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Free online courses you should try

8th June 2020

With the current coronavirus guidelines, many older people have found themselves spending a lot more time indoors during the pandemic. This has meant it is the perfect time for many to learn new skills and today there are lots of online courses that are available.

Online courses are a convenient and flexible way of learning new skills remotely. No matter whether you are over 60 and have mobility issues meaning you need to use stair lifts at home or are a young adult, these online courses are accessible for all.

Millions of people take online courses every day and there are a variety of subjects and courses of varying lengths available. There are lots of free courses on offer which make it hard to pick a course or a provider. This guide looks at the best free online courses that you should try.

Read on to find out more about the different courses in our guide:

•Learn a language with Babbel

•Free university courses through Class Central

•Nutrition, digital and mental health courses with Free Courses in England

•Short online courses with FutureLearn

•Other online course providers to look at

Learn a language with Babbel


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Babbel is the world’s most successful language learning app with millions of people learning one of the 14 languages available. The courses are tailored to suit your needs and are available on iOS, Android, and the web.

If you decide to download the Babbel app then you can get bite-sized lessons that fit into your everyday life. With the online courses, there are lessons that are based on real-life scenarios that range from introducing yourself, to ordering food and making travel arrangements.

Editor in Didactics, Ted Mentele, said: "It’s possible for people to learn a new language at any age, despite the widespread belief that it’s much easier to do so the younger you are. One landmark study in 2000 (Macguire et al.) proved this; of all methods, by looking at the grey matter in London taxi drivers brains. Located in the hippocampus (the part of the brain that deals with spatial memory), they discovered neuroplasticity, the capacity of the brain to change and form new neural connections - such as what is required to learn a new language. While research on neuroplasticity challenges the assumption that seniors cannot learn a new language, this highlighted that you can simply never be too old to learn new tricks. Yes, it can be more difficult to do so as you grow older, but it’s possible. Language learning in adult life could actually improve your abilities in your elderly years. White matter, which is what allows you to better connect neural cells and improve your cognitive capacities, was actually increased in a group of adult students learning Chinese who were tested over a nine-month period.

“There’s no doubt that learning a new language is difficult, however, the human capacity to store more information and concepts is apparently consistent throughout our lives, making it prime time to start picking up a second language.”

Free university courses through Class Central

Class Central, dubbed the number one search engine for online courses, list courses from a variety of providers to make it as easy and simple for you to find the class that is perfect for you.

You can find almost any subject being offered by almost every online course provider and Class Central focus primarily on free (or free to audit) courses from universities, offered through massive open online course platforms.

Class Central recommended that some of their most popular courses are the Ivy League Online courses which are on offer on their website. These free courses are from some of the top universities in the world and topics cover poetry, engineering, music and computer science.

Other courses Class Central recommend are:

Nutrition, digital and mental health courses with Free Courses in England


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Free Courses in England offer accredited programmes, which have been specially designed to not only complement employers’ existing in-house training provision but to improve each learner’s knowledge and skills by assessing their core competencies against national standards.

A spokesperson for Free Courses in England talks about the different courses they recommend older people to try.

“Our personal enrichment courses are designed to help inspire learners through a new hobby or subject of interest. The bright and engaging courses are created to suit individuals who aim to gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic.”

Some of the courses they recommended include:

- Awareness of Mental Health

- Nutrition & Health

- Digital Skills

Free Courses in England has more than 40 courses to choose from and older learners are likely to find a relevant course no matter the subject of interest.

Free Courses in England added: “The engaging content and learning material within the courses combined with the formal qualification received upon completion creates a unique opportunity for learners to improve their mental health, attain new skills, boost self-confidence and gain a new focus.

“Here at Free Courses in England, we aim to provide a stress-free learning journey, therefore, our number one tip for older learners embracing online learning for the first time is, to ask for help when you need it! Providing you with access to dedicated tutors and our very own friendly team of advisors, we will be with you every step of your learning journey.”

If you live in Scotland there are courses available on the Free Courses in Scotland website.

Short online courses with FutureLearn

FutureLearn offers a variety of courses which range from short courses to online degrees. There are free online courses available and the subjects are very varied.

Subjects range from healthcare and medicine to arts and media, teaching, science, engineering and even maths.

Felicity Parsisson, Learning Designer at FutureLearn, explains how the courses have been created to be as accessible for people of all ages.

“FutureLearn courses are designed to be accessible for all ages and provide the flexibility that learners need to go at their own pace and discover new passions and hobbies. Many of our courses are particularly popular with older learners as they provide a great way to keep your brain active and start a new project. During this time of lockdown, FutureLearn has collated a collection of ‘boredom- busting’ courses from leading universities across the world that cater to a wide range of interests and are great for people of all ages who are looking to learn something new. This includes a range of language courses, including beginner courses in Mandarin, Spanish, Italian or Norwegian as well as courses from the Open University on how to write fiction and even one from Purdue University which gives learners a taste of spy training.

"Diving into these interesting topics isn't solitary, FutureLearn sees learners from all stages of life, so you'll be learning alongside a mix of ages, including your own age group, on a social learning platform with over 12 million learners worldwide! At FutureLearn we encourage learners to interact with one another and start discussions based on different course topics. This is a great way to share insights and can act as a comforting and engaging form of interaction at this time. Some of our most popular courses with older learners at the moment include a course on The Tudors and another that provides a virtual tour of Rome. Both of which are open for enrolment and already have thousands of comments from learners on the first step of the course! The most important thing to remember when taking an online course is simply to enjoy learning for the fun of learning. Online learning is not reserved for any age and can make a great impact on mental health and wellbeing, even more so at this challenging time.”

Other online course providers to look at

There are lots of other online course providers that you can look at to see if there is a course that you would like to try and below are a list of sites you can visit:

If you are an older adult that has mobility problems and needs to use a stair lift or you want to try something new, then now is the perfect opportunity to try a free online course.

Image credit: TierneyMJ


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