Free Learning Resources: The Ultimate Guide for Students
This list of free learning resources for students is primarily directed towards academic learners from K-12 to college level education. With students spending a lot of their time at home these days, there has been a considerable surge in demand for quality educational materials that can supplement prescribed textbooks. As a result, many resources have emerged online over the years to serve this growing need. However, despite the abundance, free learning resources online are scattered across different websites and in varying formats. Therefore, we think that a reliable free resource library for students is the need of the hour.
Our effort has been to curate a list of high-quality resources that specifically targeting students but not necessarily all academic levels. Although these materials are not directly connected to coursework, they can help students do better in school by improving their grasp on concepts from a more practical standpoint. Further, some of the free learning resources in our compilation can also be utilized by general interest learners from any age group.
Online learning is the new norm. If you are thinking this is a temporary post-pandemic adjustment, you are in for a surprise. COVID did shake things up a bit in the favor of online learning but it has been around a lot longer than you think. Below, we will discuss how online learning picked up momentum over the last few decades.
A brief glance through the history of online learning
The rise of online learning can be attributed in part to the nineties surge in distance learning in colleges and universities and the use of email for sharing course materials. Then in the 2000s, corporates started using interactive learning as we call it today. They started moving their internal employee training, learning & development modules online. However, in our opinion, the real torch bearer of online learning is Wikipedia, which Jimmy Wales launched in 2001. It is how we rediscovered the great thirst for knowledge in humans and democratization of learning on the internet. You see, whereas employees had to go through corporate training, netizens voluntarily consulted Wikipedia for knowledge.
Then in 2008, a math guy called Salman Khan was trying to teach his cousins math concepts via videos uploaded on YouTube. He noticed that his cousins were not the only ones watching his math videos. Soon the Khan Academy was born which is one of the pioneers of online learning. Today Khan Academy’s status as the benchmark in online learning resources as we know it is set in stone. Soon several top colleges and universities started producing materials in popular online learning formats. As of today, 1000s of platforms are leveraging existing technologies like YouTube and even innovating new ones to make online learning smoother more digestible than it ever was.
MOOCs? For the uninitiated, a MOOC stands for massive open online course. It is a key element of today’s self-paced learning paradigm. Therefore, any current day discussion of online learning pretty much starts here. An unrestricted number of students/learners can enroll at a time for these web-based free courses without any admission criteria. A MOOC may comprise video modules, additional readings, and even assessments. Because of this variety, MOOCs can be very helpful to K-12 students, undergrad, grads or general learners. Some MOOCs give certifications at completion of the course too.
|Coursera||Target audience: College students looking for professional learning.
Coursera is a MOOC platform that offers courses from Ivy League schools and other elite schools like the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, and Duke. Founded by Stanford University professors, Coursera is designed for the needs of college students. As of 2021, there are over 6400 courses on Coursera. The courses offered here are oriented towards professional education in areas like computer science and management. For example, you will find C++, marketing, engineering, and psychology related MOOCs here. Although courses are available for free, assessments and certification can be obtained for a fee.
There is such a thing as a Coursera specialization if you want to master a topic. Students must complete all courses in that specialization, and they obtain a Coursera micro credential. The best part is you can apply for financial aid for these specializations if you take them on paid subscriptions.
|EdX||Target audience: College students looking for professional learning.
EdX is a very popular MOOC platform offering more than 2,500 free courses and interactive classes. Originally founded by MIT and Harvard, today it hosts courses from over 140 top US colleges. The courses including free Harvard courses are targeted towards college students covering humanities and natural science subjects like law, history, science, engineering, business, social sciences, computer science, public health, and artificial intelligence. For a small fee they even offer verified professional certificates that serve as well-recognized credentials. They even offer EdX Masters’ Degrees in some popular subjects obtainable fully online, in flexible format from well recognized universities.
|FutureLearn||Target audience: College students looking for professional learning.
FutureLearn is a British MOOC platform founded by The Open University and SEEK Ltd. and has 175 university and non-university partners. The free courses offered include pre-recorded video lectures, readings, student discussions, online practice quizzes, homework, or assignments. You may need to pay for certifications. While over 2,400 free courses are available on a wide range of subjects, the British Council language courses are very popular on this platform.
|Udemy||Target audience: College students looking for general learning.
