If we think of “computer science” as an umbrella term for so many aspects of computing today, its importance is immediately apparent. Artificial intelligence (and the programming that lies behind it) falls into the computer science category. The same goes for machine learning, data science, networking, cybersecurity, and so many other elements of what make modern computing technology tick.
You need a solid grounding in computer science – both general concepts and theory – to move into one of these areas of specialization. And if you need to get that grounding on a budget, these free computer science courses teach you what you need to know and come with a handy certification.
Top Free Certified Computer Science Online Courses
As surprising as it may seem, you don’t have to pay money to get an education in computer science that employers actually care about. Free courses exist. And many of these free online computer science courses deliver a certification that proves your knowledge and comes from an institution that employers respect.
Course 1 – CS50: Introduction to Computer Science (Harvard University)
We’re stretching the definition of “free and certified” with the first course on the list. Though it’s free to take (and you get an audit of your performance without paying a penny), the verified certification for Harvard’s CS50 course costs $189 (approx. €175).
Assuming you’re willing to part with the cash, this course gives you a certificate from one of the United States’ most respected institutions, in addition to a crash course in computer science fundamentals. Over 11 weeks of self-paced learning (you’ll need to commit at least 10 hours per week to the course) you’ll develop a fundamental understanding of computer science and the programming that underpins it.
Course 2 – CS50’s Computer Science for Business Professionals (Harvard University)
It’s hard to look beyond Harvard when it comes to free computer science courses because you’re getting education and certification from a top university. With CS50 Computer Science for Business Professionals, Harvard moves beyond the tech-centric approach of its usual CS50 course to demonstrate how computer science principles apply in a real-world setting.
It’s a short course, clocking in at six weeks of study and only requiring two-to-six hours of work per week. That makes it perfect for professionals who want to boost their knowledge without a full-time commitment. You’ll tackle more high-level concepts in computer science, including the fundamentals of cloud computing and how to build technology stacks. All of which makes this like a speed run through of what you need to know about computing on a business level.
That’s not to say you won’t learn any technical theory. Several programming languages are covered (albeit in short-form style), as are the basics of computational thinking. But like CS50 above, certification comes at a cost, even if the course itself is free. Paying for an optional upgrade with EDX (through which the course is offered) is the only way to nab your certificate, if you do get a free course audit to demonstrate completion regardless.
Course 3 – Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Offered in conjunction with the EDX platform, this computer science online course takes a Python-focused approach to its teaching. Unlike CS50, which covers a wide range of topics in brief, MIT’s course focuses on how computer science is like a tool that you can use to create software and algorithms. Python 3.5 is the technology behind that tool and you’ll learn how to use it by examining and analyzing real-world problems.
The nine-week course starts by demonstrating the basics of Python (some self-learning and expansion of these concepts may be required) before moving into algorithms. Once you’ve gotten to grips with basic algorithm creation, you’ll learn how to test what you create and how those algorithms become the building blocks of complex data structures.
You have to make a substantial time commitment with this course, with MIT requiring you to spend at least 14 hours per week on your studies if you wish to stick to the nine-week schedule. And though effective in teaching you the basics of Python, the course is really a primer for a second MIT course – Introduction to Computational Thinking and Data Science – that requires payment. But it’s a useful course as a standalone product, but you’ll have to pay a fee to EDX if you want a course-centric certificate.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Free Certified Computer Science Online Course
The trio of free online computer science courses discussed above each offer something different. Depending on your choice, you’ll get a bottom-up crash course in the theory, a practical understanding of how computer science works in a business context, or an in-depth guide to using Python. But when choosing between the three courses above (or any other courses you find) you must consider the following factors.
The Course Content and Its Relevance to Your Goals
The big question here is – what do you want to achieve with the course?
Sure, having a certificate, especially one with a major university’s name on it, is nice. But if that certificate demonstrates that you’ve learned skills that you don’t need for your intended career path then it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.
