Are these online courses (MOOCs) really free?

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Written by Dhawal Shah Last updated on January 03rd, 2021

The course materials (e.g. video lectures, discussions, etc.) are usually free, but certain features like graded assignments, certificates, and mentorship may be paid features. Course and/or certificate costs vary for each MOOC provider. Courses may be available either on a subscription basis or for individual purchase.

Free access may be called audit mode. If you are not clear on how to sign up for Coursera courses for free, here is a guide from Class Central: A Guide on How to Sign up for Coursera Courses for Free. Other course providers may have a similar process for free access.

Also see Will I receive a certificate for completing a MOOC? and Are Coursera courses free? An investigation by Class Central discovered 1400+ Coursera courses that are still completely free, without a certificate.

For a limited time, during the COVID-19 crisis, some providers may be offering temporary free certificates for some courses. See Free Online Learning Due to Coronavirus.

A limited number of FutureLearn courses offer a free digital upgrade including a certificate. See 100 FutureLearn Courses That Still Offer Free Certificates.)


A small number of courses are not free. These are indicated by a small green $ symbol on Class Central.

If you want a certificate but cannot afford the cost, some providers offer financial aid to needy applicants. See Can I get financial aid for MOOCs?

MOOC-based degrees are also available through some MOOC providers. These offer a number of advantages, including lower cost as compared to other online and on-campus degrees, flexibility, and pay as you go pricing.

Class Central's Help Center represents our best effort to answer the most common questions new learners face. It may not be completely accurate in every circumstance.

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