Udemy is a very large repository of MOOC programs, with over 250,000 courses. The platform specializes in affordable courses designed for large scale participation in online learning. The platform does offer free resources too. Anybody can take up a course on any topic on Udemy. It is not necessarily targeted towards a particular student level. For many, the one drawback is that anyone can launch a course on Udemy. Therefore, learners must do their research before enrolling.
Websites for Students
Khan Academy on Youtube
|Target audience: K-12 students looking help with coursework and test prep.
Khan Academy is the OG of online free learning resources and is arguably the most popular platform for K-12 education. The big plus is that all their content is aligned to standard grades and school levels. Khan Academy is often wrongly listed as a MOOC. It is not a MOOC. If anything, it is a vast library of student resources organized subject-wise and topic-wise. The Khan Academy’s primary channel for video content has been YouTube. However, tests, assessments, and quizzes are available on their website.
Math is at the foundation of the Khan Academy’s success. Their immense popularity is based on the thousands of instructional videos on math problems. They have now branched into other school subjects as well. You will even find tutorials on popular skills such as storytelling and animation. Also, they have partnered with large, standardized test organizations to become the official providers of test prep practice. Therefore, they offer tutorial content for tests like SAT, LSAT, GMAT, GRE, etc.
Khan Academy’s content is free and accessible. The website is available in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. And the content is being translated into over 36 languages. What stands the Khan Academy resources apart is that any school student can systematically address a skill gap in subjects like math. For example, if you know you are weak in 8th grade algebra, you can go to the website and practice problems in precisely that topic area until you have mastered it.
|CK-12||Target audience: High-school students looking for help with coursework.
The CK-12 Foundation offers a website with extensive study material for K12 students focussing on STEM subjects. All the topics are well organized as per grades and school levels. Their USP is a concept called a Flexbook wherein you can customize a textbook digitally. This is perhaps more useful for teachers than students. That said, students can access the well-organized interactive digital learning content on math, science, and SAT test prep. Specifically for students, CK-12 offers products like the Braingenie which is a repository of math and science questions. Students can practice problems and take quizzes, all for free.
Even though CK-12 is positioned as a website catering to STEM education across the K-12 spectrum, it has been observed that the instruction design is more suitable for older kids. It is better utilized by students starting high school. On the CK-12 website, concepts are not oversimplified. Therefore, it is felt that the resources are better suited for studious kids.
CK-12 has had its share of criticisms about being a glitchy website with the quizzes and practice questions being of a high difficulty level. But ultimately, it is still a good free resource for high-schoolers. It is well organized and accessible to all on any digital device.
|Open Culture||Target audience: K-12 to college students.
Openculture is a website where you can find a wide variety of free learning resources on culture related topics. It is a slightly older website and does not appear to be secure but everything there is free of charge. The website also offers a rich repository of all things free, including free online courses, MOOCs, podcasts, video materials, textbooks, and audio books. It also includes free Harvard courses as well as courses from other universities like Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford and more.
The resources are not organized by grades or education levels. So, it may be a tad bit cumbersome to navigate through the contents particularly if you are looking for specific assistance on coursework. However, there are some links and resources dedicated to K-12 students. If you visit the Open Culture website with an open mind, there is a lot that it can offer. You can even learn a language on Open Culture.
|Wikipedia||Target audience: General learners
Wikipedia is undeniably a big part of the everyday lives of students. It is the go-to resource for a quick fact check about anything under the sun. However, Wikipedia is an open-collaborative online encyclopaedia maintained by volunteers. Due to this, the information you get there isn’t always 100% percent reliable. Yet, it is a one-of-a-kind exhaustive all-encompassing knowledge repository. Students around the world benefit from Wikipedia to get their research started on any given topic.
|MIT K-12||Target audience: K-12 students interested in pursuing STEM.
The MIT-K12 was a program launched by MIT with a mission to promote STEM literacy in schools through videos, workshops, and outreach. The outreach part has ended but the content is still available on their website for free. Their educational videos cover a wide range of STEM topics and are available on YouTube as well. The MIT+K12 Videos are made from start to finish by MIT students for the benefit of school students around the world who don’t have access to world class STEM education.
|MIT K-12 AI||Target audience: K-12 students interested in pursuing AI
In response to the pandemic, MIT Media Labs has launched a high-quality study resource aimed at K-12 students with a strong focus on artificial intelligence. The content is launched on the new MIT K-12 website featuring 60 activities, lesson plans, and links to interactive AI experiments developed by MIT.
|Academic Earth||Target audience: College students looking for general knowledge.
