Business courses are a great way to learn new practices and stay up to date on trends in the global economy and technology. Working professionals trying to balance a career and family responsibilities may find the idea of continuing education in business impossible. Online learning continues to develop and improve each year. Some critics thought degrees like the online MBA would never catch on or attain the high level of respect a traditional master’s program enjoys. As time goes on, many highly reputable business schools have offered online MBAs and other forms of business training.
What if it was possible to take advantage of a business school’s offerings without ever having to pay a dime in tuition? Remarkably, distance learners now have many options in this realm. There are presently countless hours of online courses available to business students and professionals utterly free of charge. Topics within these courses are as varied as the areas of business they represent. Students can take a free course on financial marketing, executive leadership, ways to think like an entrepreneur, using social media, and how to successfully negotiate in business.
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The ultimate benefit of these programs lies in the cost-to-benefit ratio. The advantage of these courses is clear. Respected professors and authors provide excellent content through readings, video lectures, and audio recordings. Classes are offered by incredible institutions of higher learning like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Duke, Harvard, New York University, and more. The cost? Zero dollars. Students pursuing these free business courses can save thousands and thousands of dollars by receiving the same excellent instruction that traditional students are exposed to.
Ranking the Best Free Online Business Courses
With so many options for free online instruction available today, we have put together a ranking of the best free online business courses currently available in the nation. Many of these courses are found on sites like Coursera.org, Edx.org, through iTunes, and on business school websites.
To find the best free online business courses, we focused on overall reputation. Thus, these free, 100% online courses that are offered in a business or business-related field are ranked according to their school’s College Consensus Score. This Score combines publisher scores and student reviews and gives us the ranking of the Best Free Online Business Courses available.
Yale University delivers a free online course called Financial Markets. All course material needed for this free class is delivered 100% online so students can receive course content anywhere a reliable internet connection exists. As this is a beginner level course, the university presents no prerequisites for the course. Students can begin working through coursework as soon as they have completed registration. The curriculum writers have divided this course into seven weeks of study with a recommendation of three to four hours each week. The total course load for the class is 38 hours. Subtitles for this Financial Markets class are offered in Korean, Spanish, and English. The course includes an overview of the ideas, institutions, and methods that regulate human society to foster enterprise and manage risk. The emphasis throughout the class is on financially-savvy leadership abilities. Students enrolled in the course can expect descriptions of practices that exist today and an in-depth analysis of prospects for the future.
A free online course called Becoming an Entrepreneur is available from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Are you curious about the world of entrepreneurship, yet have no idea about where to start your research? Becoming an Entrepreneur has been designed by MIT to help guide online students of all ages and backgrounds through the engaging process of establishing a brand or company. The free online course has already been taken advantage of by hundreds of thousands of students and has proven to be as engaging and informative as it is accessible. Becoming an Entrepreneur will provide distance learners with the inspiration to explore an entrepreneurial journey and tools to overcome the initial barriers to building a business. Lessons within this class include new business ideas and how to do market research. Helpful information on how to design and test offerings and pitching strategies are also included. Online learners will want to allow six weeks of learning time for this course.
Princeton University provides a free online course entitled Networks: Friends, Money, and Bytes. How common is it to take out your iPhone while waiting in line at a Starbucks? Have you ever googled a C-list actor only to get linked to a Wikipedia entry revealing his recent films and popular YouTube clips from some of them? You may check on some user reviews on Amazon and then download a movie on BitTorrent or stream it on Netflix. Have you ever seen the WIFI logo on your screen disappear you’re now you’re on 3G? The next thing you know, video quality begins to degrade. Do you have any idea what all has been going on behind the scenes over that five-minute-long scenario? Networks: Friends, Money, and Bytes has been formulated by the staff at Princeton to help answer that and many more questions about the technology we rely on every day. Course content for this class is delivered 100% online and 100% free of charge. Divided into 12 weeks of content, course designers expect students to complete all course requirements in just 11 hours.
