14 Places That Offer Free Online Classes for Seniors

RETIREMENT - RETIRED LIFE
Unlock new skills at no cost with online classes designed for older learners.
Updated May 8, 2024
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Senior student raising hand in class

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You’ve been looking forward to retiring for your entire working life. Now that it’s finally here, though, you’re more than a little lost. 

What are you supposed to do with all your free time? How can you stave off boredom and avoid wasting money or radically upending your entire lifestyle?

Fortunately, reaching senior status can come with several perks — starting with free courses for lifelong learners like yourself. Interested? These 14 sites are the best places to get started.

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Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative

offsuperphoto/Adobe senior woman writing in notebook and using laptop

Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI) doubles as a resource for independent students and long-distance instructors. 

While OLI has more paid courses than free ones, its free courses cover the basics of research methods in most fields. 

They also offer helpful guidelines for self-guided learning and point you toward the next steps in becoming certified in fields from health care to IT.

Academic Earth

fizkes/Adobe woman sitting at the table wearing headphones while taking notes

Since 2009, Academic Earth has curated free courses from the country’s top universities, including Yale, MIT, the University of Chicago, and more. 

You can watch individual lectures or go through distinct courses on topics like the psychology of politics and machine learning.

Coursera

caftor/Adobe pensioner writing on piece of paper

Coursera offers nearly 6,000 courses, certificates, and degrees for at-home learners. If you want to find a new job after retirement, Coursera details the median salaries for top jobs and lists skills, classes, and certifications that can help you land the job you want.

Its dozens of free courses range in topics from entry-level Korean language learning to negotiation strategies for business professionals.

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EdX

yavdat/Adobe senior woman websurfing

EdX started as a collaboration between MIT and Harvard to make education more accessible, affordable, and universal. 

Today, edX partners with more than 250 other prestigious institutions and universities worldwide to offer classes in data science, artificial intelligence, and other IT-centric topics.

Harvard

Prostock-studio/Adobe taking notes in office

Some of the top universities in the country offer free courses for lifelong learners. 

Harvard hosts 144 free webinars and online courses in computer science, programming, world history, and the humanities. Most courses are available on-demand and take between one and 12 weeks to complete.

Open Yale

Studio Romantic/Adobe bald bearded senior man

Yale’s free Open Yale courses are mainly introductory-level classes taught by top Yale professors. 

Unlike some of the learning sites on our list, Open Yale doesn’t help you earn course credits or work toward professional certification. 

Instead, it’s ideal for lifelong learners interested in topics such as American literature, financial markets, philosophy, and the social sciences.

Stanford

ArtSys/Adobe senior woman using card for shopping

Like Yale and Harvard, Stanford hosts free, on-demand classes and lecture series taught by some of their top professors. 

Classes include Introduction to Probability Management from the School of Engineering, Principles of Economics from the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Health Across the Gender Spectrum from the School of Medicine.

TED-Ed

Studio Romantic/Adobe Man making important points on a notebook.

Are you looking for bite-size lessons rather than long-term courses? TED-Ed has a wide selection of free videos, each presented by an expert in their field and lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. 

TED-Ed classes are on topics as diverse as bats, moon phases, food waste, gut health, and the history of Black Friday.

Codecademy

Peter Maszlen/Adobe senior man thinking

Are you more interested in learning a technical, highly marketable skill than taking college courses for the sake of learning? Codecademy is the best, most established free coding site you can find. 

While you can pay for higher-tier access, Codecademy offers basic instruction in C++, HTML, Python, JavaScript, and most other coding languages entirely for free.

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Udemy

kucherav/Adobe elderly man writing notes in notebook

Like Codecademy, Udemy helps you access courses that teach marketable skills in areas like coding, finance, marketing, and game development. 

Udemy’s paid courses and certifications can help you land a lucrative side gig, but its free courses include introductory photography, coding, aromatherapy, and more.

Whether you want to start your own business or learn a new hobby, Udemy is an excellent place to begin.

Learn It Live

JackF/Adobe older woman listening to lecture in classroom

Learn It Live hosts free face-to-face and on-demand classes, mostly in personal development, fitness, mindfulness, and general health and wellness.

Although it’s not as rigorously academic as some other sites on our list, Learn It Live can be a useful starting point for anyone interested in maintaining their activity levels and quality of life during retirement.

Libby (through your local library)

Rawpixel.com/Adobe A senior citizen is utilizing a computer for socialization purposes at a public library.

Libby is a shared online library collection that includes hundreds of thousands of digital books, magazines, newspapers, and audiobooks, as well as textbooks, lectures, and courses.

Exactly which Libby texts you can access depends on what your local library has subscribed to, so you’ll need to log in to the app using your library card.

The Great Courses (through Libby)

Jacob Lund/Adobe senior man smiling in library

The Great Courses are individual lectures conducted by world-class experts in art, cooking, storytelling, economics, and much more.

While you can purchase standalone courses for a one-time fee, you can access some (or all) of the courses for free through Libby if your public library has a subscription. Open the Libby app and search for “the great courses” to see if they’re in your library catalog.

Your local community college

chika_milan/Adobe Someone learning something new

Wherever you are in the U.S., chances are there’s a state college, community college, or university in your area that offers some sort of free community programming. 

That could mean free online courses, in-person classes at a reduced fee (usually lower than $100 for the semester), or occasional drop-in lectures free to anyone in the community.

Find out what’s available near you by googling your state’s colleges along with keywords like “free courses” or “lifelong learning.” If you don’t find any good results, you can always call the number listed as the university’s contact line and go from there.

Bottom line

igolaizola/Adobe Senior man in graduation gown

Thanks to the 14 free learning opportunities listed here, your continuing education doesn’t have to cost a cent of your hard-earned retirement money.

Whether you’re hoping to retire early, are already in the middle of a great retirement, or are on the cusp of leaving the workforce for good, signing up for a free online course is an excellent use of your time.

Of course, picking up a new skill set is definitely a perk if you’re hoping to boost your retirement savings with a part-time job in a new field. But learning is worth it for its own sake, not just for earning money. 

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.

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