Academic Earth is a website that serves as a repository of video lectures and courses suited for higher education students and general interest learners. They cover a wide range of subjects, including arts & humanities, sciences, technology, social sciences, business & finance, and education. You will find lectures and scholarly resources from top universities, including free Harvard courses, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, etc.
Resources for Digital Education
Digital learning receives separate focus in the education domain for obvious reasons. The school educational systems have constantly fallen short of providing the digital skills that industry requires. This is partly because curriculum can never really catch up with the rapid changes in technology. Therefore, it is very important that students supplement their school education with extra-curricular digital education. Now several organizations are making resources available to learners in partnership with tech companies.
|Cognitive Class||Target audience: College students looking for ML/AI courses
Cognitive Class is an IBM initiative to spread data literacy covering individual topics like Python for data science, reactive architecture, blockchain, and regression. A key feature of this platform is that students get to practice in a virtual lab environment. There is a form of certification at the end of the course too.
|Udacity||Target audience: College students looking for digital skills
Udacity is a great MOOC platform for digital skills such as data science, cloud computing, AI, web development, etc. It partners with big tech corporates, notably Google, to offer the courses. The programs offered by Udacity are highly interactive, like quizzes, reviews, and exercise. It offers about 300 free courses along with what it calls nanodegrees for a charge upon completion. These certificates are not accredited unlike EdX and Coursera.
|Codecademy||Target audience: K-12/college students looking for coding skills
|Code.org||Target audience: K-12 students looking for coding skills
Code.org is a website that offers free coding lessons targeting school children. The organization runs an initiative to encourage schools to include more computer science classes in the curriculum. To achieve this, Code.org has a K-12 coding curriculum pathway that it offers for free to schools that want to incorporate coding into their curriculum.
In this section we will examine some of the highly viewed and highly reviewed top free resources for students on YouTube. We have already spoken about the YouTube presence of the Khan Academy. However, there are several more. Some of these are directly related to coursework and school curriculum. But others are content repositories that help students and young people expand their knowledge horizons beyond coursework.
|CrashCourse||Target audience: High-school students looking for general knowledge
CrashCourse offers 10- to 12-minute videos that can be used for instruction within and outside classrooms. Founders John and Hank Green started the channel to impart history and biology videos. But they soon expanded into economics, physics, philosophy, astronomy, politics, psychology, literature, and other subjects. The content is aimed at high-school and early college students. One can view that channel as an add-on online tutoring resource for K12 education. CrashCourse videos instruct through engaging narration, real historical footage, explanatory infographics, and a whole lot of wit. As of 2021, CrashCourse has 11.7M subscribers and 1,258 videos.
|TED Ed||Target audience: K-12 and college students looking for general knowledge
Ted Ed (part of the TED Foundation) is a high-quality resource for lessons and educational videos available for free on their website and on YouTube. The lessons are developed by top subject matter experts and educators. They are delivered in a highly entertaining animated format after rigorous fact-check. The production quality of all their videos is superior. TED Ed animation videos range from visual arts to mathematics, health studies, and business. As of 2021, Ted Ed has 13 million subscribers and 1800 videos.
|Veritaserum||Target audience: K-12 and college students interested in science
Veritaserum is a YouTube channel on science and engineering videos meant to evoke a lasting passion for the subject. Founder Derek Muller, himself a filmmaker and inventor, features experiments, expert interviews, demos, and discussions with the public about everything related to science. Each video starts with a thought-provoking science question and goes on to answer it. As of 2021, there are 300 videos and over 8 million subscribers.
|AsapSCIENCE||Target audience: K-12 and college students interested in science
AsapSCIENCE is a YouTube resource specializing in answering weird science questions, rumours, and unexplained phenomena. Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown are the co-creators of this award-winning channel. There is even a book by the same name based on the videos. As of 2021, the channel has 9.53M subscribers and 354 videos.
