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16 life-changing skills you can learn online for free

TK websites to learn a new skill

Who said education had to stop after school?

The Internet gets blamed for many societal ills, including making us dumber, fatter, and ruining our sleep cycles. But what if the Internet could equip you with practical real-world skills? Whether it’s learning a foreign language or learning to code, it turns out there’s no shortage of useful knowledge out there on the Internet.

Here are some of our favorite skills you can learn to do online for free.

1) Grow a garden

Growing plants and vegetables on your own may seem like a daunting task, especially if no one in your family was blessed with a green thumb. Luckily, you can take a free course called the “Basics of Botany” through Oregon State University. You’ll learn how to identify different types of plants, as well as other essentials of plant biology.

2) Learn how to be a standup comic

If you’ve ever fantasized about dominating open mic night, standup comic John Roy offers a five-week online standup comedy class for free. The “class” consists of posts on Roy’s Tumblr, course materials are YouTube videos of other standup comedy routines, and homework assignments require you attend a lot of open mics IRL. Given that most standup comedy classes cost a small fortune, Roy’s free comedy class on Tumblr is a great way for novice comics to get their feet wet without draining their wallet. 

3) Develop an iPhone app

Convinced you have an idea for the next life-changing app, but lack the skills of an iOS developer? Try your luck at this free, month-long course through Udacity where you’ll learn how to make your first iPhone app. All students build the same iPhone app (a voice-altering app that makes your voice sound like a Chipmunk or Darth Vader) in the course.

4) Win debates with climate change skeptics

Climate change is a topic that many people get heated up about (no pun intended), yet few understand the science behind the politics. With “Climate Change: The Science,” a free course through the University of British Columbia, you will learn how to explain global warming to virtually anybody. Students will learn how to evaluate scientific evidence and better understand climate news.

5) Learn the essentials of music production 

Ever wondered what it takes to record, edit, and mix your own songs? Berklee College of Music through Coursera offers a free “Introduction to Music Production” course. Students learn how to visualize sound and edit and mix their own tracks. While the course is free, there is a cost if students wish to earn a certificate of completion. 

6) Create your own video games

It’s true: MIT’s instructors will teach you how to design your own video game for free. “Creating Video Games,” an actual course offered to the lucky undergraduates at MIT, is now open to all through MIT’s Open CourseWare. Students will learn all the nuts and bolts of developing a video game, including audio design, visual aesthetics, and programming. Now you can finally create that superior version of Fallout 4 that’s been haunting your dreams. 

7) Improve your golf

If you want to master your swing, but don’t want to shell out for golfing lessons, you’re in luck. Golf Channel Academy has hundreds of online video tutorials on how to perfect your golfing technique. Learn how to improve your accuracy, control wedge shot distance, and other tips and tricks of the trade.

8) Get smarter about the stock market

If you’ve just seen the The Big Short, the sobering tale of Wall Street malfeasance, you’re probably curious about financial markets. “The Beginner’s Guide to the Stock Market,” a free Udemy course with investor John Ducas, will walk you through the basics of navigating the stock exchange. 

9) Launch a startup


It’s like Uber, but it exists only in your head. If you got an idea for a startup but are clueless as to how to build it from the ground up, try enrolling in “How to Start a Startup,” a free class taught in conjunction with the University of Reddit and Stanford University. Your course instructor is no other than Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator. The class includes guest lecturers from the likes of Paypal, Facebook, Jawbone, Linkedin, and more. 

10) Manage your stress

For many stress and anxiety can be unavoidable. In order to get an in-depth understanding of what makes us stressed and how to avoid stress, try this free course on stress management through UWashingtonX. “Becoming a More Resilient Person: The Science of Stress Management” is an eight-week course taught by assistant professor Clay Cook that focuses on improving your overall emotional well-being. 

11) Learn the basics of coding in an hour

The Internet is filled to the brim with free courses on how to code. But unlike the rest, Khan Academy’s “Hour of Code” series is perfect for complete coding novices. People who have no interest in getting certified in Python but are curious about the mechanics of the Web will be satisfied with Khan Academy’s free hour-long programs on how to draw with Javascript, make webpages with HTML tags and CSS code, and manipulate data in SQL. Students will create a deliverable such as a greeting card or a drawing in each of the courses, so you can show everyone you know what a coding whiz you are. 

12) Create an animated GIF on Photoshop

Let’s say free GIF sites such as Giphy don’t quite do the trick and you have a more complicated visual in mind. You’ll have to buck up and figure out Photoshop. QuickWayTo has a useful four-step guide on how to do just that. If you need even more assistance in crafting the Hotline Bling GIF to rule them all, try QuickWayTo’s YouTube tutorial, which you can find above. 

13) Train your dog

Imagine if you could convince Rover to take a selfie with you, much less stop barking madly at the door any time a visitor knocks. Kikopup’s YouTube channel of dog obedience videos are conversational and easy to understand. Topics covered include dog grooming, safety, and behavior. There’s even a video on how to train your dog to pose for the camera. Next thing you’ll know, Rover will be one of the most followed pups on Instagram.

14) Become a DIY know-it-all

Have you ever wanted to learn how to construct your own canoe out of plywood? Or make an LED clock out of a wood block? Or how about a Doctor Who-inspired doghouse shaped like the Tardis? Instructables is where both DIY die-hards and technology geeks gather to share the secrets of their craft. The free online portal of next-generation DIY tutorials is the brainchild of a bunch of MIT graduates who went on to found Squid Labs. It contains more than 100,000 user-submitted DIY tutorials, on topics as varied as cooking, survival, Raspberry Pi, 3D-printing, solar, knitting, steampunk, and more. Think of it as Pinterest with an advanced degree in mechanical engineering. The level of difficulty for Instructables projects range from basic (i.e. how to make a snow globe cocktail) to very advanced (i.e. how to build your own CNC router). 

15) Cook authentic BBQ 

How do you work with a butcher to select the best meat for your grill? What does one do with leftover brisket? And what are the steps to cooking BBQ “cowboy style,” with direct heat and mesquite? BBQ with Franklin, a free 13-part video series on PBS, will school you on the ins and outs of this classic American cooking technique that borders on religion.

16) Learn a foreign language

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better free language learning site than Duolingo. The site is founded on the premise that the best approach to teaching a foreign language is data. The site regularly tests what exercises work the best among users and makes changes to its curriculum on a weekly basis. As of March, Duolingo has registered more than 70 million users. English users can pick from Spanish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Swedish, Danish, Hindi, and more. There’s even a Duolingo course in KlingonPhoto via Nicolas Alejandro Street Photography/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III

Amrita Khalid

Amrita Khalid

Amrita Khalid is a technology and politics reporter who specializes in breaking down complex issues into practical, useful terms. A former contributor to CQ, a Congressional news and analysis site, she's currently a master's candidate in international relations at the University of Leeds.