Think of choosing a course like making an investment on which you expect a return. Outline your goals – both learning-centric and career-based – for taking the course. Then, find a course that helps you to reach those goals through laser-focused learning on topics you’ll use in the future.
Course Duration and Flexibility
For a young learner without full-time work or family commitments, taking on a computer science online course that requires months of study may not be a big deal. But that’s not the case for everybody. If you have limited hours available during the week, you need a course that you can fit into those hours rather than one that forces you to fit your life around the course.
Thankfully, most free online computer science courses make allowances for schedule flexibility by taking a self-paced learning approach. You’ll get access to all of the course resources upfront, allowing you to choose when you study. You may be able to get ahead during one week in preparation for a week where you know you can’t commit as much time, giving you the flexibility you need to fit the course into your schedule.
The Instructors and Their Expertise
Would you want to learn the theory of how to pilot a plane from somebody who’s never been up in the air? Of course you wouldn’t, and you must adopt the same attitude when choosing a computer science course.
Check the faculty list associated with the course (most reputable courses tell you who created them) and dig into their individual credentials. What have they done in the computer science industry? Where did they learn what they know? The answers to these questions tell you if your instructors and, by extension, your course are credible.
The Value of the Certification
When it comes to certification, look beyond the website that offers the course and instead focus on the institution that created it. For example, CS50’s Computer Science for Business Professionals is offered via the EDX platform, which doesn’t mean much to potential employers. But that certificate comes with a stamp of approval from Harvard University, which is a school that’s going to immediately raise eyebrows if it’s on your CV.
The point is that reputation matters, though it’s the reputation of the course creator that matters above that of the course platform. The more prestigious the name on the piece of paper, the more valuable the certificate is in the eyes of employers.
Tips for Successfully Completing a Free Certified Computer Science Online Course
With the tips for sifting through the sands of free computer science courses established, let’s round things off with some quick tips that’ll help you succeed in your studies:
- Set clear goals for your education from the outset, with those goals aligning with your current experience level and desired outcomes.
- Create a study schedule that fits around your commitments and stick to it as closely as you can.
- Don’t skip assignments or practical sessions because everything included in the course is there to teach you something valuable.
- Engage with the course community both to get advice from your peers and to potentially create networking opportunities.
- Dedicate time to revision and research when preparing for exams or practical assessments to ensure you fully understand the course content.
Get Certified for Free and Improve Your Job Prospects
Given the importance of computer science to modern business – even the simplest of companies use software and have networks – it’s reasonable to want to build your knowledge of the subject. Free online computer science courses allow you to do that in exchange for a time commitment, with many allowing you to inject some flexibility into your study schedule.
Explore the three courses highlighted here, and look beyond them to more specialized courses once you’re confident in the foundational knowledge you’ve built. And remember – even a certificate from a free course has value in the job market if that course was created by a recognized institution.
Soon, we will be launching four new Degrees for AY24-25 at OPIT – Open Institute of Technology
I want to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Product Definition process that has shaped these upcoming programs.
🚀 Phase 1: Discovery (Late May – End of July)
Our journey began with intensive brainstorming sessions with OPIT’s Academic Board (Francesco Profumo, Lorenzo Livi, Alexiei Dingli, Andrea Pescino, Rosario Maccarrone) . We also conducted 50+ interviews with tech and digital entrepreneurs (both from startups and established firms), academics and students. Finally, we deep-dived into the “Future of Jobs 2023” report by the World Economic Forum and other valuable research.
🔍 Phase 2: Selection – Crafting Our Roadmap (July – August)
Our focus? Introducing new degrees addressing critical workforce shortages and upskilling/reskilling needs for the next 5-10 years, promising significant societal impact and a broad market reach.
Our decision? To channel our energies on full BScs and MScs, and steer away from shorter courses or corporate-focused offerings. This aligns perfectly with our core mission.
💡 Focus Areas Unveiled!