|Numberphile||Target audience: K-12 and college students interested in math
Numberphile is a very interesting channel which shows fascinating videos explaining numbers. The founder Brady Haran makes learning complex number theories quite simple and fun. Numberphile is suitable for all learners starting from high school. As of 2021, Numberphile has 3.57M subscribers and 593 videos.
|Reactions||Target audience: K-12 and college students interested in chemistry
Reactions is one of the top YouTube educational resources for chemistry learning aimed at school children and general learners. It reveals the chemistry behind everyday objects and events in our lives. Produced by the American Chemistry Society, this channel has 362K subscribers and 361 videos as of 2021.
|YouTube Learning||Target audience: Young learners
YouTube.com/learning is a repository created by YouTube itself, compiling quality learning content for students. There are videos and playlists on a wide range of popular student topics from science to DIY.
Everybody loves TV. Most of the content on TV is for family consumption and available on paid subscription channels. But here are some that are good for students and free too.
|Netflix||Target audience: General interest learners
Netflix has recently made a list of its educational documentaries free for the benefit of students and teachers. They encourage the streaming of these movies in classrooms. They have been uploaded on Netflix’s YouTube channel. These are:
13th (feature film)
Chasing Coral (feature film)
Knock Down the House (feature film)
Our Planet (series)
Period. End of Sentence (short subject)
The White Helmets (short subject)
Zion (short subject)
Podcasts for Students
The primary role that podcasts play in the life of students is not to improve their performance at school but to pique their curiosity in other subjects. Podcasts are a wonderful source of multidimensional learning and a mirror to the world that young people are about to enter. Good quality podcasts can shape a young person’s mind, inculcate a thirst for knowledge and a scientific temper. The best part is that podcasts are like having a smart friend talking intelligent things in your ear all day. They can be enjoyed with a pair of headphones while you are travelling or just pottering around the house, without necessarily dedicating exclusive time to them.
This new age media has become mainstream as far as education is concerned. It is evident from the highly influential hosts who deliver some of the top podcasts for young people.
|RadioLab||Target audience: K-12 and college students interested in science
RadioLab is a popular science and technology podcast and public radio show aimed at students. The team does some unique and revelatory journalism on complex scientific topics and presents them through their show. One of the differentiators of Radiolabs is the use of some great sound effects in the show. Students not only obtain a great deal of information on these shows, but they also learn to talk about complex science topics with confidence.
Robert Krulwich, who co-hosted the podcast, retired in early 2020. You can listen to Radiolab's massive archive of episodes via WNYC Studios, as well as on iTunes and Stitcher.
Science Friday Podcasts
|Target audience: K-12 and college students interested in science
SciFry is yet another podcast and public radio show distributed by WNYC Studios. SciFry podcast is mainly a science-centric program targeting students with a background in science seeking deeper insights. They deliver a combination of news and information related to science, nature, medicine, and technology, even broadcasting excerpts of the Nobel awards ceremony.
The show had received federal funds including from NASA. They often have guest speakers and influencers on the show.
|StarTalk||Target audience: Young learners interested in space
StarTalk is a podcast on space hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. The podcast also covers topics on science and pop culture. The content is delivered through wit and humour making the show very digestible. In fact, humour is the key attraction of this podcast in addition to the wealth of space knowledge one acquires.
|Planet Money||Target audience: Young learners interested in economics
Planet Money is a podcast produced by NPR aimed at students and young listeners to explain complex economic topics. Each episode could be up to 30 minutes long. It is one of the best podcasts for students if they want to learn about popular economic issues. It helps students get a basic understanding and a contextual framework to trending economic and business news. Planet Money adopts a hugely successful storytelling narrative style. It regularly invites subject experts and influencers as guests to the show.
|Stuff You Should Know (SYSK)||Target audience: General interest learners
Stuff You Should Know (SYSK) is a great podcast published by the HowStuffWorks people. This is not a show that has any direct connection with school curriculum or education. However, students benefit from this “explainer” podcast by learning about a wide range of subjects via pop culture references and comedy. SYSK is available on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify for free.
|BBC Podcasts||Target audience: General interest learners
The BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics ranging from finance, to sports, to current events. As you would expect, the production quality of these podcasts is excellent. The topics are dealt with in a broad-based manner rather than going deep into the subject. BBC podcasts have a delivery style that is informative and engaging for students.
