The top online college courses cover exciting topics and bring postsecondary education to your computer, tablet, or phone.
Students interested in personal growth, refreshers on particular topics, or professional development can take individual courses. There's no need to enroll in a full-scale degree or certificate program.
Popular learning platforms include Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle. Course delivery may be asynchronous (accessible 24/7) or synchronous, meaning you log into a virtual classroom at scheduled times. Courses may include discussion boards for interaction with classmates and instructors.
Read on to learn about top platforms, free courses, and the best classes in popular topics such as business and computer science.
Where can I take college classes online?
You can find college courses online through:
- University extension programs, including MIT and UC Berkeley
- IT-focused training like ITProTV
- Private companies like Coursera
- On-profit organizations such as edX
We break down top options below.
Carnegie Mellon OpenLearning
CMU's Open Learning Initiative makes materials available to independent learners, employers, and teachers. Subjects include arts and humanities, business, computer science and programming, mathematics and logic, and life, physical, and social sciences. Course pricing ranges from free to medium-cost.
Coursera features courses from universities (like Duke, Penn, and Imperial College London) and companies such as Google, IBM, and Meta. Areas of study emphasize skill-building and include business, computer programming, data science, languages, and marketing. Costs differ by course, and learning may include video lectures and guided projects.
EdX hosts courses from more than 160 membership universities. Users can explore business, communication, computer science, engineering, and humanities. Pricing varies. Instruction methods include video lectures and interactive platforms. Member schools include Brown, CalTech, Sorbonne Université, University of British Columbia, and University of Oxford.
Harvard's professional and lifelong learning options span its business, divinity, education, law, medicine, and public health schools. You may choose between asynchronous and synchronous options. Costs depend on the course and whether it culminates in a certificate.
ITProTV provides IT training aimed at helping you pass industry certification exams, land a job, or advance your career. The platform hosts Apple, Cisco CompTIA, Linx, and Microsoft training resources. Instructional content includes a daily live stream, webinars, and "talk show" formats to engage users. Learners pay monthly, though ITProTV offers a free trial.
Unlike other options on this list, the courses on MIT OpenCourseWare don't offer interaction with instructors, college credits, or certification. Self-directed learners can access archived syllabi, reading lists, and assignments or exams from virtually every MIT degree program and department. Some courses feature video lectures, online textbooks, and faculty insights.
Subscribers choose among three content areas: business skills, technology and development, or both. Materials include videos, audiobooks, and interactive labs. Weekly goals and materials are accessible asynchronously via computer and mobile applications.
Stanford Online offers distance learners professional and academic courses. Students can learn about anything from creative nonfiction to data science, chemical and materials engineering, or linear algebra. Fees vary by course.
UC Berkeley Extension
UC Berkeley Extension aims to help online learners attain their educational and career goals. It lists courses in the humanities, arts, sciences, and trades. Students can access live online scheduled classes, self-paced options, and structured asynchronous courses with set start and end dates.
Founded by two former Stanford instructors, Udacity focuses on technology skill-building for career advancement. Each curriculum emphasizes hands-on projects. Topics include artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data science.
Online college courses
You can find college courses online in virtually every subject. Many remote students who want to enhance their marketable skills search for business courses, MBA courses, and computer science courses, along with engineering and healthcare courses.
Check out these curated picks.
- Child Development: Behavior and Mental Health, Stanford Online
- Healthcare Organizations and the Health System, Coursera
- Stanford Introduction to Food and Health, Coursera
Free online college courses
Big-name universities offer many college courses online for free.
But the courses are generally self-paced and self-supported through videos and reading materials. They typically won't provide instruction, feedback, grading, credit, or certificates.
These providers offer a wide range of topics for self-motivated learners to explore.
Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative
Open & Free courses for independent learners include options for career development, college course refreshes, or personal enrichment. Course topics include communications, computer science, languages, math, and physical and social sciences. Open & Free courses are self-paced and do not include instruction, credit, or certification.
Free courses cover numerous topics for learners interested in skill enhancement for launching or advancing their careers. Topical areas include business, computer science, data science, health and medicine, and programming. It's free to audit courses, but you'll have to pay for certifications, unlimited course access, and graded assignments.
MIT allows users free access to its archived course materials and supplemental resources such as textbooks and videos. The 2,600-plus courses include career-oriented and academic content. But MIT OCW does not offer certification or credit. Some free courses may impose a fee for textbooks.
Skillsoft offers 30 days of free access to its technology-focused courses. Videos, audiobooks, and other materials cover artificial intelligence, blockchain, and security.
Free online college courses include skill-based content from the School of Medicine, Graduate School of Education, and School of Engineering. Other courses highlight emerging topics in the arts and humanities. Learners may audit Stanford courses for free through edX and Coursera, too.
What about taking online college courses for credit?
College course online providers like Coursera and edX offer very few courses that award college credit. The same can be said for university open course learning.
An accredited program like UC Berkeley Extension is more likely to award college credit for its online classes.
Even without earning transferable credits, students can still benefit from online courses. Online college courses may lead to higher salaries and career advancement. The IT world tends to view alternative training, like coding bootcamps and online industry certification courses, more favorably than other sectors.
Most online college course providers offer free class materials archived from previous years.
College courses online may cost less than on-campus options. Some schools let online students pay in-state tuition. Commuting, parking, and meal cost savings also factor in.