Learning at home – a guide to free resources

If you’re looking for something to do around the house to prevent your mind from wandering too much, then it can be useful to find a healthy distraction.

Most of us have always dreamed of one day having the time to sit down and learn a new skill. Maybe you’ve got a guitar gathering dust that you’ve always wanted to learn to play. Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn how to set up a blog or write your own software code – but you’ve simply never got around to it.

If you’re interested in learning a new skill but don’t know where to start, then one of these free online learning resources might catch your eye. If you’ve never thought about learning something new – what better time to find out more about the sort of opportunities that are available?

What free learning resources can I use at home?

Future Learn offers a variety of short courses that can help you develop skills and knowledge in a huge range of subjects. Courses cover everything from history and politics, through to nature and creative arts – and they’re all completely free. They are run by professors and other highly qualified individuals from leading universities and cultural institutions around the world. 

Future Learn courses comprise readings and pre-recorded video lectures that you can work through on a weekly schedule – or to a schedule that suits you. Every page of the course also allows students to engage in discussion with one another, and some also have assignments or online practice quizzes to complete.

The full duration of each course will vary, but all free courses can continue to be accessed for a further two weeks after the course time has passed. So if it’s a two-week course, you will have access to it for four weeks, and if it’s a five week course, you will have access to it for seven weeks, and so on. If you wish to have unlimited access to a course for as long as it remains on the Future Learn site, or if you want to receive official certification for having taken the course, then you will usually have to pay for this.

Each course has a set start date, but you can still join after the start date and catch up – and most courses are run multiple times. Before you start a class, you will also be given an outline of what exactly you can expect to achieve during that time.

Duolingo is a free language-learning programme, which aims to make learning fun and manageable for people of all ages and levels. It has 32 languages to choose from including Spanish, Japanese and Latin! You can access it on the web, or by downloading a free app on your smartphone.

If you’re someone who learns best in short bursts, then this could be for you! Duolingo offers a number of short interactive quizzes and games, which take a few minutes to complete at a time. If you download the app then it will remind you when it’s time to learn – so that you at least get five minutes of practice time each day. 

The University of South Carolina and the City University of New York carried out an independent study, which showed that 34 hours of Duolingo (on average) are equivalent to a full semester of language education. So, if you’re keen to learn a language, but you’re worried about feeling overwhelmed, then this could help you to take small, manageable steps towards your goal. Whilst you can use Duolingo completely free, you can sign up to a premium subscription if you’d prefer to have an ad-free experience and be able to access content whilst offline.

If you’d like to learn more about how you could benefit from learning a new language, you may find our full article on this, here

If you’re looking to explore your creative side then Skillshare could help you to do this from the comfort of your own home. Skillshare offers plenty of free online classes – taught by industry experts – that will show you how to do everything from painting with watercolour, to creating beautiful lettering, through to how to create interesting photographs of food!

Classes are taught in short segments of a few minutes, so you can take regular breaks and take on new challenges in digestible, bitesize chunks. Skillshare has 500 free classes and thousands of premium classes – but you can enjoy all classes for free for the first seven days after signing up. There are also opportunities to share your art work with other Skillshare users and receive feedback.


Alison is a website which offers free courses from some of the world’s leading experts. It’s driven by the philosophy that everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to empower themselves through learning. It offers courses in academic subjects (in areas such as humanities and science), but it also offers courses in more vocational or practical subjects, for example skilled trades (plumbing, motor etc), healthcare (including nursing and caregiving) and software development. This is a great site for anyone considering a career change into areas like these and wanting to gain more insight into the industry or role first.

Alison offers certificate and diploma courses, as well as Learning Path courses which are designed to help you gain a much deeper understanding of a subject and move towards mastery. You can start all courses any time and depending on what course type you choose, it could take anywhere between two and 20 hours to complete. Certification in some areas will be free, but in some instances there may be a fee.

Open Learn is powered by the Open University, who provide online degree courses. They offer  around 5% of its formal course materials as free open educational content to the general public every year. They have nearly 1,000 courses across eight different subject areas, which are available immediately and you can work at your own pace with no deadlines or time limits. Some courses focus on interesting academic subjects, whilst others are designed to help you develop skills needed for study or work.

Upon completion of a course, you can download a free, Open University Statement of participation

No matter what you’re looking to learn – whether it’s a musical instrument, drawing, calligraphy,  a style of dance or how to set up a blog – YouTube will usually have several useful videos that can help you do it. You won’t gain any certificates or formal qualifications for learning a skill through YouTube, but if you’re looking to learn for fun and you’d like to learn directly from people of all different ages and backgrounds who have first hand expertise in the skill you’re learning, then it can be an invaluable tool.

It can also be used alongside more structured learning resources – like courses – to help you top up your learning. When it comes to YouTube, the world is your oyster!

Libraries (online services)

Check your local council’s website for information about your local libraries online services

At most libraries, you’ll be able to access a range of books, some online resources, including eBooks and journal articles. 

The best way to find out what may be available to you is to check your local council’s website for information about your library and what online resources they may have to offer. You may still need to be a member of your local library to gain access to these resources – but if you’re not already registered, you can usually do this online.

Check out the British Library’s online resources

If you’re into history or literature, then you may find it interesting to take a look at some of the free resources available on the British Library’s website. There are plenty of digitised collection items, academic articles, creative activities and teacher resource packs that could be perfect for some home-based learning.

Discovering Children’s Books: www.bl.uk/childrens-books

Discovering Literature: www.bl.uk/discovering-literature

Discovering Sacred Texts: www.bl.uk/sacred-texts

Windrush Stories: www.bl.uk/windrush

More online exhibitions & resources: www.bl.uk/discover-and-learn/online-exhibitions

And finally…

Learning can be an incredibly empowering experience that can help us to feel more in control of our lives. If you’re feeling particularly bored, stressed or worried, then consider challenging yourself to learn something from one of the resources above. You might be surprised at how much of an escape learning something new can offer you from the realities of everyday life!

Are you learning something new? Or do you know of another resource that you feel could benefit others? Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

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