writing and Fashion Design in addition to specializations depending on your area of interest.

[14] Michigan State University

  • Cost: Free.
  • Course Type: Online.
  • Certification: Yes, at a cost (financial aid may be available).

Michigan State University is among the universities offering free online courses with certificates to the public and its students alike, particularly since the start of the pandemic. Facilitated by Coursera which has been mentioned earlier on in this list, its offerings include Transmedia Writing, Writing Your First Novel and Script Writing. This makes it ideal for those looking to gain a foothold in the television, media and creative industries. Audit mode will allow you to access the course material for free. To access graded assignments and thus to be able to gain a certificate, there is a cost. Some providers may offer financial aid so this is worth taking into consideration.

[15] Open Learn

  • Cost: Free.
  • Course Type: Online. Self-paced.
  • Certification: Badged/Participation.

Open Learn is the free arm of the Open University. Each course completed earns you a badge. These badges are a good way of demonstrating a continued interest in a subject, as well as demonstrating the professional competency of development. With over 1,000 courses to choose from and the ability to set your own pace, Open Learn is ideal for those who want to continue keeping their minds fresh while not necessarily able to get the funds together to do a course that costs. Some example courses available include The Body In Antiquity, Fire Ecology, Egyptian Mathematics and In The Night Sky: Orion. Some courses are in multiple categories as there is some overlap.

[16] Ecole Polytechnique

  • Cost: Free.
  • Course Type:
  • Certification: Certificate of Achievement available.

Ecole Polytechnique offers free courses ranging from suitable for those with a secondary education up to those holding a PhD. With 29 courses offered over Engineering, Science and Technology, they are sure to be interesting for those looking to broaden their mind and useful to those looking to integrate them as part of their personal and professional development. Course examples include an Introduction to Distribution Theory, Photovoltaic Solar Energy and How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper. The courses encourage 3 – 6 hours of study per week which can be organized around most work schedules and other commitments.

[17] OEDB – Open Education Database

  • Cost: Free.
  • Course Type: Online. Self-paced.
  • Certification: Course Dependent.

While the OEDB doesn’t provide courses itself, it is a collection of the courses that private organizations, universities and colleges have available. It works a bit like this guide in a way – it does the legwork so then you don’t have to. What makes open courses appealing is that they can be stopped and started around the life of the learner. This means that if an emergency happens and your wi-fi goes down for a week, the course won’t have sped ahead without you, leaving you to rush to catch up, sacrificing the quality of your learning in the process. Example courses include Modern Poetry, Entrepreneurship and The Evolving Universe, but there are plenty more available.

[18] Reed Courses

  • Cost: Free. Some courses may require the certificate to be paid for.
  • Course Type: Online/Distance Learning.
  • Certification: Participation or accreditation – course depending.

While the company website is based in the UK, Reed facilitates courses for the purpose of self-development and personal progression on both a free and paid basis. When looking at the free courses, ‘Regulated’ means that it is overseen by a governing body within a qualification framework. Depending on whether you are a US student studying in the UK or engaging with the course remotely, accreditation may or may not be feasible even if a certificate of participation is – this is something that you’ll need to look into depending on the course and course provider in question. Course examples include Awareness of Mental Health Problems, Equality and Diversity and Infection Control. The majority of courses are self-paced within a set timeframe, meaning that it is up to you to complete the work necessary within the number of weeks given around any other commitments. This is ideal for people who require more flexibility.

Are Free Certificates Good To Include On A Resume?

Definitely! They show that you want to develop yourself and push yourself forward. Whether it is adding an entirely new string to your bow or building on skills and knowledge areas that you already have, free certified courses are a good way of putting yourself in good stead for the future as well as progressing your self-development and potentially moving forward in employment. Free accredited certificates may not be completed in the classroom but the recognized qualification at the end has value, whether you engage as part of a virtual classroom or work your way through it at your own pace.

Are Free Online Courses Accredited?

Some are, some aren’t. It is important when looking at courses online to determine whether the course is offering an accredited certificate or if it is a certificate of completion. Both are useful in their own way! Certificates of completion may not provide you with a qualification but they do demonstrate that you are willing to dedicate the time and effort to completing the course itself – definitely a skill that is valued and transferrable.

Types of Courses

Free online courses can broadly be categorized depending on the time given for you to complete them. Some have a strict time limit, some don’t and some allow you to ask for extensions depending on your circumstances.


Free online courses with certificates can be undertaken both for a purpose and just for fun around work, studying and other commitments. They can be undertaken at the request of an employer, engaged in between other formal courses or enrolled on as something to develop your knowledge and skills just for the fun of it, to keep yourself versatile or to prepare to re-train in a new line of work. Regardless of whether they are formally accredited or not, free online courses with certificates demonstrate that you have put the time and effort in to completing the course. There is a course out there for just about everyone, flexible to a broad range of personal circumstances and interests. We have compiled here a list of the providers of what we think are the best free online certifications available for 2021. Happy learning!


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