It doesn’t have to be back-to-school season for you to get that urge to learn. Self-improvement through education is always a worthy goal. And with the ubiquity of online courses, not to mention the flexibility they offer (some consist of an hour-long lecture and some are self-paced and can take as much time as you want), it’s easier than ever to pick up a new skill in your spare time.
Getting schooled doesn’t have to cost you a thing, either. There are plenty of free online courses, whether you want to learn a new language, master marketing for your business, or sound smarter at dinner parties. Here are 20 of our favorites.
Boost Your Resume
Instead of listing “MS Office” under your resume’s “Skills” section, why not add coding, a foreign language, or design?
Given how highly prized coding skills are, Khan Academy’s Hour of Code is a wise time investment, with tutorials on HTML, SQL, and drawing with code. If you want to get more in depth, Learn to Program: The Fundamentals will teach you the Python coding language in 10 weeks. Beef up your design skills with this two-hour Introduction to Photoshop for Web Beginners.
You’d also do well to add another language to your repertoire. Over six weeks, Basic Mandarin Chinese will get you started learning one of the most popular languages in the world (spoken by more than 955 million people!), and will give you a skill that’s wildly in demand.
Extra credit: If the thought of giving presentations makes you queasy, or you just want to hone your skills, The University of Washington has an Introduction to Public Speaking course, an 18-hour class) that focuses on crafting clear arguments and rhetoric, as well as critiquing speeches — yours included.
Looking for the fastest primer available on the stock market? In less than an hour, the Beginner’s Guide to the Stock Market will teach you the language of stocks, so you can actually understand what your money’s doing. For an in-depth look at personal finance, Purdue University's eight-week Personal Finance Planning covers everything from credit scores to insurance to retirement. And for a deep dive into the little-understood world of economics, the self-paced Understanding the Federal Reserve will demystify how the Fed affects you every day.
Extra credit: The University of Florida’s Economic Issues, Food & You. The 10-week course covers the intersection of economics and food, including supply and demand, government policies, fluctuating food prices, and environmental impact.
Save on a Business-School Degree
Run your own business? Or have an excellent idea for a side project you’re not sure how to get off the ground?
Get going with How to Write the Ultimate 1-Page Strategic Business Plan, a one-hour course that covers the basics of getting started. Get your legal ducks in a row with Northwestern University Law School’s six-week Law and the Entrepreneur. And don’t forget to keep tabs on your numbers: Wharton’s four-week Introduction to Financial Accounting will help you wade through your company’s financial documents.
You’ll need to market that venture of yours, too, so try Introduction to Marketing from Wharton. The five- to six-week course covers branding and go-to-market strategies. You can also go beyond theory with the three-week Digital Marketing: Challenges and Insights, which delves into digital trends and how marketing is evolving.
Extra credit: Women in Leadership: Inspiring Positive Change. This five-week course examines the institutional biases that hold women back professionally, how gendered environments impact women, and other issues facing working women, all while encouraging positive leadership styles.
Become the Most Interesting Person at the Party
Instead of wasting time asking if your guest’s date knows your cousin who is also from their hometown, why not bust out some truly fascinating conversation topics?
You might start with the University of Maryland’s Women and the Civil Rights Movement, covering the 1890s to 1990s, or Trinity College’s Science in Art: The Chemistry of Art Materials and Conservation, a six-week course about art conservation, fakes and forgeries, and a scientific explanation of how we perceive art. Or how about Intro to the Design of Everyday Things, a two-week course that enlightens you about the design you see every day (hint: basically everything you see or touch was designed). Or throw on a turtleneck and dive into Yale’s Modern Poetry, a self-paced 25-lecture series.
Extra credit: Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe, a four-week exploration into the biggest questions left for astrophysicists to answer.
Where to Find More Online Courses
These classes are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s online, and there are a number of resources available to help you find your perfect class. Click around the massive troves available at edX, Coursera, Springboard, Open Culture, Udacity, Udemy, FutureLearn, or Study.com’s list of university offerings. The types of courses are varied, some offer credit, and many free classes offer paid options that grant you a certificate when you finish.
[Ed. note: Springboard was formerly SlideRule, but rebranded. We updated this on February 17, 2016.]