A free online course entitled Game Theory is available at Stanford University. Game theory is the mathematical modeling of tactical interaction within rational and irrational agents. The method was made famous in the Hollywood blockbuster, “A Beautiful Mind.” While the common vernacular for “games” includes activities like chess, poker, and football, the term also deals with the modeling of conflict among political campaigns, competition among firms, politics, and commerce trading in markets such as the NYSE. Part of being able to model keyword auctions and peer to peer file-sharing networks is to be able to account for the incentives of the people using them. Game theory will provide the basics of what it means to represent games and strategies. The extensive form, which Information Technology specialists call game trees, Bayesian games, and stochastic and repeated games, are all dealt with within this course. Game theory is considered a beginner level course, which will take the average online student 20 hours to complete.
Harvard University provides a free online class called Improving Your Business Through a Culture of Health. Many would agree that the United States is one of the planet’s wealthiest nations. Few may understand that it is also far from the healthiest. Our nation’s struggle with disease affects businesses every day. Sick employees and families reduce productivity and increase costs. Product recalls, and environmental mishaps like toxic chemical emissions continue to harm communities and reputations. The HarvardX course presented by leading instructors from the Harvard Business School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health provides businesses with tactics, tools, and strategies to gain a competitive edge by implementing a Culture of Health to address issues and stay ahead. Embracing a Culture of Health will improve an organization’s employees’ well-being and can improve the health of consumers, communities, and the environment. Students enrolled in this course will see how a Culture of Health can help reduce costs, increase profits and revenues, and enhance a company’s reputation.
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Dartmouth University provides a free online course called Retail Fundamentals. This free course is listed as part of the Retail Management Professional Certificate program at Dartmouth. Retail components like pricing decisions, inventory management, demand forecasting, and assortment planning are all covered within this 100% online and 100% free course. Distance learners will learn about the various challenges that retailers face on a regular basis and will have the opportunity to discover methods and techniques readily available to address these issues. Online students will also have access to a vast array of simulation tools to better internalize the concepts. This free online course will take a hands-on, decision-making approach that will help professionals understand and put into practice the concepts covered in the course. By the program’s end, students will be equipped to make better decisions at every step of the retail experience. Class designers have structured the course to suit a wide variety of participants, from store managers and retail owners to undergrad business majors and specialists in retail.
Rice University provides a free online course called Relationship Management. Many would agree that to be a successful engineer, you must communicate well with others. Relationship Management focuses on developing the skills professionals need to build and sustain relationships and networks. The course is the second of three classes Rice offers in its Leadership Development for Engineers Specialization track. All course materials can be found online, with zero costs put on students. Listed as an advanced-level course, Relationship Management follows the first course listed in the Leadership Development for Engineers series. Online learners interested in this course should be prepared to commit four weeks of study to the program. Each week will typically consist of three to five hours of work. Subtitles for this free online program are offered in Vietnamese and English. Course themes of Relationship Management include Communication, Building Power and Influence, Managing Conflict, and Conducting Effective Meetings. Dr. David Van Kleeck is the course instructor.
Duke University offers a free online course entitled Advertising and Society. The syllabus for this course includes seven weeks of lessons that include approximately nine hours of course content. Significant questions that get answered during each lesson include What is advertising, and where did it come from? How do ads get made? Does sex sell? And What is the future of Advertising? As this is an introductory course on how to understand and process the effects of advertising on society, there are no prerequisites required to complete before enrolling for the course. The video-based curriculum features an instructor teaching a classroom. PowerPoint slides are included as well as TV commercials and print ads. The homework for this class is a weekly quiz taken at the end of each lesson. Students will find all course materials online and will not be responsible for making any purchases throughout the course. Once a student registers, she will have immediate access to the program.
