Are FutureLearn Courses Free? Detailing My 1st-Hand Experiences

Recently I’ve been taking FutureLearn courses and documenting the process of enrolling, working through and finishing the courses here on this website and YouTube channel [ youtube.com].

For me, this has been one of the easier platforms to use completely for free to learn new skills and to earn free certificates.

Some of the other 16 platforms I’m using and reviewing are pay-walled with no way to preview the full experience without purchasing a course or buying a subscription upfront. FutureLearn is the opposite of that and offers the majority of it’s courses for free, but what does “free” really mean?

How many free courses and how free are those courses really? In this article, I definitively answer the question: are FutureLearn courses free?

It seems like a simple enough question to answer, but there are a few things to keep in mind which we’ll explore in depth below.


FutureLearn Course Type Number of Courses
Free with a free Digital Upgrade 69
Free to take, but Digital Upgrade costs extra (fully unlocked with Unlimited) 538
Premium (Paid only) 15
Note: I collected this data on June 5th, 2020. FutureLearn is constantly changing the free Digital Upgrade offers, so click here to see the current free offers [ futurelearn.com].

All FutureLearn Short Courses Are Free To Take
Yes, all FutureLearn short courses are free to take, but only courses that come with a “Free Digital Upgrade” provide a free certificate or access to all course materials.
Courses With a Free Digital Upgrade Are Fully Unlocked
11% of FutureLearn’s courses are currently free to take with a free Digital Upgrade that includes the full interactive resources and exams as well as the ability to earn a free certificate.

Here is a link to FutureLearn that only shows free courses with a Free Digital Upgrade [ futurelearn.com].

Here are the different types of free and paid learning paths on FutureLearn:

  • FutureLearn Short Courses with a Free Digital Upgrade offer the full course, all study material and a certificate of completion for free.
  • All FutureLearn Short Courses are free to take, but have an optional upgrade if you want a certificate and full interactive study materials.
  • FutureLearn Premium courses cost money.
  • FutureLearn Unlimited gives you full access to all courses.
  • FutureLearn Programs and Microcredentials cost money and are not included in Unlimited.
  • Using FutureLearn to earn your college degree has tuition fees and is also not included in Unlimited.

Are FutureLearn Courses Free?

  • All FutureLearn short courses are free to take.
  • Courses with a free digital upgrade also come with a free certificate and free interactive exercises.
  • You can finish a course for free now and purchase the digital upgrade later to get your certificate and interactive tools.
  • Free courses with a digital upgrade can be put on resumes, while free courses without the digital upgrade are only good for learning new skills.
  • To recap: all FutureLearn courses are free to take, but courses with a free digital upgrade come with additional perks.

What Are FutureLearn Free Digital Upgrades?

Like I said, all FutureLearn short courses are free to take, which means you can learn new skills for free. However, there is no way for someone to double-check that you’ve completed a course unless you use a Digital Upgrade which gives you a PDF certificate of completion as well as a link that others can click to verify your certification status with FutureLearn.

Normally, Digital Upgrades are purchased for $44 USD or more, but at times FutureLearn gives them away for free for certain courses. I’ve made this link to FutureLearn which only displays the current free Digital Upgrade courses [ futurelearn.com].

Most FutureLearn Courses Are Free to Take

Alright, the data shows that most FutureLearn courses are free to take, with 1 in 10 courses coming with a free Digital Upgrade making them completely free and 2% of the courses being paid only.

This goes beyond what a typical free trial would give you, since the courses with a free Digital Upgrade give you the full experience that you can expect from their paid offerings.

In this table I’ve outlined each price/product category:

Cost Description
FREE Any course that comes with a free Digital Upgrade is fully unlocked and completely free in every way. Some programs (series of courses) are also included.
$24+ Premium only courses. While there are not a lot of these courses, these premium only offerings need to be mentioned.
$44+ The large majority of FutureLearn’s content is free to take, but if you want access to the full tool set and certification then you need to purchase the Digital Upgrade.
$90+ Professional accreditation programs from $48 + £39. This series of courses work towards earning you a professionally accredited certification.
$249.99 USD per year The FutureLearn Unlimited subscription gives you a Digital Upgrade for all FutureLearn “free-to-take” courses.
$327+ Academic accreditation programs from $327. This series of courses work towards earning you an academically accredited certification.
$579+ Microcredentials from $579. These are series of courses that together form a microcredential
Thousands of dollars+ FutureLearn has also partnered with some accredited Universities to provide full college degree programs. The tuition for these multi-year programs is the most expensive type of courses that FutureLearn offers.

How to Verify FutureLearn Certificates

Since I have completed certificates from FutureLearn, I have been issued links that I can give out, put on LinkedIn, or embed into web pages that verifies I have the certificates I claim to have. When you earn certificates on FutureLearn you will also be issued links which you can share on LinkedIn or elsewhere.

For example, if you click on this image of my certificate it will open FutureLearn.com and verify that I have been awarded this certificate:

What is FutureLearn Unlimited?

FutureLearn Unlimited is a subscription service that gives you Digital Upgrades to the entire catalog of FutureLearn courses.

To see a full list of the courses included in the Unlimited subscription, click this link. [ futurelearn.com]

Is It Even Worth Taking Free Courses Without a Certificate?

While FutureLearn does provide free certificates of completion for some of their courses, the majority of free courses do not come with a free certificate, which must be purchased separately. The question then becomes, is it even worth taking the free course if you can’t prove you passed it and can’t put it on your resume or CV?

Well, if your goal is to learn a new skill or gain new knowledge, then free FutureLearn courses will help you with that, even if without a free certificate.

