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The top 5 free learning platforms to scale your skills

I spend a lot of my working life with learning technologies. Using them, researching them and constantly being hounded by sales teams representing the millions of suppliers worldwide telling me that I need to buy their platform as it’s going to change my world.

I can confidently report that after 15 years in this game, not one of those messages delivered on their promise of rocking my world. 

Look, they’re millions of learning platforms out there and as an end user or workplace learning team trying to shuffle through the noise and actually get to what is useful, it can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Now for the everyday user who’s opting to use a platform in their spare time, this isn’t really an issue. But, if you’re a workplace learning team it most certainly is a minefield.

In this post I want to hit two birds with one stone (no not literally, metaphorically of course!).

This will serve as one half of some of the best platforms that the everyday human can mostly use for free and build their skills, plus it will also serve as a list of free resources for my friends in education and learning teams to utilise in curating their own content.

This might be a shock horror statement for some but you don’t need a learning management system.

I know the millions of suppliers out there will disagree with me, and of course I expect you too, but you don’t have to pay someone to curate free content you can get yourself, package it into a mediocre tool and charge you $60k a year for the privilege.

The following list of tools contain both free and paid content for you to use. The best part is that 80% of it is free, and I’ve selected these platforms based on content quality, useability and relevance.

So, instead of me babbling on for another few pages, let’s get into the list shall we.

(FYI, these are in no particular order)

Google Digital Garage

Oh how I love GDG, not only does it provide a central point in sharing all the great learning content the teams at Google build, it also curates lots from across the world too.

As part of their large Grow with Google programme, the digital garage exists to help people learn new digital skills to navigate our oh so more digital world – who can’t appreciate that, eh?

The platform is split into 3 key areas of Data and Tech, Digital Marketing and Career Development.

If you’re a startup or SME looking to upskill your employees you’ll get a lot from the Digital Garage. Likewise, if you’re new to the world of workplace L&D and need to curate some great on-demand courses and provide access to free live online training, then again, you can’t go wrong here. Plus, for everyone else, all of these resources are free of charge to enable you to upskill and/or reskill for new career opportunities too.

Don’t just take my word for it though, go and explore for yourself here.

OpenClassrooms

I discovered this little known Gem during the height of the pandemic when I found myself ,unusually, with some more free time through the GDG above.

As a past user of a few courses on here I must say I was pretty impressed at the quality on offer considering how mostly everything is free. Like most platforms I’ll share in this list, what happens is that courses and content are free to complete but if you want a branded certificate to show off on LinkedIn or other socials, this will cost you. However, are those certificates actually worth anything to an employer…not really imo.

With a nice mixture of short videos, podcasts and written content, I feel like there’s a good mix in OC’s design to keep most people engaged. You can choose to skip any parts that you don’t feel are relevant to you too, so you’re not locked in like some platforms do.

With over 500 courses and skills pathways to choose from, this has lots for everyone. You’ll find a treasure trove of topics covered here, including: Design, development, project management and lots more.

Check it out here.

FutureLearn

Another interesting platform with plenty of corporate and government partnerships bringing you relevant content. 

Unlike the previous two entries, FL contains a lot less free content but that doesn’t mean it’s not of value. Quite the opposite actually. With a number of partnerships with high profile universities, you can get access to some unique offers.

  • FL breaks up their offering into the following:
  • Short courses (where most of the free stuff lives)
  • Expert Tracks (some free, some paid)
  • Microcredentials (mostly paid)
  • Online Degrees (100% paid)

Even though you’ll find more paid content here, the free stuff is still pretty damn good, and will help a lot of people upskill and/or re-skill in many areas. The way to make any of these platforms really work for you is in getting better at curating content from different sources to create your own learning pathways (You can see an example of this in a Product Manager pathway that I built for a friend not so long ago).

Check it out here.

EdX

Built by those ever so smart people from Harvard, the EdX platform began life as a way for the household name in leading universities to provide free educational content for any person who wanted it.

Now , of course, it’s not all up to Harvard’s high standard but you’ll certainly find some great stuff from the big H themselves, and from other leading universities around the world too.