A free online course named Marketing Analytics is offered at Columbia University in the City of New York. Successful marketers make it their business to understand and predict how customers will purchase products and services and what the response will be to marketing initiatives. This 12-week course over marketing will provide distance learners with the tools they will need to learn how analytics helps businesses drive marketing resulting in maximized effectiveness and optimized return on investment (ROI). Marketing Analytics is part of the Business Analytics MicroMasters program. Online students will also discover how to develop quantitative models that leverage business information, machine learning, and statistical computation to forecast sales and marketing influence in the areas of market segmentation, communication, and customer relationship management. Program designers estimate students should spend between eight and ten hours working through coursework each week. Marketing Analytics is an advanced level course which follows the prerequisites of undergraduate probability, calculus, and statistics.
The University of Pennsylvania provides a free online course entitled Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content. Have you ever noticed how some things become popular while others don’t? Why do some products become overnight successes while others flop? Why do some ideas take off while others languish in obscurity? What are the key concepts and tendencies behind viral marketing? Pennsylvania’s free course called Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content sets out to explain how things can catch on to society’s awareness and will help students apply these ideas to be better at marketing ideas, brands, and products. Distance learners will be trained on how to make ideas stick, how to increase one’s influence, how to generate more buzz, and how to use the power of social networking to distribute information and authority. All coursework within the class is presented through a 100% online format. Students need only commit to studying for seven hours.
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A free online course called Internet Giants: The Law and Economics of Media Platforms is offered at the University of Chicago. Course designers have structured the class as a seven-week course that explores the relationship between law and technology with a strong emphasis on the law of the United States. While the US is the main focus, there are some comparisons to laws around the world, with particular attention to Europe. Advances in technology play an essential role in economic growth and work to raise broader questions about the human condition. Linked to this idea is how culture evolves and what influences and controls that evolution. Technology matters in countless other ways as it will often establish the framework in which governments and ruling bodies interact with their citizens. The course studies how governments allow speech and block it and, in so doing, establish exactly what the boundaries are between private and public life. Technology itself is powerfully informed and shaped by the laws that apply in areas as diverse as privacy, copyright, antitrust, speech law, patents, and the regulation of networks. The free online course consists of 26 hours of content.
The University of Notre Dame offers a free online course called Understanding Wireless: Technology, Economics, and Policy. The six-week-long course at Notre Dame is divided into five to seven hours of content each week. Students can work at a self-governed pace, and there are no prerequisites attached to this class. The course is a perfect fit for distance learners interested in learning how smartphones and tablets convert digital information between electromagnetic signals over the radio frequency spectrum. Information over how radio designers and spectrum regulators avoid interference within a network and among different wireless services is also content the course provides. Understanding Wireless: Technology, Economics, and Policy is a survey style course that offers an opportunity to gain an understanding of the economic, technical, and regulatory aspects of the mobile wireless revolution and its influence on society. A broad audience will appreciate this course. Engineers, business majors, aspiring lawyers, and online students will all have much to learn. The course includes early-college mathematics.
Vanderbilt University currently offers a free online course entitled Understanding the Music Business: What is Music Worth? The free online class will examine the mainstream music industry in the United States. As Vanderbilt University is located in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee, the school has a unique perspective on this exciting topic. Much of Nashville’s economy and culture is based on its being one of the most influencing areas for music in the United States. The music created in Nashville has a global reach, particularly in the country, singer-songwriter, Americana, rock, and pop genres. The meat of this course deals with the basic principles of marketing, recording, licensing, copyright, and live performance across each of these styles or genres. Since the music business remains to be one of the most rapidly changing industries in the nation today, there is much to gain by exploring questions and ideas about what the future holds for the music industry.
Cornell University provides a free online course called Networks, Crowds, and Markets. There is no cost associated with this course. A ten-week time of completion is attached to this program. Students can expect to spend between four and five hours working on assignments each week. Cornell has structured this course as an introductory class. The free class invites distance learners to examine the interconnectedness of today’s modern life through a study of fundamental questions about how our social, economic, and technological worlds relate to one another. Distance learners will explore game theory, social contagion, the structure of the Internet, information cascades, and the spread of social power and popularity. This popular MOOC finds its genesis in an interdisciplinary Cornell University course called Networks, led by instructors David Easley, Éva Tardos, and Jon Kleinberg. Cornell’s course was also the basis for the popular book, Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World. This free online course is presented at the introductory undergraduate level and features no formal prerequisites.
