A guide to finding the best free online courses available in South Africa.
Did you know that the demand for online courses has been on the increase lately?
This is because quite a number of universities are in the business of introducing free courses with certificates to promote distance education in South Africa.
So, enrolling in one of the free online courses in South Africa is a great step to excelling in your career.
With online courses, anyone from any part of the world can gain knowledge in any field of interest for free. All you need is a computer, laptop or tablet, an internet connection, commitment and a self-made schedule. Some courses even offer certifications on completion of the course!
What are free online courses?
Okay, online courses basically work like this:
- There are a bunch of online platforms, with websites you can register on and browse courses.
- The courses on those platforms are usually developed by universities, expert individuals or by collaborative arrangements between tertiary institutions and individuals. These are the ‘course creators’. They develop these courses for a variety of reasons, including:
a) they want to get their expert knowledge out there into the world as quickly and cheaply as possible
b) they want to make some money, and opening up their course to the whole world is a great way to get volume, and
c) creating a great online course is a good way to get your university’s name or your own name out into the world.
- The course creators publish their courses on these online platforms, where you as a consumer can register for them. In some cases, you pay up front. In other cases, you can do the course for free (and therefore get the knowledge), but if you want the certificate to use as proof in applying for a job, you pay for the certificate.
Either way, online course platforms have made education much more accessible.
Best free online course providers
There are lots of online course providers, and to be honest, they’re all pretty great. Here’s a list of the providers we most recommend:
The following provider has both free and paid-for online courses that you can complete. However, they do not offer certificates unless you complete a Nanodegree which you will have to pay for online with your credit card.
Also, an honourable mention (and my personal favourite) – you can usually find specials for most courses here for as little as ZAR219:
We strongly recommend taking a look at all of these options before starting your first online course. They all have pros and cons. Some, like edX, provide the benefit of having a prestigious name behind the course (like a university). Others, like Udemy, give you the benefit of being able to start and work through the course at your own pace.
How to pick a provider (and a course)
Picking a provider and course depends entirely on the field you wish to pursue. With so many providers and courses to choose from, it’s hard to pick one and just get started. Here are a few tips.
Pick prestige if your field requires prestige
If you’re in a field like finance, for example, and you want to work at a financial institution, then you need to be realistic about the expectations of employers in your field. Financial institutions, like banks and investment brokers, tend to value prestigious MBA degrees and recognised institutions. So you probably want to look at course options on Coursera or edX that have a recognised university brand name behind them.
You can also apply this principle to localised fields. For example, if you are looking for an education in geological engineering, and you want to get a job working at an oil company drilling off the east coast of South Africa, then you might want to look at courses that were created by a university or expert in Africa.
Your future employer is more likely to know of that university or expert, and it suggests that you have more specific knowledge of the area where you’re going to work.
Pick specific skills if you’re in a technical space
If you’re in a field as a user experience design (UX), for example, and you want to work as a freelancer or at a small design agency, then you should probably focus on acquiring the specific skills you need rather than paying extra to get a certificate from a recognised institution.
Companies that hire freelance designers, and small design agencies, generally don’t care about the pedigree of your education. All they care about is whether or not you’re good at design!
So if you’re in a field like this, then you probably want to look for courses that offer precisely what you want to learn, because in your case it’s more about the knowledge and expertise you will gain, rather than the piece of paper that says you did it.
Generalise, and then specialise (and design a study program!)
I’m sure many of you just want to do one or two online courses. But for those of you that really want to get a full-blown education online, and spend very little (if any) money to do so, then you need to follow this strategy: generalise, then specialise.
Let me explain…
Let’s say you want to learn to be a motion graphics animator, and you want to work as a freelancer running your own animation studio. If you do a bit of a market analysis, you might find that there are lots of potential clients looking for help animating their company data. This would include animated pie charts and line graphs.
So, first, you would want to do a few courses in the general field of motion graphics, to show that you have general competence in your field. Then you might want to look for very specific courses in data visualisation. It may even help at this point to look for courses with some prestige, like a course designed by an institution that is well-recognised for data-related courses.
This will help you not only get the education you need, but also carve out a niche for yourself in the workplace, as you become seen as the ‘expert’ in your specialised field (data visualisation motion graphics).
