14 FREE ways to learn something new

14 FREE ways to learn something new

Including languages, piano, Open University courses & 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 or broaden our knowledge – so we've rounded-up some free ways to learn something new.

There are tons of free online and app-based resources that can help you learn and develop new skills in a fun way, from free courses, to tutorials and quizzes – and all can be done from the comfort of home.

Of course, we can't cover everything, so we've picked some favourites below including:

Learn a new language at your own pace

Whether you want to learn a whole new language or just see how much you can remember from your French tests at school, here are some suggestions for how you can pick up a second (or third, fourth) language for free.

A favourite with MoneySavers is Duolingo (also available as an app for Android / iOS / Windows). You can learn 35+ languages such as Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Greek. For Game of Thrones fans, there's even High Valyrian, and Trekkies can brush up on their Klingon.

Each bite-size lesson has a mix of learning methods, and you can generally complete a lesson in under 10 minutes. You can also ‘compete’ with fellow users or friends which helps motivate you to carry on.

There is a paid-for version of the app which gives a few added features, but it's not necessary and you can do an entire course for free.

If you want to expand your Spanish vocabulary beyond tapas, sangria and churros, MSE Rebecca found the free Coffee Break Spanish podcast helpful:

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). You can learn one of 12 languages for free such as French, German, Chinese, Turkish and Arabic. Similar to Duolingo, it offers bite-sized lessons that you can fit in when you have a few spare minutes.

Gain free qualifications such as Open University courses including MSE's Academy of Money

Adults can gain industry-recognised certificates and qualifications for free online, from resources such as Open University ‘Open Learn’, for example.  

MSE's Academy of Money

Open Learn hosts ‘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 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.

More Open University courses

Open Learn has almost 1,000 totally free online courses. Former MSE Luke T found it useful for expanding his personal finance knowledge:

Open University is free to sign up and there are thousands of different courses you can complete. Courses I tried out in preparation for this job were the ‘Managing my money’ & ‘Managing my money for young adults’ ones.

MoneySaver Beverley let us know that after reading this guide, she's started a meteorology course on watching the weather...

Thank you!!! I'm currently doing a free Open University course on the weather! Really enjoying it and can do it at my own pace! x

We've written before about FutureLearn, which has free online short courses covering a range of modern and classic subjects from social media to history. MoneySaver Della reckons there's a course for everyone:

Crack the basics of coding in HTML, Javascript & more

There are a few sites that offer free online coding courses, including Codecademy and General Assembly. Both have an option to upgrade to a ‘pro’ version that costs money, but you can learn the basics for free.

MSE Laura decided to use General Assembly’s Dash free online course, which teaches the basics of HTML, CSS and Javascript. She found the online course really engaging and easy to follow, and there’s even a Facebook Community where you can get help from others if you get stuck.

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Play a musical instrument, including free Casio Music piano lessons

Have you been wanting to learn to play an instrument? Well now sounds like a good time.

If you fancy giving guitar playing a go, then while paid-for lessons may be important if you’re wanting to go through the grades, or want to reach proficiency quickly  and you may be able to get these lessons online such as over Skype  there are also many ways you can learn at your own pace for free.

It's something Former 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 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 most days to search for chords to whatever I feel like tackling next – recently The Beatles, Arctic Monkeys and Billie Eilish songs. The content’s uploaded by other users, so not everything’s perfectly notated, but the user ratings system helps you find the most accurate versions.

If you'd like to learn to play the piano, musical instrument producer Casio Music UK offers free previously-recorded virtual piano and keyboard lessons online via its Facebook page. The videos are available to watch back at any time.

The lessons are about 30-minutes long and are aimed at new learners and people of all ages. Here are the first few lessons to get you started:

🎹 Lesson one 🎹 Lesson two 🎹 Lesson three

Of course, there are many other instruments that you can learn, and from a quick search we found there were loads 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.

Brush up on hair & beauty techniques

Video hosting site YouTube and social media platform Instagram are great free resources for hair, make-up and other beauty tutorials.

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.

MSE Laura B has used YouTube to teach herself how to do ‘fishtail’ plaits and apply eyeshadow without looking like she's got a black eye.

You might think it brave (we certainly do!) but MSE Rhiannon has even used YouTube to save money on eyebrow threading:

I had a look for tutorials on YouTube and was shocked at how easy it was to learn eyebrow threading – the same with cutting my own hair.

So now, I'm saving £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!