We’re thrilled to concentrate on pivotal fields like:
- Advanced AI
- Digital Business
- Metaverse & Gaming
- Cloud Computing (less “glamorous”, but market demand is undeniable).
🎓 Phase 3: Definition – Shaping the Degrees (August – November)
With an expert in each of the above fields, and with the strong collaboration of our Academic Director, Prof. Lorenzo Livi , we embarked on a rigorous “drill-down process”. Our goal? To meld modern theoretical knowledge with cutting-edge competencies and skills. This phase included interviewing over 60+ top academics, industry professionals, and students and get valuable, program-specific, insights from our Marketing department.
🌟 Phase 4: Accreditation and Launch – The Final Stretch
We’re currently in the accreditation process, gearing up for the launch. The focus is now shifting towards marketing, working closely with Greta Maiocchi and her Marketing and Admissions team. Together, we’re translating our new academic offering into a compelling value proposition for the market.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Far from being a temporary educational measure that came into its own during the pandemic, online education is providing students from all over the world with new ways to learn. That’s proven by statistics from Oxford Learning College, which point out that over 100 million students are now enrolled in some form of online course.
The demand for these types of courses clearly exists.
In fact, the same organization indicates that educational facilities that introduce online learning see a 42% increase in income – on average – suggesting that the demand is there.
Enter the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT).
Delivering three online courses – a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and two Master’s degrees – with more to come, OPIT is positioning itself as a leader in the online education space. But why is that? After all, many institutions are making the jump to e-learning, so what separates OPIT from the pack?
Here, you’ll discover the answers as you delve into the five reasons why you should trust OPIT for your online education.
Reason 1 – A Practical Approach
OPIT focuses on computer science education – a field in which theory often dominates the educational landscape. The organization’s Rector, Professor Francesco Profumo, makes this clear in a press release from June 2023. He points to a misalignment between what educators are teaching computer science students and what the labor market actually needs from those students as a key problem.
“The starting point is the awareness of the misalignment,” he says when talking about how OPIT structures its online courses. “That so-called mismatch is generated by too much theory and too little practical approach.” In other words, students in many classes spend far too much time learning the “hows” and “whys” behind computerized systems without actually getting their hands dirty with real work that gives them practical experience in using those systems.
OPIT takes a different approach.
It has developed a didactic approach that focuses far more on the practical element than other courses. That approach is delivered through a combination of classroom sessions – such as live lessons and masterclasses – and practical work offered through quizzes and exercises that mimic real-world situations.
An OPIT student doesn’t simply learn how computers work. They put their skills into practice through direct programming and application, equipping them with skills that are extremely attractive to major employers in the tech field and beyond.
Reason 2 – Flexibility Combined With Support
Flexibility in how you study is one of the main benefits of any online course.
You control when you learn and how you do it, creating an environment that’s beneficial to your education rather than being forced into a classroom setting with which you may not feel comfortable. This is hardly new ground. Any online educational platform can claim that it offers “flexibility” simply because it provides courses via the web.
Where OPIT differs is that it combines that flexibility with unparalleled support bolstered by the experiences of teachers employed from all over the world. The founder and director of OPIT, Riccardo Ocleppo, sheds more light on this difference in approach when he says, “We believe that education, even if it takes place physically at a distance, must guarantee closeness on all other aspects.” That closeness starts with the support offered to students throughout their entire study period.
Tutors are accessible to students at all times. Plus, every participant benefits from weekly professor interactions, ensuring they aren’t left feeling stuck on an educational “island” and have to rely solely on themselves for their education. OPIT further counters the potential isolation that comes with online learning with a Student Support team to guide students through any difficulties they may have with their courses.
In this focus on support, OPIT showcases one of its main differences from other online platforms.
You don’t simply receive course material before being told to “get on with it.” You have the flexibility to learn at your own pace while also having a support structure that serves as a foundation for that learning.
Reason 3 – OPIT Can Adapt to Change Quickly
The field of computer science is constantly evolving.