Regardless of your choice, finish it.
There’s nothing worse than checking out someone’s LinkedIn profile and seeing 8 courses they’ve ‘been working on’ but are each only 12% complete. It sends the opposite message to what you were looking for when you started the courses.
Yes, some courses you start won’t be exactly to your liking. But finishing them shows just as much about you as not finishing them!
Our top picks for online courses
Depending on what you want to study online, there are literally thousands of choices. But most online course providers have just a few very popular areas.
Here are a few that we really recommend, if they fit into your chosen fields.
Udemy Illustrator Course
An introductory course for anyone looking to get into Design. Adobe Illustrator is the natural starting point, and this is a great course. Also an honourable mention for Daniel Walter Scott – anyone wanting to study design should check out his courses on Udemy.
Duration: 9.5 hours of on-demand video.
Whether you’re brand new to Illustrator, or have played around with it but need more guidance, this course will help you feel confident and comfortable using the industry-standard vector-based graphic application.
MBA Essentials Online Certificate Course
The MBA Essentials Online Certificate Course will set you back a hefty R39,740. But this course is certified by the United Kingdom CPD Certification Service!
Duration: 10 weeks (excluding orientation)
The MBA Essentials online certificate course from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is designed to help you understand your strategic environment, master financial details, and drive business success by influencing colleagues and consumers. You’ll be equipped with an essential MBA toolkit as you navigate the contemporary business environment, guided by esteemed LSE faculty.
This online MBA-based certificate course from LSE arms you with hard and soft business skills to maximise your competitive advantage and lead with influence.
IBM Data Science Professional Certificate
IBM Data Science Professional Certificate course helps you to pursue a career in machine learning or data science to develop career-relevant skills and experience.
Duration: The Professional Certificate requires completion of 9 courses. Each course typically contains 3-6 modules with an average effort of 2 to 4 hours per module. If learning part-time (e.g. 1 module per week), it would take 6 to 12 months to complete the entire certificate. If learning full-time (e.g. 1 module per day) the certificate can be completed in 2 to 3 months.
This course bundle consists of 9 online data science courses that will provide you with the latest job-ready tools and skills, including open-source tools and libraries, SQL, data visualization, data analysis, predictive modelling, and machine learning algorithms.
You will also learn data science through hands-on practice in the IBM Cloud using various data science tools and real data sets. After the end of this Data science course, you will have built a portfolio of data science projects which helps you to plunge into the profession in data science.
What do you need to get started?
While universities and colleges have strict requirements for accepting students into their courses, online education providers do not! In fact, most online courses require nothing more from you than:
- A stable internet connection
- A computer to work on
More advanced courses might require you to have previous knowledge of certain fundamental skills. But, this is just so that they can be sure you will understand the content of the course.
While researching courses that interest you, make sure you check if any previous skills are required. It is a requirement for a reason – you might not be able to actually complete the course without it.
The most important requirement for an online course is that you are interested and driven to complete the course. Without complete commitment, it can be really easy to let your studies fall by the wayside.
How are free online courses different to paid-for education?
1. Free online courses are typically developed by professional institutions, universities, and lecturers – just like traditional tertiary education.
2. All official online courses appeal to international and industry standards, so these courses offer comparable qualifications to universities/colleges.
3. Courses are available in various disciplines, from computer science to photography.
1. Free online courses require distance learning as they usually do not have a campus or formal classes.
2. There are no strict admission requirements for most courses – anyone can study something they are interested in!
3. Universities and colleges award you proof of your qualification by means of a certificate or degree. However, online courses often ask you to pay for the final certificate to prove that you’ve finished the course.
The main difference between formal tertiary education and free online courses is that you will not always get a free certificate to prove that you’ve completed the course.
However, some courses award you a certificate of participation or allow you to download your academic record. If you use these documents, as well as a portfolio of the work you did during the course, you can use them as proof that you have studied the relevant skills.
So, what are you waiting for? Getting an education is literally a click away. Your future doesn’t have to rely on how much money you have right now. Take your education into your own hands – make your future great!
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
Online Courses are fast becoming cheaper, easier and in some cases a better option than taking a university course. Find out why you should consider taking online courses.
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