One way to look at the free courses is as a way to see if FutureLearn is right for you. The fact that you can enroll in so many courses for free, means you can try out the platform without even entering in any payment information.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you learn the skill successfully from FutureLearn, and later want to get the certificate, all you need to do is pay for the upgrade and then pass the final exam. You can take the courses now, learn the skills and knowledge you need, and then purchase the Digital Upgrade later if you need the certification.

If you’re looking to get a better job and are thinking about FutureLearn as a platform to develop those skills, the best way to see if the career path and FutureLearn are a good fit, is to jump into one of their free courses now and find out for yourself.

In my opinion, there is nothing to risk and everything to gain, but thankfully my opinion doesn’t matter. Your opinion is what counts and there is nothing stopping you from trying the full power of FutureLearn for free, so that you can form your own opinion from direct experience.

Our Review of the Website Overall

4.1 out of 5. I love FutureLearn and recommend it for a lot of learners. Here is my condensed review of the website itself:
Feature
FutureLearn
Number of Courses 700+
Available Ways to PurchasePer Course, Subscription
Ability to Purchase Courses Individually YES!
Lowest Priced Courses $0.00
Ability to Purchase a Subscription to Multiple Courses as an Individual YES!
Subscription Details$249.99 per year (600+ courses included)
Business Plans that can be Purchased Online (Without Contacting a Sales Rep)
Starting Prices for Business Plans*Must discuss w/ sales rep
Free Trial Offer Most courses are FREE, pay for the certificate
Moneyback GuaranteeNone
Only Allows Accredited Teachers to Create Courses
Learning Using Videos YES!
Interactive Tasks YES!
Testing & Exams YES!
Earn Certificates YES!
Earn Accredited Degrees YES!
Information Technology Courses YES!
Programming & Coding Courses YES!
Creativity & Design Courses YES!
Business Courses YES!
Marketing Courses YES!
Media Courses YES!
Music & Audio Courses YES!
Data Science Courses YES!
Personal Development Courses YES!
Course Quality Review 9.0
Course Selection Review 8.0
MOOC Platform Review 9.0
MOOC User Experience Review 9.0
Value Proposition Review 7.0
Overall Review 8.2
Visit the Website

Is There More Besides Courses That Are Free From FutureLearn?

So far we’ve established that most FutureLearn courses are free to take, and that about 10% of their courses are completely free and fully unlocked.

While that does answer the question whether or not FutureLearn offers free courses, it doesn’t answer whether or not they offer other free resources other than courses.

FutureLearn has a focus on three main things:

  • Online courses
  • Microcredentials and programs
  • Online degrees

So we know that yes, online courses from FutureLearn are free, but what about Microcredentials and programs?

While most of the programs and microcredentials are free to take, just like other FutureLearn courses, they require a Digital Upgrade to get full access and certification. However, there actually are some completely free microcredentials and programs that come with free Digital Upgrades.

When it comes to online degrees however, there is no free lunch. Developing these intense college programs and employing college professors has a real cost associated with it, which is why you will probably never see FutureLearn offer a completely free online degree any time soon.

So to sum up the free stuff you can expect from FutureLearn’s three main offerings:

  • They offer free and paid online courses.
  • They offer free and paid microcredentials and programs.
  • They offer paid online degrees only.

Is FutureLearn Becoming Less Free As Time Goes On?

In December 2012, the modern FutureLearn website launched with a promise of providing free open online courses from multiple leading UK universities.

By 2013, FutureLearn was up and running as a private company owned by the Open University, and they had partnerships with over 15 UK universities.

In 2014, many free courses had launched and FutureLearn was in full swing for their “beta” release of the platform. In April 2014, FutureLearn introduced a way for students to pay for a printed version of their Statement of Participation certificate, which was later expanded and changed several times over the years.

This marked the beginning of FutureLearn offering free courses that you could purchase a certificate of participation or completion in. As time progressed, this proved to be viable business model for the site.

As time progressed, ownership and equity in FutureLearn changed hands. Since the new owners had invested a significant amount of money to acquire their percentage of FutureLearn, it made sense to ramp up the revenue so that they could eventually see a return on their investment.

So, yes, as time has gone on, less courses are totally free. However, because FutureLearn has been so successful, they have been able to provide more and more courses, and thankfully they are still free to take.

It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, their success has meant that they are able to offer more and more courses, and they still provide these courses free of charge. However, because they need to continue showing revenue growth year over year, FutureLearn has reduced the overall percentage of completely free courses as time progresses.

Should we be worried about FutureLearn becoming a paid only service? I don’t think that would happen anytime soon, however I would advise anyone who wants to earn a free certificate from FutureLearn, to go ahead and do that now instead of later… because that free course with a free digital upgrade may not be so free in a few months or years from now.

Concluding Thoughts

I like using FutureLearn because they let me into their learning platform without me having to enter in my credit card details. Then, I enrolled in some free courses with free Digital Upgrades, completed them and was awarded a free certificate.

This experience is literally what their Unlimited and other paid courses are like. This is better than a free trial, because it wasn’t a trial, but instead a way to further my education using the highly refined tool that is FutureLearn.

If you’ve used other online learning platforms, then you may already know that there are few services that match the minimalist elegance of FutureLearn. I like how easy it is to keep track of my progress, to navigate to and through courses and to interact with quizzes.

Anyway, the answer is clear that most FutureLearn courses are free in one way or another. This big ole article hopefully has helped clarify the differences between free to take and their completely free with no up-sells Digital Upgrades.


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