Programming is one of the most essential skills to learn in today’s fast-changing world. Knowing how to program can offer you the biggest advantages, such as land you a high-paying job, foster creativity, and offer career flexibility. 

Gone are the days when programming languages could only be mastered by the smartest minds and were very expensive to learn. The programming community is emerging at a rate faster than ever before.

A lot of new programming languages are coming up for different categories of learners (beginners, intermediate, and experts) as well as for different uses (data mining, machine learning, web applications, mobile applications, game development, distributed system, android development, etc).

New courses (both paid and free) are being added to online portals every day, leaving every learner puzzled with one question – which is the best course to choose?

If you are struggling to find the best course to learn to program, then you have reached the right place. In this post, we have handpicked the best free online courses for programmers offered by top universities for a variety of skill levels. 

Here’s the list of the top universities offering free online courses for programmers: 

  1. Harvard University
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  3. IIT Bombay
  4. University of Illinois
  5. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  6. University of Michigan
  7. IIT Kanpur

Before we jump to the courses, let’s understand why should you learn it. 

Why Learn Programming?

Programming is the process of building executable computer programs (or software) to instruct the computer to perform various tasks. Programming language refers to a set of instructions that produce various kinds of outputs. Programs are often called code. Therefore, programming is also known as coding. It is used to program the websites and apps which we interact with every day.

Learning programming can be beneficial in many ways: 

  • Offer a wide variety of job opportunities with great earning potential
  • Gives new perspective to problem-solving
  • Fosters innovation 
  • Develops creative thinking
  • Enhanced focus

Which Programming Language Should You Learn?

There are many different programming languages with their own advantages and disadvantages. Different languages are used for different types of tasks, but there is no one language which is the ‘best’. The courses listed in this post will cover the most in-demand languages of 2020: 

Free Online Courses for Programmers

1. Python

Python is one of the most widely used programming languages nowadays. It is an object-oriented and high-level programming language with dynamic semantics. Python was developed in the late 1980s by Guido Van Rossum and its implementation began in December 1989. It is an open-source language and has gained popularity lately, due to its flexibility, object-oriented features, and use in data science.

2. Java

Java is one of the most sought-after programming languages today. Developed in the mid-90s, Java is a general-purpose programming language that is class-based and object-oriented. It is widely used across the globe due to its portability which enables it to run across multiple software platforms – from mainframe data centers to smartphones.

3. React 

React is an open-source JavaScript library that you can use to develop front-end or GUI of web applications. It is used for building web apps, creating dynamic libraries, and for building UI’s that are perfectly equipped to render large datasets. React is used by many organizations, like Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, Udemy, and Twitter. 

4. PHP

PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) is one of the simplest web languages to learn. It is a server-side scripting language that is widely used for developing web-based software applications. PHP runs many large websites on the internet, such as Wikipedia and Facebook. It offers many advanced features to the professional programmers and is a must for freshers and working professionals to become a great software engineer.

5. C Programming

C is one of the oldest programming languages and is the root of other programming languages such as C#, C++, Java, and JavaScript. Developed in 1972 by Dennis Ritchie, it is a general-purpose and structured programming language that is widely used in various applications. It is used in various tasks, such as developing system applications, desktop applications, operating system as well as IoT applications. 

6. JavaScript

JavaScript is an object-oriented computer programming language that is used to create interactive effects inside web browsers. It is a scripting language that enables you to control dynamic website content and multimedia. JavaScript is used at the front end of many popular websites, such as Wikipedia,  Google, YouTube, and Facebook. It is also used in several web frameworks like AngularJS, Node.js, and React JS.

7. R Programming 

R is a programming language and an analytics tool that is used for statistical computing and graphics. It is widely used by programmers, statisticians, data scientists, and data miners for developing statistical software and data analysis. R programming has various applications in domains like finance, healthcare, academics, consulting, and media, among others.

Now, let’s dive into the best places online where you can learn to program for free.

Top Universities Offering Free Online Courses For Programmers 

Here are some of the top universities offering free online courses for programmers:

Harvard University 

Harvard University offers open learning opportunities for programmers and other professionals with technical backgrounds to grow in their careers. It offers a variety of learning resources, including online courses and modules in various subjects, such as game development, Python, JavaScript, and React.