EdX is also a place where universities from around the world can contribute their own free courses, programs and to some extent degrees too (of course they’ll be a fee to get the actual certification but you’ll be allowed to access 85% of the content for free). Alongside Coursera and Google Digital Garage, you’ll find that all 3 of these platforms curate their freemium content from the same place. So, don’t be alarmed if you see the same content across all platforms.

I should also note here, that you may just find those flashy corporate learning platform’s you’ve purchased contain similar if not exactly the same content. And that’s because they’re pulling the content from the same places. What happens is that a supplier will provide you a platform with a user experience to navigate the search and use of content but rarely are they producing it.

That’s where all the free stuff comes in.

You pay, let’s say £200k a year for a mid-size run of the mill learning platform (massive generalisation) which comes with the often sold “tailored curated content built specifically for your people”. Now, this is often not true (note how I say often? Some providers do build their own content). 

Instead, what you’ll receive is a catalogue of curated content from free sources which covers a scatter gun wealth of generic topics. So, yes you do get content but it’s often not specifically created for you but curated into topical themes. Which might be perfect for you, especially if you value that content being curated and don’t have the people power to do it in-house.

Yes, I am taking tongue in cheek slights on learning platforms and suppliers as we as an industry often do but know that it’s just my view, and you’re probably in a very different position to me. You might value the curated catalogue and get a great user experience, so go for that.

As I’ve said in the past (and do keep saying) there are some great providers out there. My advice to you, would be to pick a partner not a provider (you can read more about that here).

Now back to completing our tour of EdX.

Again, I think this one has a simple but perhaps not great user experience but it does the job. Content is split between courses and programs (I tend to find that programs are curated courses but again come with a fee for certification, if you want it of course), plus content has multi-language support and even some courses that are available only in a particular language (usually spanish).

All in all, no matter if you’re looking for a decent content catalogue for your personal learning or a workplace learning team looking to curate great content for your people, you won’t go wrong with EdX.

This used in combination with those we’ve mentioned on the list so far will give you a variety of great options alongside your in-house original created content.

Explore all of this for yourself here.

Coursera

You might be wondering why I’ve included Coursera but not very similar platforms like Udemy and Skillshare? Well, it’s for that point really – similarity.

They generally carry the exact same content bar, let’s say 5% (although I find Skillshare to have a lot of cheaply produced and refreshed Youtube garbage on it, so take note). However, what I feel sets Coursera apart from this pack is its wealth of partnerships with leading education establishments and companies like Google.

You may know that Google chose to exclusively partner with Coursera to host their own suite of certifications which are the first wave of recognised accreditations from a large company that look to replace the classic degrees from universities. 

Not only that but (perhaps biasedly) I preferred both the experience on the desktop and app vs Udemy and Skillshare (if curious, I would put Skillshare in second for UX despite it’s often poor quality content and Udemy in 3rd. Do your own research though as these applications are updated often).

I rate the content catalogue too. It’s a nice blend of the freemium stuff we’ve already covered but also contains a good amount of paid content that you might actually want to pay for as it’s of decent quality.

But as I’ve said before, explore all of this here and see what you think.

Here comes the twist!

Despite everything I’ve shared here, I believe the best piece of free learning technology available to all of us is YouTube and Google.

If you’re working for a large corporation then you’ll no doubt be pressured to buy some big platform because that’s what these places do right? Buy big tools with lots of content.

Yet, you could build your entire learning stack and thus library of knowledge for free (well mostly anyway!). The digital world is full of so much great knowledge that tools such as Google and YouTube have curated for you.

If I was working at a startup and/or an organisation where I wasn’t pressured to buy a large bloated EdTech platform then I would most certainly create a simple wordpress or SharePoint site to feature the best content on topics all curated from Google and YouTube.

And you know what this costs? Practically nothing.

Now yes, it will require time investment but isn’t that our job as learning professionals? We should be crafting and curating the right content for people, not acting as a middle person who facilitates a transactional relationship between our people and a 3rd party.

So, in summary, the above tools are great for the workplace and even individual use. You can most certainly build your own learning ecosystem with these for very little cash investment.

Yet, if you put a gun to my head and said “How can I build a world class learning offer for free?” I’m going with YouTube and Google all day, every-day.

So, there it is…my take on some of the platforms that might be worth your time but as always do your own research, and find what works best for your personal situation or organisation if that’s what you’re focused on.


Before you go… 👋

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

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