10+ easy ways to learn something new for FREE
Including languages, musical instruments, coding & more
Each year, many of us say we'll commit to a New Year's Resolution, and very often that's to learn a new skill. How many of us manage to stick to it? And why do we wait for January to roll round to work on ourselves?
Luckily there’s tons of free resources and tools online that can help you learn and develop new skills, from free courses, to YouTube tutorial videos and e-books. As we can’t possibly cover them all in a single blog post, I decided to ask around MSE Towers to find out what my MoneySaving colleagues have used themselves and how much it helped them. I hope it’ll inspire you…
Turns out there’s a few of my MSE colleagues that are trying to learn a new language. MSE Oli is currently using Duolingo (free on the App Store and Google Play) to learn Spanish in his spare time...
I wanted to expand my Spanish vocabulary beyond tapas, sangria and churros so I thought I’d give Duolingo a go – for a free app it’s excellent/excelente! Each lesson has a mix of learning methods, which keeps it fun and interesting. I use the app when I have a spare 15-20 mins, usually in the evening while I’m waiting for dinner to cook, or when I’m commuting on the train (you can temporarily turn off the sections where it gets you to speak the language aloud if you don’t want others to hear your dodgy accent).
You can also ‘compete’ with fellow users or friends which helps motivate you to carry on. I’m currently on a 19-day streak of using the app every day (having started just before the New Year) and will be looking forward to testing out how much I’ve learned on a trip to Spain later in the year.
Duolingo was also a hit with MSE Rebecca who used it to learn some Portuguese and Polish before a holiday, and she’s previously found the free Coffee Break Spanish podcast helpful too:
It's a free tutorial podcast for Spanish learners and it makes you repeat phrases out loud etc. I also used to teach English to a Spanish friend, and in return she helped me improve my Spanish, so that was essentially Spanish lessons for me for free.
Another popular tool is Busuu (also free on the App Store and Google Play). While it does offer a paid-for version, you can learn one language for free, either from a computer or from a mobile device. Similar to Duolingo, it offers bite-sized lessons that you can fit in when you have a few spare minutes.
Brush up on hair & beauty techniques 💄
YouTube and Instagram are great free resources for hair, make-up and other beauty tutorials. Personally, I’ve used YouTube to teach myself how to do ‘fishtail’ plaits in my hair and apply eyeshadow without looking like I’ve got a black eye.
With both you can easily search for, then subscribe to or follow, any hair/beauty influencers that grab your attention, and the more you follow the more recommendations you’ll receive for other channels/accounts sharing similar content. So you can constantly learn new techniques or find inspiration for new styles.
You might think it brave (I certainly do!) but MSE Rhiannon has even used YouTube to save money on haircuts and eyebrow threading…
At £5, getting my brows threaded wasn’t too bad, but when the price suddenly doubled to £10 I wasn’t sure I could justify it. I had a look for tutorials on YouTube and was shocked at how easy it was to learn – the same with cutting my own hair. So now, I save £10 every time I thread my brows and about £50 every time I cut my own hair. And if I mess up? It grows back, no problem!
Taking it a step further, MSE Rebecca has even been able to make money doing other people’s hair and make-up after learning for free online:
I’ve learned hair styling and make-up application techniques watching YouTube and Instagram tutorials, to the point where I now do it as a part-time job alongside working at MSE.
When I first moved to London a few years back, I found myself with a lot of spare time at the weekends, so decided to try and use it productively. I’d always been interested in learning the basics of coding, so decided to have a look online at what was available.
If you’d prefer to have a little more guidance or face-to-face teaching, Apple runs its own free in-store workshops on coding, music, photography etc, including some for children…
Apple do a bunch of free sessions on everything from how to use Apple devices to taking photos and even coding. My daughter loves them and has done lots of the coding ones. They’re genuinely great courses.
Pick up a musical instrument 🎸
One that I’m sure many of us have on our bucket lists/New Year’s resolutions is learning to play an instrument. While paid-for lessons may be important if you’re wanting to go through the grades, or want to reach proficiency quickly, there are many ways you can learn at your own pace for free.
It's something MSE Ant has been doing for years, using sites such as Ultimate Guitar and JustinGuitar.com to learn new chords then find songs he can play…
I’ve never had the money or inclination to pay for proper guitar lessons but have taught myself to a decent enough standard to strum and sing along to the songs I want to play using Ultimate Guitar (there’s a ‘premium’ service you can pay for, but most of the site is free). I use it almost every day to search for chords to whatever I feel like tackling next – recently it’s included The Beatles, Arctic Monkeys and Billie Eilish songs.
All the content’s uploaded by other users, so not everything’s perfectly notated, but the user ratings system helps you find the most accurate version of each song.
Of course, there are many other instruments that you can learn, and from a quick search I found there were tons of free tools out there to help. If you’re after sheet music, you can download it for free from sites such as 8notes.com, free-scores.com and more.
Did you know that there are places online for adults to gain industry-recognised certificates and qualifications? Two of the most popular are FutureLearn, which has free online short courses in a range of subjects from social media to history and Open University’s ‘Open Learn’ which has almost 1,000 totally free online courses.
MSE's Academy of Money
OpenLearn host’s ‘MSE’s Academy of Money’ - written by The Open University, with support and guidance from MSE, the course is made up of six two-hour sessions of study covering all the key aspects of personal finance, including spending, borrowing, mortgages, saving, investing and retirement.