A free online course called Personal Finance, Part 1: Investing in Yourself is available at Wellesley College. Course designers have structured this course to last seven weeks and include four to five weeks of study time each week. The introductory class is offered in English and provides a video transcript in English. The course is the perfect fit for anyone ready to take control of their finances. Whether saving for a house, planning for retirement, or wanting to learn more about how to file annual taxes, this course has much to offer. With so many options for how to invest resources, including stocks or bonds, education/training, and real estate, questions come up when it comes to personal finances. Distance learners in this course will be exposed to the keys of financial planning and how to become a wise financial consumer. Upon completion of this course, students will have the tools needed to think financially about investing in the future.
A free course called Scaling Operations: Linking Strategy and Execution is available at Northwestern University. Over the past thirty or forty years, operations strategy has played a substantially important role in an organization’s success. In this free online course, course instructors will equip distance learners with concepts and strategies to build operations that support a competitive edge allow professionals to create new and exciting opportunities in the marketplace. Scaling Operations: Linking Strategy and Execution is presented as a five-week course committed to making strategic decisions that are based on operational reality. Students can expect to spend two to four hours each week on class study. Distance learners will study how to build and critique the “operating system” of an organization to maximize value. The exercise involves tailoring the firm’s operational assets, competencies, and processes to a specific business strategy. Each week, the course explores case studies, engages in discussions, and examines realistic data. Thanks to the data-driven approach, students will implement learning directives directly into practice. By course’s end, an online student will be ready to build a relevant, actionable plan to scale a department or organization.
A free online course entitled Finance for Non-Financial Managers is available at Emory University. Students enrolled in this program will become familiar with understanding the language associated with finance and learn how to use analysis techniques and financial terms. Upon completion of this program, distance learners should also be proficient in understanding and assessing a company’s performance by studying its financial statements. The 100% online curriculum will also help a student recognize the vital connection between financial objectives and organizational strategy. Completion time for this class is approximately 16 hours, with two to three hours of exposure time over nine weeks. The program has been designed explicitly for finance students who want to grasp vital financial principles and assert them in a real-world context. Throughout the program window, the online student will work her way through a series of nine modules that progress from understanding basic financial principles to executing financial analysis and ratios to drive decisions.
The University of Michigan provides a free online course entitled Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills. Delivered as a 100% online experience, this course features a seven-week format. Students within the course can expect to commit approximately 75 minutes per week to study. This highly-accessible class features subtitle options in Spanish, Ukrainian, Russian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Chinese. As negotiation is such an essential part of everyone’s life, it is also a necessary key to success in business. Businesses close their doors every day because they cannot procure profitable contracts with other brands. Business professionals who learn the art of using negotiation skills can enjoy career advancement. Currently, Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills is one of the most popular and highest-rated MOOCs in the world. The course includes the four steps of successful negotiation, which include how to prepare, negotiate, close, and perform and evaluate. The course consists of short instructional videos and concludes with a negotiation exercise.
A free online course called Marketing Analytics: Products, Distributions, and Sales is currently available at the University of California-Berkley. UC-Berkeley’s marketing course includes instruction on how to apply advanced concepts like decision tree methodologies and conjoint analysis to product decisions. The important areas of understanding how to apply conjoint analysis to properly identify the product features that a consumer pool want most is made a top priority within this free course. Stephan Sorger, a renowned holder of leadership roles in product development and marketing at companies such as 3Com, Oracle, and NASA, presents the course content. Sorger has also instructed for over a decade at UC Berkeley Extension and has penned two widely accepted marketing textbooks. The four-week course will equip online students with the knowledge and skills necessary to immediately improve their productivity in the workplace.