Online College Resources
|MIT OpenCourseWare||Target audience: College students
Of all the top institutes out there, MIT has been the most generous about making educational resources available to all, free of cost. In the true spirit of universal education, MIT has made literally all of its course content public in the form of a web-based application on MIT OpenCourseWare. On the website, you’ll find study material topic-wise or department wise. You will find audio/video free courses, online textbooks, instructor insights and supplemental resources. You will also find 6000+ videos on their official YouTube channel.
|Stanford Online||Target audience: College students
Stanford University offers several free resources for self-paced and session-based learning. These free courses are aimed at graduate level students. Some of these courses even allow for a peer feedback mechanism. Stanford Online is a great site for high quality free online courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. In addition to this, Stanford also uploads a few lectures on YouTube on a wide range of topics. Incidentally, Stanford also offers an online high school resource aimed at educators for grades 7–12, who want to grow more effective with online teaching.
|Harvard Extension||Target audience: College students
We have already spoken about EdX which is a Harvard/MIT initiative for providing free learning resources to students. Additionally, Harvard University offers a wide range of free Harvard courses on its website that can be taken online free of cost. The topics range from humanities to sciences to business studies. Many of these come with certifications. The free Harvard courses allows you to search for courses by professional certificate making it easy for you if your goal includes certification.
|Open Yale Courses||Target audience: College students
Yale provides a selection of free introductory courses called Open Yale Courses. These free online courses are taught by teachers and scholars at Yale University. Their lectures are recorded, and the free courses are made available in video, audio, and text transcript formats for students wanting access to the content. Exams and problems sets are made available where relevant. Registration is not required but you cannot obtain course credit, a degree, or a certificate for these. You will also find a few selective course videos on YouTube. Some of Yale’s free courses can be accessed on Coursera too.
|Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative (OLI)||Target audience: College students
Carnegie Mellon’s free online courses site provides study materials on a range of topics free of cost for independent learners. The OLI repository is not the widest or the deepest. However, the resources made available are of a high standard. Carnegie Mellon also shares free MOOCs on MOOC platforms.
|University of Oxford||Target audience: College students
The podcast page on the University of Oxford website is another great source for well-produced educational material. Many of these are lectures from professors. It gives learners a wide base of topics and ensures in-depth material.
|University of London||Target audience: College students looking for professional courses
The University of London is big on MOOCs which are available on distributing websites like Coursera and on its own website. They also offer short free online courses in management and computer programming free of cost.
Free Audio Books, eBooks
|LibriVox||Target audience: General interest learners
LibriVox is a huge repository of free audiobooks. They record texts that are in the public domain in the US, whose copyrights have expired. They have one of the largest collections of audiobooks that are read by volunteers from around the world. Anybody can record a book on LibriVox if they have some basic recording equipment. As a result, texts are delivered in all types of accents and styles. However, many consider this to be the beauty of the experience of listening to LibriVox books.
|Project Gutenberg||Target audience: General interest learners
Project Gutenberg is a library of over 60,000 free eBooks. Due credit must be given to Project Gutenberg for being the first to start the revolution of digitizing books to make them more accessible to all. The books here need no special apps, just a regular browser or an eBook reader.
|Digitalbook.io||Target audience: General interest learners
Digitalbook.io is a popular directory of both eBooks and audiobooks. There are over 100,000 items at Digitalbook.io. Their audiobooks can be launched as podcasts on iTunes.
|Open Culture||Target audience: K-12 and college students
We have already spoken about their website being a repository for all sorts of educational material available for free. It is worth mentioning that they give free access to 200 textbooks as eBooks spanning all subjects.
The Era of Online Learning
We live in a world where everybody from a toddler to a grandpa wants to learn something new. Those who do not want to learn, want to teach. Today, anything from whipping a perfect dalgona to robotics can be learned online. If all humankind can be seen as one single entity, then it is safe to say that this entity is in the “self-actualization” zone of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
We are witnessing a huge surge of online free learning resources for all kinds of learning needs. In this article, we have provided just a sample of these resources. We do understand that trying to put together a list of free learning resources is a real travesty in the face of this deluge of online learning platforms. But these are the best in class, the state-of-the-art as far as free resources for students are concerned. We hope that you find what you are looking for in this list.