If you fancy a bit of pampering without having to leave the house, MSE Guy's wife, Sarah – who runs a beauty business  shows you step-by-step how to give yourself an at-home facial massage in her YouTube video below:

The video was originally uploaded during the first coronavirus lockdown in 2020, but the tips in this video will still apply, meaning you can always self-pamper at home for free.

Ever thought of cutting your own hair? For tips, including dos and don'ts from the MSE team and other MoneySavers, see the DIY haircut tips guide we published during the first national lockdown.

Learn to draw 40+ Disney characters from Disney animators

Do you want to draw a snowman? Well, Disney animators will show you how to create Olaf, Elsa and other Frozen favourites as well as 40 more Disney characters from famous animations such as The Lion King, Toy Story, and Snow White, and of course Mickey, Goofy, Donald and the gang.

Check out the official Disney Parks YouTube Channel to watch the video tutorials with Disney animators  they range from five to 30 minutes. It could be fun to try with family or friends and compare each other's drawings.

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Read or listen to key ideas from books covering career & success, psychology, politics & more

Blinkist is a learning app which summarises key ideas from non-fiction publications in text or audio. It's normally a subscription service, but it offers one title for free each day via its Blinkist Free Daily site, with no sign up required. Or, you can sign up for a free seven-day trial to get access to over 5,000 learning titles.

Important: After your free trial ends, you'll be automatically enrolled into a paid subscription at £3.99 a month, unless you cancel. Blinkist says it'll send a reminder email on day five of your free trial, reminding you it's ending.

Some of the subjects previously covered include a practical guide for entrepreneurs, minimalism, habits of highly effective people, and intuition or deliberation. It can be good if you're curious to learn about new ideas but don't have the time or inclination to read a whole book, as summaries are often 15 minutes or less.

Scope out space & constellations with the Star Walk app

Space is astronomical in every sense of the word, and if you ever look up at the night sky and wonder, 'Is that a star? A planet? A plane?' then this is an app you can learn from.

The Star Walk 2 app is free for iOS (works best on an iPad) and Android. Just point your phone at the sky and you'll get a real-time map of stars and constellations.

As well as stargazing, you can learn a lot about the solar system, comets, asteroids, spacecraft and nebulas, and identify their position on the map of the sky.

Revisit history with free virtual museum tours

Visiting museums around the globe won't have been possible for many over the last couple of years, but you can still get your fix of historical and cultural knowledge from your sofa. Some of the most famous museums in the world offer free online tours where you can take a virtual 'walk' around the exhibits, as if you were actually there.

Below are a few of the top tours  for a bigger list and many more virtual tours and experiences, see MSE Oli's Free virtual globe-trotting guide.

London's British Museum covers the history of cultures across the world. You can take a virtual walk through the museum at Google Arts & Culture, or take a look at this interactive timeline dating back to 2,000,000 BC, where you can select various artefacts that are housed in the museum and learn more about them through images, text and audio.

The National Palace Museum in Taiwan has a collection of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artefacts and artwork. Its virtual tour allows you to read and listen to in-depth descriptions of anything that piques your interest during various guided tour routes.

Some of the exhibits at The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC include the ecology of African elephants, the skeleton of a massive sea turtle, human evolution, and of course dinosaurs.

Boost your general knowledge

If you're looking to expand your general knowledge or impress others, Former MSE Ant reckons trivia website Sporcle, which has a plethora of quizzes, should help:

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.

Here are a couple of trivia titbits we'll give you for free. Did you know...

  • No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver or purple.
  • Mel Blanc, the person who voiced Bugs Bunny, disliked carrots  fun fact.

Rustle up new cooking & baking skills

You might look inside your kitchen cupboards and feel like you're on an episode of Ready, Steady, Cook, but fortunately the internet is full of cooking and baking advice to give you some inspiration.

A few of MSE Laura's 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 good for the comments section where you can get tips/advice to learn how to adapt and improve the recipes from other users. 

Get help with spelling, grammar or creative writing

There are free tools you can use to improve your writing and grammar skills. If like Former MSE Becky, you use Google Chrome to browse the web, you might find the free Grammarly tool becomes your new best friend:

The Google Chrome extension ‘Grammarly’ is 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.

Google your way to advanced search skills

If you’ve a website or 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

Something similar, with more of an online marketing focus, is Google Garage, which MSE Jules has used:

I chose to do 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.

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:

  • 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 online courses.
  • 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.

Which free resources have you used to learn something new? Let us know on Twitter @MSE_Deals.