Georgetown University offers a free online course called Global Business in Practice. The program creator’s goal is that, through the material, students will come to explicitly understand how globalization affects all countries regardless of their economic, political, or social situation. In the context of the material, countries endeavor to adapt their policies to new demands while companies employ strategies to acquire an increasingly globally integrated production infrastructure. The globalized world leads us to seek and develop relevant ways to undergo this process. Distance learners within this course will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of globalization through the lens of how it determines the necessary conditions for countries, companies, and people to benefit from it. The goal of the course is achieved when students come to explicitly understand that globalization affects all nations regardless of their political, social, and economic situation. Students enrolled in this program can expect a 30 week completion time with two to three hours of study time required each week.
The University of Virginia offers a free online course called Managerial Accounting Fundamentals. The four weeks of the study included in this course move from theme to theme each week. Week one of the course is entitled Managerial Accounting and Cost Behavior. Students will learn to differentiate between financial and managerial accounting. The next three weeks are known as Cost-Volume-Profit Analysis, Cost Allocation, and Relevant Costs and Benefits. Students will discuss the relationship between cost structure, volume, profit, and price. After becoming familiar with how to conduct cost-volume-profit analyses, online learners will be guided in a discussion of cost allocation and the different systems that are used between traditional and activity-based. The course concludes with a conversation on costs and benefits. Students completing the course will be proficient in understanding the financial impact of a given decision and able to determine a reasonable course of action. All course material for this free class is provided online.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers a free online course entitled What’s Your Big Idea? The course is a come one come all type of experience, which is sure to inspire creatives and pragmatic students who are either interested in solving the world’s biggest problems or creating a commercially viable product. Course content will include a time-tested toolbox of resources that can be applied to any ideas to ensure they will work in the real world. Distance learners interested in this creative course will want to set aside 15 hours to complete all class content. Program designers recommend that students commit two to three hours each week for this class. Subtitles for the class are offered in the English and Spanish languages. A quick look at the course syllabus reveals a different theme each week, including Think, Listen, Plan, Clarify, Support, and Iterate. The optional weeks of the content included in the syllabus include Peer Assessment and Reverse Pitches.
A free online course called Happier Employees and Return-on-Investment Course is provided at the University of Texas at Austin. Studies have shown that career success is related to happiness and vice versa. While most people believe that career success ultimately leads to happiness, reliable scientific evidence says that the reverse is also true: happiness results in career success. The class will explore the idea and give an explanation for why the top 20% of the nation’s happiest people earned 32% more in salary than the least happy 20%. This class takes just four weeks to complete with an expected time of only two to three hours each week. Author of If You’re Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy, Raj Raghunathan joins forces with world-renowned CEO coach and author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith to bring this course content to online learners. This introductory course requires no prerequisites.
New York University provides a free online course called Media Law. Many courses offered through a free online platform are introductory. Seminar creators strongly recommend students interested in this course first take Digital Media MicroMasters in a sequence that includes Creative Coding, Theories of Media and Technology, Media Law, and Integrated Digital Media Capstone. The Media Law advanced seminar explores in detail the practical and theoretical aspects of media-communications regulations and principles. Working knowledge of media law is imperative for business professionals. The free online course offers a full range of models that will be explored throughout the seminar. Models like Open Source public license and Digital Rights Management are included within the curriculum. Working definitions of Fair Use and the specific practical limits of sampling/mixing in different economic sectors and idioms also play a role in this seminar. Students within this course can expect a 14-week completion time and an expectation of eight to ten hours each week for content study.
The Strategy of Content Marketing is a free online course offered by the University of California-Davis. This class is the result of a partnership between UC Davis Extension and the nation’s leading content marketing authority, Copyblogger. Distance learners enrolled in this course will be exposed to the core strategies that content marketers use to capture and retain customers for profit. Specifically, students will learn how to understand, develop, organize, and execute a content marketing strategy. The course also includes steps used to analyze and measure the effectiveness of content marketing, how to write a compelling copy, the practice of using a strategic framework when writing, and how to build your professional brand and custom authority through content marketing. Going beyond mere theory and ideas, students will also learn how to put the ideas presented in the virtual classroom into action and build a personal brand through content marketing. The 100% online course should take approximately 17 hours to complete.