The course, hosted on the OU’s OpenLearn platform, is totally flexible – students can study at their own pace, perhaps even choosing to complete just one topic to brush up. It is available to anyone wanting to improve their knowledge of personal finance for their own interest and financial capability, or, for those who work in the consumer help industries, it can provide some academic grounding to support their work.
MSE Luke T found it useful for expanding his personal finance knowledge before taking the job at MSE…
Open University is free to sign up and there are thousands of different courses you can complete. Courses I’d tried out in preparation for this job were the ‘Managing my money’ & ‘Managing my money for young adults’ ones.
Google your way to advanced search skills 🔍
If you’ve a website/blog of your own, or a job that involves using Google Analytics or search engine optimisation (SEO), you can earn ‘beginner’ and ‘advanced’ certificates for free using Google Analytics Academy – I’m proud to say I’ve personally done both in the last year (go me). Something similar, with more of an online marketing focus, is Google Garage which MSE Jules has used:
I went along to some of the free lectures and seminars, then a few weeks later decided to start the ‘Fundamentals of Digital Marketing’ online course. It’s a 40-hour course with 26 different modules and it includes a nice little certificate once you’ve passed - which went straight on my LinkedIn profile!
The course was great, and I found it really relaxed, because I could learn at my own pace, so I was able to fit this in around my full-time job. I’m always on the lookout for free courses, especially ones online because of the flexibility.
Boost your general knowledge 📚
Not all free learning has to be to teach yourself a new skill, you could just be looking to expand your general knowledge of things that come up in daily life. Whether it’s for impressing your friends and family or increasing your chances of a pub quiz win with the free website/app Memrise, like MSE Laura F:
As a frequent pub-quizzer with little-to-no fact retention, I found Memrise massively helpful. By using the website or app every few days, I managed to learn all my country capitals and US state capitals. Memrise is a community, and you can scroll through the pictures and comments that other users have left to help them memorise a fact.
Sporcle’s a great a way to procrastinate and test your quiz knowledge – I’ve spent many hours on there and absorbed all sorts of stuff I’d probably never have learnt otherwise. You can even create your own quizzes to test others if you fancy trying your hand at being quizmaster.
Get help with spelling/grammar or creative writing ✍️
There’s a number of free tools you can use to improve your writing and grammar skills. If like MSE Becky you use Google Chrome to browse the web, you might find the free Grammarly tool becomes your new best friend…
Something I’ve been using lately is a web chrome extension called ‘Grammarly’. It’s completely free, and only takes a few seconds to install onto your browser. The way it works is it’s an automated grammar checker that will highlight any spelling, grammar or punctuation errors you’ve used within your emails, social media or documents. It’s really helped me to improve my sentence structuring and become a better writer overall.
If you’re looking for something more specific, such as creative writing and playwriting, MSE Laura F recommends poet Tim Clare’s Couch to 80k free podcast and the National Theatre’s free podcast too…
I'm a big fan of receiving learning straight into my ear canals. Podcasts let you learn stuff while you're commuting, which makes me feel very productive. Tim Clare's 'Couch to 80k Boot Camp' delivers an eight-week fiction writing course spread over 48 episodes.
Fitness tips and 'gym-spiration' 🏋️
Paying for a personal trainer or attending gym classes can be pricey, but there are lots of ways you can do workouts at home or build your own exercise plans for free – for starters see our earlier blogs on Free fitness videos & apps and Free outdoor gyms.
I’ve been going to the gym for a few years now and started off by going to classes, which are great for getting to grips with the basics and having an instructor correct your form. However, I decided to move more into weights and while I knew how to properly perform each move, I was struggling to plan my workouts in advance and know what I wanted to do once I got to the gym. A friend recommended I follow a few personal trainers on Instagram and YouTube to get ideas.
I started doing this and began to bookmark workouts on Instagram into sections depending on what muscle groups they targeted. I then found it much easier to plan my workouts, but also easily access and watch the videos while I’m in the gym, so that I can check my form is correct.
Of course, if you’re exercising or doing yoga etc, it’s important to make sure that you’re doing the movement properly and not going to injure yourself. But if you feel safe and comfortable with the basics, you can use free online resources to expand.
Rustle up new cooking and baking skills 🍳
I could spend hours watching online cooking and baking videos, and luckily the internet is full of them. A few of my favourite culinary resources include Buzzfeed Tasty, BBC Good Food and Tesco recipes. The short and snappy videos from Tasty in particular are great for quickly seeing meals being prepared and getting inspiration, but BBC Good Food and Tesco recipes are great for the comments section where you can get tips/advice to learn how to adapt and improve the recipes from other users.
A few other useful links...
If you want to learn something but aren’t sure where to start, there are many websites where you can browse through free courses and content. Here are some we’ve found useful at MSE Towers:
- Skill Share free classes – online community with thousands of free classes, mainly creative topics but also covering analytics, management, and lifestyle topics.
- Reed free courses – jobs and recruitment site Reed has a section on its website where you can search for free courses. These include both online and classroom-based courses.
- Eventbrite free events and courses – Eventbrite is a website you can use to set up events and it features many free events and courses from a wide range of categories.
- Meetup.com – Meetup is a website you can use to find and build communities to meet new people, learn new skills and find support. You can enter your location and then browse through the events taking place near you.
- TED Talks – TED is a non-profit community where people share their ideas and knowledge usually via a short talk. There are tons of free videos of talks available to watch online across a wide range of topics.
- EdX - website that hosts lots of free courses by prestigious institutions such as Harvard, MIT, etc.
So that’s how a few of us around MSE Towers have used free resources to learn skills and self-improve. Obviously there’s millions of resources available, so do let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @MSE_Deals.