For self-starters interested in technology, there have never been so many options for free online education.
Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in online education. According to a February 2015 report, 70.8% of leaders at academic institutions say that online education is a "critical component of their long-term strategy." Many organizations have begun experimenting with Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, as a new way to offer educational services. Millions of people, many of them non-traditional students, have participated in their courses as a way to improve their skills.
For IT professionals looking to advance their careers or people who want to break into the IT field, there have never been so many options for free online education. There are numerous websites dedicated to online learning, plus coding bootcamps, traditional four-year universities and classes available through vendors.
In this slideshow, we're featuring 10 places to find free online IT classes, and we've linked to an example of the type of course available through each site. Of course, not all the courses are of equal quality. Interested students are well advised to examine the qualifications of the instructors, as well as considering whether a degree or certification is available, and looking at any available reviews and ratings. For self-motivated learners, these courses can be an excellent way to get the training they need.
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Coursera offers online access to classes from 147 different colleges, universities and other organizations in 29 different countries. For example, they have courses from Georgia Tech, the University of Florida, The University of Virginia, École Polytechnique in Paris, The University of Melbourne, The University of Edinburgh, Stanford University, Tel Aviv University and many others. And there are entire sections of the website devoted to computer science and data science courses.
Many of Coursera's classes are available for free, but some do require a small fee. One noteworthy free offering is the Crash Course in Data Science offered by Johns Hopkins. It's part of a five-course series called the Executive Data Science Specialization.
Boasting a community of more than 5 million learners, EdX offers online courses from some of the world's leading science and technology universities, including MIT, Harvard, University of California Berkeley, Caltech, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.
Many EdX courses are available free of charge, but carry a fee if you would like to receive a certificate or credential verifying your participation. An example of the type of classes available is this class on computer architecture offered by MIT.
The Open Education Database, or OEDb, aggregates free online classes available elsewhere on the web, making it easy to find courses in a variety of disciplines. Currently, it has more than 10,000 courses available -- all of them free. It also has a helpful advice section of the website that can help students make wise choices about online education.
The level of IT courses available through OEDb varies from very introductory to extremely specialized. For example, it includes links to A Beginner's Guide to InDesign, which is available through iTunes, and a course in Advanced Analog Integrated Circuit Design from Seoul National University.
In addition to participating with other online education sites, many universities have sections of their own websites dedicated to free online classes. MIT has been a leader in the OpenCourseWare (OCW) movement and has an extensive catalog of free IT classes available. It includes materials for more than 2,260 classes, and the site has been visited by more than 175 million people.
One popular IT class from this site is the Introduction to Computer Science and Programming. Designed for beginners with little or no programming experience, it teaches the basics of writing short programs in Python.
Like MIT, Harvard has an extensive section of its website dedicated to online classes; however, not all of the Harvard courses are available for free. The site does a good job of noting which require a fee and whether courses can be counted towards a credential, certificate, or degree. In general, courses that can be taken for credit require tuition payment.
Harvard's entry-level computer science class is called CS50: Introduction to Computer Science, and it is designed for both computer science junkies and newbies. According to the website, "As of Fall 2014, the on-campus version of CS50 was Harvard's largest course."
In recent years, several "coding bootcamps" have sprouted up, promising to teach people to become developers in much less time than it takes to earn a traditional computer science degree. Most of these bootcamps charge hefty fees, but Codecademy offers its online courses for free.
Most of the courses on the website relate to web development. In addition to basic HTML, there are also courses in Ruby on Rails, AngularJS and many similar tools. Codecademy includes helpful estimates about how long it will take to complete each course and any prerequisite skill requirements.
Instead of offering classes from particular colleges and universities, Alison offers courses designed by various textbook publishers. Both free and paid classes are available.
Alison offers the opportunity to earn a variety of diplomas, but students should understand that the diplomas are not backed by an accredited university. For example, the Diploma in Information Technology Management includes about 10 to 15 hours of study and requires students to complete 14 different modules and score 80 percent or higher on the assessments. At the time of writing, more than 34,000 students were enrolled in the class, and it had a four-star rating.
Another option for free online IT education is to take courses directly from vendors. Microsoft Virtual Academy has an extensive lineup of free courses for mobile and Web developers; game developers; network, infrastructure and cloud engineers; database admins, architects and developers; and students interested in a career in technology.
One example of the type of classes available is Microsoft Azure Fundamentals: Virtual Machines, which had a five-star rating at the time of writing. If offers hands-on practical information including how to create and connect a virtual machine, how to configure network endpoints, how to attach disks to a virtual machine, and how to format disks in a virtual machine.
VMware also has an extensive training section on its website, including a helpful list of popular free courses. Many of the courses on the site that lead to a professional certification require a fee, but there are many that do not. The company offers a mix of self-paced, live online and on-demand classes.
One example is the Data Center Virtualization Fundamentals [V6] course. It's a self-paced class that takes about three hours to complete. It offers an overview of how virtualization works with particular emphasis on VMware vSphere 6.0.
Another, less formal option for online IT education is Udemy. At this site, anyone can create their own course, so the quality of instruction varies widely. Students should check reviews and rankings before signing up. Some of the instructors on the site choose to offer courses for free, but others charge a small fee, often less than $50.
One example of the type of free class available on this site is the Business Development, Information Management Technology LITE course, which is offered by an instructor who has a B.A.A. in Management Information Systems. The free course serves as an introduction to a more in-depth paid course.