CS50’s Mobile App Development with React Native on edX

This course helps learners in smooth transitioning from web development to mobile app development with React Native. It offers hands-on projects so that you can gain experience with React and its paradigms, app architecture, and user interfaces. 

Course Duration: 13 Weeks [Effort: 6-9 hours per week]

Level: Intermediate

What Will You Learn: 
  • JavaScript
  • ES6
  • React, JSX
  • Debugging
  • Redux

CS50’s Introduction to Game Development on edX

Free Online Courses for programmers - Game Development CS50

This is a hands-on course that will let you explore the design of games such as Super Mario Bros., Pokémon, Angry Birds, and more. By the end of this course, you will have programmed many of your own games and gained a thorough understanding of the basics of game design and development.

Course Duration: 12 Weeks [Effort: 6-9 hours per week]

Level: Intermediate

What Will You Learn: 
  • Principles of 2D and 3D graphics, animation, sound, and collision detection 
  • Frameworks: Unity and LOVE 2D, 
  • Languages: Lua and C#

CS50’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence with Python on edX

Free Online Courses for Programmers

This course will help you understand the concepts and algorithms related to modern artificial intelligence. You will learn about the ideas that give rise to technologies like game-playing engines, handwriting recognition, and machine translation. It offers hands-on projects to give you exposure to the theory behind graph search algorithms, classification, optimization, reinforcement learning. 

Course Duration: 7 Weeks [Effort: 10-30 hours per week]

Level: Beginner

What Will You Learn: 
  • Graph search algorithms
  • Knowledge representation
  • Probability theory
  • Bayesian networks
  • Markov models
  • Machine learning
  • Neural networks

CS50’s Web Programming with Python and JavaScript on edX

This course will teach you the basic principles, languages, and tools that will help you to design and deploy applications on the Internet. Through hands-on projects, you will learn to write and use APIs, create interactive UIs, and leverage cloud services like GitHub and Heroku.

Course Duration: 12 Weeks [Effort: 6-9 hours per week]

Level: Intermediate

What Will You Learn: 
  • Git
  • Python
  • Django
  • SQL, Models, and Migrations
  • JavaScript

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of the top universities offering free online courses for programmers. It offers free online courses in a variety of subjects. The courses offered by MIT can be audited free but if you want to receive a certification you will have to pay a small fee for it.

Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python on edX

This course will help you learn about different topics related to computer science and programming. You will get an idea about how to use computation to accomplish some goal later in their career. By the end of this course, you will be able to use computer science as a tool to solve real-world analytical problems using Python.

Course Duration: 6 Weeks [Effort: 14-16 hours per week]

Level: Beginner

What Will You Learn: 
  • A Notion of computation
  • The Python programming language
  • Testing and debugging
  • An informal introduction to algorithmic complexity
  • Data structures

Software Construction in Java on edX

Course Duration: 12 Weeks 

Level: Intermediate

What Will You Learn: 
  • Java programming
  • Software testing
  • Code specifications
  • Abstract data types

IIT Bombay

IIT Bombay offers Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for learners from varying backgrounds. It provides a variety of courses through flipped classrooms, online lectures, and live interactions with the course instructors.

Introduction to Java Programming: Fundamental Data Structures and Algorithms on edX

This course will help you learn to program with Java easily and interactively. It will teach you about data structures, such as lists, stacks, queues, and trees. You will also learn algorithms for inserting, deleting, searching, and efficiently sorting information.

Course Duration: 5 Weeks [5-7 hours per week]

Level: Beginner

What Will You Learn: 
  • Lists
  • Stacks
  • Queues
  • Trees
  • Searching and Sorting

University of Illinois

A leader in innovative distance and online education, the University of Illinois serves the world by creating knowledge, preparing students for lives of impact, and finding solutions to critical societal needs. It offers a variety of online academic courses and certifications to students around the world. The university offers 75+ online degree, certificate, and endorsement programs as well as 800+ online courses.

Accelerated Computer Science Fundamentals Specialization on Coursera

Accelerated Computer Science Fundamentals

This is a 3-course specialization that will teach you the basic object-oriented programming, the analysis of asymptotic algorithmic run times, and the implementation of basic data structures. Learners will solve weekly ‘challenge problems’ by implementing fragments of C++ code in a web-based interface.

