|Top Free Online Computer Science Courses|
|Written by Sue Gee|
|Friday, 06 September 2019|
September is widely considered the "back to school month". If you are considering enrolling in an online class the problem is there are so many options to choose from. We've rounded up the top best free courses that we've covered over the past years, all of them still available.
Since they burst across our radar in 2012, MOOCs have become a popular way for developers to keep their skills up to date, fill in gaps in their education and widen their horizons. The 2019 Stack Overflow Survey reported that about 60% of professional developers had taken an online course like a MOOC, a proportion that had risen significantly from the previous year's 49%. Figures from HackerRank's survey showed that MOOC's were used for learning to code by 45% of student developers and 51% of professional developers.
The attraction of MOOCs, a word that was added to the Oxford Online Dictionary in 2013 as:
‘massive open online course’: a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people
is obvious. You can fit in your study time around your job and other commitments but still be part of a group of learners via discussion forums. Even so some MOOCs are more attractive than others, either because of the subject matter or due to the quality of the materials and their presentation. Two measure of popularity have been used. Online Course Report relates "top courses" to the number of enrollments. Even though the number of students enrolled on a free course generally far exceeds the number who actually complete it, the number who sign up can be considered a gauge of the "pull" of the topic being covered and the university behind it.
The alternative way to identify top courses is the number of stars awarded by people who submit ratings and reviews - and since it is unusual for people to rate courses they haven't tried the number of ratings - these ratings reflect satisfaction of those who have engaged in them. Class Central's rankings of the Top 100 Online Courses includes only courses that are available for free and the 2019 edition is based on 60,000 user reviews. Admittedly this is a small proportion of the actual number of participants, given that, according to Dhawal Shah, who created and maintains Class Central, there are now 13,000 MOOCs from around 1,000 universities. Even so the number of reviews is big enough to provide a meaningful ranking. The annual exercise of selecting the top 50 free online courses was started in 2015 and this year has been expanded to 100. To generate the list, the courses in Class Central were sorted by the Bayesian average of their ratings, then courses had been discontinued or had few reviews were removed.
Class Central's key findings were:
Counting courses we consider relevant to the I Programmer audience, that is ones covering a programming language, coding, computer science, data science, mathematical thinking, electronics and complexity, resulted in a total of 28 courses, all but 6 of them already on I Programmer's radar by virtue of having reported on them or even participating in them - members of the team have completed over a quarter of the MOOCs in table below - and there was also an overlap with the Online Course Report's The 50 Most Popular MOOCs of All Time.
Back in 2015, when we covered the first edition of this ranking which is based on the number of enrollments (see Top CS MOOCs By the Numbers) we discovered that half, i.e. 25 of them, were I Programmer-relevant. Given that the range of MOOCs available has widened over time now only 16 of those listed fall within our remit. A total of 11 courses were in both the Top 100 by star-ratings and the Top 50 in terms of numbers and a further 5 courses in OCR's Top 50 list had rankings of 4 stars from Class Central reviewers, one of them which would have been ruled of of the Top 100 for no longer being available for free. While the OCR list only included courses from Coursera, edX and Udacity, Class Central's also extends to Kadenze and Complexity Explorer, plus the University of Helsinki's platform.
So here is the table of Top Free Online Courses for Programming, Computer Science etc, a title which needs to be loosely interpreted to mean the same as "of interest to the I Programmer team and our followers". The ratings in the left-hand colum are the ranking in OCR's Top 50 and the number of stars from Class Central's Top 100. Follow links on the course title for its coverage on our site and the link on the name of the platform (Coursera/edX etc) to jump to its enrollment page. Many of the courses are self paced and you can start them as soon as your enrol. Others have a start date so that cohorts of students go through at the same time. If when you read this the start date has already passed there's likely to be a new date in the near future.
Key points emerging from this include:
The one free MOOC that bucks the trend of being hosted on a he big platform and having stood the test of time is Elements of AI which dates from 2018 and is based on an introduction to AI taught for some years at the University of Helsinki and intended to make make Finland the world's most educated country in the field of artificial intelligence - in fact as soon as it was available online it attracted a, large, global audience.
The edX courses in the table now have a free version and a paid-for, value added version as part of an XSeries (similar to a Specialization), MicroMasters (at postgraduate level and can be counted towards a Masters degree) or a Professional Certificate Program, aimed at those already extablished in their careers.
If you are doing an online course to further your career choosing the paid-for option is likely to be well worth it as successful completion will gain you a certificate which are increasingly recognized as valuable.
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|Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 September 2019 )|