In the 2020s alone, we’ve seen the rise of generative AI – spurred on by the explosive success of services like ChatGPT – and how those new technologies have changed the way that people use computers.
Riccardo Ocleppo has seen the impact that these constant evolutions have had on students. Before founding OPIT, he was an entrepreneur who received first-hand experience of the fact that many traditional educational institutions struggle to adapt to change.
“Traditional educational institutions are very slow to adapt to this wave of new technologies and trends within the educational sector,” he says. He points to computer science as a particular issue, highlighting the example of a board in Italy of which he is a member. That board – packed with some of the country’s most prestigious tech universities – spent three years eventually deciding to add just two modules on new and emerging technologies to their study programs.
That left Ocleppo feeling frustrated.
When he founded OPIT, he did so intending to make it an adaptable institution in which courses were informed by what the industry needs. Every member of its faculty is not only a superb teacher but also somebody with experience working in industry. Speaking of industry, OPIT collaborates with major companies in the tech field to ensure its courses deliver the skills that those organizations expect from new candidates.
This confronts frustration on both sides. For companies, an OPIT graduate is one for which they don’t need to bridge a “skill gap” between what they’ve learned and what the company needs. For you, as a student, it means that you’re developing skills that make you a more desirable prospect once you have your degree.
Reason 4 – OPIT Delivers Tier One Education
Despite their popularity, online courses can still carry a stigma of not being “legitimate” in the face of more traditional degrees. Ocleppo is acutely aware of this fact, which is why he’s quick to point out that OPIT always aims to deliver a Tier One education in the computer science field.
“That means putting together the best professors who create superb learning material, all brought together with a teaching methodology that leverages the advancements made in online teaching,” he says.
OPIT’s degrees are all accredited by the European Union to support this approach, ensuring they carry as much weight as any other European degree. It’s accredited by both the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the Malta Qualification Framework (MQF), with all of its courses having full legal value throughout Europe.
It’s also here where we see OPIT’s approach to practicality come into play via its course structuring.
Take its Bachelor’s degree in computer science as an example.
Yes, that course starts with a focus on theoretical and foundational knowledge. Building a computer and understanding how the device processes instructions is vital information from a programming perspective. But once those foundations are in place, OPIT delivers on its promises of covering the most current topics in the field.
Machine learning, cloud computing, data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity – all valuable to employers – are taught at the undergraduate level. Students benefit from a broader approach to computer science than most institutions are capable of, rather than bogging them down in theory that serves little practical purpose.
Reason 5 – The Learning Experience
Let’s wrap up by honing in on what it’s actually like for students to learn with OPIT.
After all, as Ocleppo points out, one of the main challenges with online education is that students rarely have defined checkpoints to follow. They can start feeling lost in the process, confronted with a metaphorical ocean of information they need to learn, all in service of one big exam at the end.
Alternatively, some students may feel the temptation to not work through the materials thoroughly, focusing instead on passing a final exam. The result is that those students may pass, but they do so without a full grasp of what they’ve learned – a nightmare for employers who already have skill gaps to handle.
OPIT confronts both challenges by focusing on a continuous learning methodology. Assessments – primarily practical – take place throughout the course, serving as much-needed checkpoints for evaluating progress. When combined with the previously mentioned support that OPIT offers, this approach has led to courses that are created from scratch in service of the student’s actual needs.
Choose OPIT for Your Computer Science Education
At OPIT, the focus lies as much on helping students to achieve their dream careers as it does on teaching them. All courses are built collaboratively. With a dedicated faculty combined with major industry players, such as Google and Microsoft, it delivers materials that bridge the skill gap seen in the computer science field today.
There’s also more to come.
Beyond the three degrees OPIT offers, the institution plans to add more. Game development, data science, and cloud computing, to name a few, will receive dedicated degrees in the coming months, accentuating OPIT’s dedication to adapting to the continuous evolution of the computer science industry. Discover OPIT today – your journey into computing starts with the best online education institution available.