Course Duration: 3 Months [5 hours per week]

Level: Intermediate

Rating: 4.7

What Will You Learn: 
  • Object-Oriented Data Structures in C++
  • Ordered Data Structures
  • Unordered Data Structures

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology offers a wide range of free online courses to provide students and working professionals with an affordable and flexible way to learn new skills. It provides online courses on trending technologies such as full-stack web development, cloud architecture, python, JavaScript, and more.

Full Stack Web and Multiplatform Mobile App Development Specialization on Coursera

Frontend Web UI Bootstrap 4

This is a 5-course specialization that teaches front-end and hybrid mobile development, with server-side support, for implementing a multi-platform solution. It offers work on hands-on exercises and enables learners to develop a full-fledged application at the end of each course.

Course Duration: 5 Months [11 hours per week]

Level: Intermediate 

Rating: 4.7

What Will You Learn: 
  • Front-End Web UI Frameworks and Tools: Bootstrap 4
  • Front-End JavaScript Frameworks: Angular
  • Multiplatform Mobile App Development with Web Technologies: Ionic and Cordova
  • Multiplatform Mobile App Development with NativeScript
  • Server-side Development with NodeJS, Express, and MongoDB

Developing Android Apps with App Inventor on Coursera

Develop Android Apps

This course will give you hands-on experience in developing Android applications with the MIT App Inventor. By the end of this course, you will be able to build fully functional apps for Android devices. Students 

Course Duration: 25 Hours

Level: Beginner

Rating: 4.2 (189 ratings)

What Will You Learn: 
  • Introduction of MIT App Inventor
  • Application Coding
  • Programming Basics & Dialog
  • Drawing Application
  • Web Browsing 

University of Michigan 

The University of Michigan offers a variety of learning resources for students and working professionals. You can choose from a wide range of individual courses to fully online degrees to advance your understanding of various topics. 

Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) on Coursera

Free Online Courses for Programmers - Programming for Everybody

This course will teach you the basics of programming computers using Python. You will learn how to construct a program from a series of simple instructions in Python. By the end of this course, you will be able to utilize core programming tools such as functions and loops. 

Course Duration: 19 Hours

Level: Beginner

Rating: 4.8 (151,949 ratings)

What Will You Learn: 
  • Why we Program?
  • Installing and Using Python
  • Variables and Expressions
  • Conditional Code
  • Functions
  • Loops and Iteration

Django for Everybody Specialization on Coursera

Django for Everybody

This is a 4-course specialization that will teach you how to build websites using the Django library. In this course, you will also learn some other ways to build web applications using technologies like PHP (Web Applications for Everybody), Flask, or Ruby on Rails. By the end of the course, you will have built a simple website to store and view classified ads with features like photos, search, and favorites.

Course Duration: 5 Months [3 hours per week]

Level: Intermediate 

Rating: 4.7 (290 ratings)

What Will You Learn: 
  • Web Application Technologies and Django
  • Building Web Applications in Django
  • Django Features and Libraries
  • Using JavaScript, JQuery, and JSON in Django

IIT Kanpur

Introduction To Problem Solving, Programming

This course provides many simple exercises to acquaint learners with the computing environment and usage of computers. It offers many examples of functional programming, program correctness, and experimental verification of efficiency and scaling for a better understanding of various topics. 

Level: Beginner

What Will You Learn: 
  • Basic model of computation
  • Notion of Algorithms
  • Principle of Mathematical Induction 
  • Basics of imperative style programming 
  • Programming using structures
  • Introduction to encapsulation 
  • Object-oriented programming

Introduction to R Software conducted by IIT alumni

On taking up this course, you will learn how to handle mathematical and statistical manipulations with R Programming. You will also learn about its built-in functions to perform any specialized task. course.

Level: Beginner

What Will You Learn: 
  • Basics of R Programming
  • R Programming built-in functions


Whether you want to uncover the secrets of the universe, or you just want to pursue a career in the 21st century, basic computer programming is an essential skill to learn.” – Stephen Hawking

The benefits of learning programming are not only limited to improving your technical skills, but it’s so much more than that. If you consistently enhance your programming skills, then it will help you improve both personally and professionally. 

Moreover, coding can be a valuable skill to add to your resume. Taking up a course from a prestigious educational institution could boost your resume by showing employers that you are eager to learn new skills and take your career seriously. 

We are sure that the free online courses for programmers mentioned in this post will help you do better in your personal life as well as thrive in the workplace of tomorrow.


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