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The world of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) continues to expand on what seems like a daily basis. What started as a suspicious and maybe a too-good-to-be-true area of business and online education has continued to develop into a reputable source for information and training. Ivy League universities like Harvard and Yale feature a plethora of free online course content that is taught by distinguished members of their teaching staff.
Some Popular Specialization Topics for Free Online Business Courses
Since free online courses are a great idea for students wanting to be exposed to excellent content without the need for it to result in credits toward a degree or a formal certification, it is important to see what topics are the most popular in online business training. One of the most popular subjects currently offered within the MMOC realm is that of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is a hugely popular subject as everyone has a dream of being able to set off and build a successful brand or company. Shows like Shark Tank celebrate the trailblazing way in which entrepreneurs design products and then work to market them for financial success. Stories of some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett continue to inspire and motivate us to consider what riches and glory await those who set off for their destiny as an entrepreneur.
High risk and high reward go hand in hand. Entrepreneurship is a popular subject to consider because many people who consider cutting ties of a regular job with a consistent paycheck never make a move on their dreams. If the saying goes, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” the fear of what might happen if they fail keeps many potential entrepreneurs from moving forward to becoming one.
That is what makes taking a free course on entrepreneurship so attractive: there is much to gain in principles and tactics an entrepreneur should take without any loss of investment in paying for the class. Much like all free online courses, there is no drawback if tuition has not been paid for the instruction. While one may claim that the true cost when sitting in on a class is the time one spends, there is a fair certainty that within a class on entrepreneurship, solid ideas will be shared and nuggets of motivation will be offered to students.
Another solid theme many students are attracted to when considering a free online course in business, is marketing. Like entrepreneurship, a marketing course is creative in nature but also deals with time-tested principles that will help shape a marketer’s habits and education. Social media has changed the way we communicate with each other, and it has changed the way organizations advertise.
Why It Is Helpful to Keep Learning?
Once professionals in business complete a time-intensive degree like an undergraduate in business or an online MBA, there may be a temptation to take a break from the classroom and continuing education. The problem with taking a break from learning once you land the job is that your perspective does not have the advantage of staying abreast of new ideas and innovative trends in business and technology.
Leaders in business do not rest on their laurels. It is common knowledge that leaders must continue to stay learners. While the precise numbers vary based on sources, CEOs of all types of organizations have a reputation for being avid readers. Editorial journalist Kayla Heisler writes that the average CEO will read over sixty books a year. While Warren Buffett may read over 500 pages per day, getting into the practice of becoming a better reader is as easy as beginning with 10 to 15 minutes of reading each day and raising that time limit over weeks and months. Some favorite titles that seem to make business leaders’ list include The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing by Benjamin Graham, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky, The Road to Character by David Brooks, and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.
The Difference in Motivation Between Professional and Personal Gain
We often will have different motivators that keep us tuned into learning things. Maybe a friend recommends that you take up an interest in photography, archeology, or carpentry. Maybe it was your childhood dream to learn how to fly a plane or figure skate. Maybe you always intended to learn a different language, or even a computer language. Lifelong learning for personal gain enriches one’s life with the things that spark an insatiable curiosity. This happens not because one sees the financial or career benefit in it, but because he wants to know the how, what, and why of a subject. The subject may have personal significance, like learning about genealogy to understand your family roots, but it does not take enrollment in a formal degree program to develop personal interests.
A Lifelong learner can also strengthen and round out the needed professional skills in the world of business. Technical skills, like gaining an understanding of how to be proficient in programs like PowerPoint, Excel, or Java, are always needed in business. Many organizations offer free training in areas of technical and leadership development because trained employees are able to offer more to a company. Professionals should always check with office managers and HR reps to see if learning opportunities like classes, seminars, conferences, and expositions are available to workers and compensated by the company. Opportunities like those are usually strictly optional, but taking advantage of chances to grow professionally by acquiring a new skill may give an employee a professional edge.
No matter what motivates a business professional, the act of continuing to learn more, whether through personal study, taking free online business courses, or entering into a formal management degree like an online MBA will always pay off big in the end.