Retirement can often bring more spare time, and with that the opportunity to return to learning that you might have been putting off because of other commitments.

For many of us, there’s never been a better time to try a free online course. Provided you have an internet connection, you can take advantage of an abundance of classes that are free of charge.

So whether you want to learn a language, study the sciences or pick up culinary skills – you can, without having to pay a penny.

As we’ve detailed in our article on going back to university as a mature student, there are many benefits to keeping your mind active as you get older. But there’s also the opportunity to carve out a new career for yourself, whether in retirement or not.

This guide will help you find a course that matches your interests; and you never know, you might just unlock new earning potential while you’re at it.

Free online courses to learn a new skill

If you’re not sure which one is right for you, take a look at these websites offering a range of courses. Browse through the different subjects available, have a read of the descriptions and see what takes your fancy.

Explore different subjects

FutureLearn provides short online courses from top universities. It offers tutorials on a variety of topics, from how to bake, to writing fiction and art history. Most FutureLearn courses are free for a limited time, allowing you to get to grips with your subject before deciding whether you want unlimited access later on; the paid version will let you take tests and earn a course certificate, though this is entirely optional.

The Open University has a number of free courses available through its website, OpenLearn. Gain a qualification from the comfort of your own home, and choose from over 1,000 courses in a variety of subjects. Whether you fancy acquiring digital skills or taking a course in the ancient world, browse through the subjects that are on offer and take your pick.

With the government-funded courses on Free Courses Online, you can gain a qualification in just six weeks.

The free courses on offer can go towards starting a new career, or simply learning a new subject; for example, you can take a course in Mental Health First Aid, where you can gain a qualification and go on to volunteer and help others.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to explore your options, gov.uk provides useful information on free online learning. The guide answers your queries on learning during the pandemic, as well as offering English courses from Pearson and the British Council, maths courses for all abilities, and digital & finance courses for Microsoft Office or computer skills.

Art classes

According to the Mental Health Foundation, taking an art class is highly therapeutic – plus you’ll learn something new while you’re at it. Try your hand at drawing, get technical with visual design and 3D drawing, or enjoy being creative with acrylic paint. You don’t have to be Picasso to enrol in an art class, as there are courses for all abilities. They’re available through Skillshare, which you can access online. Once you’ve created an account, you can gain access to a selection of free classes and materials. You can also upgrade to a premium membership for unlimited access to over 20,000 classes.

Cooking courses

Do you enjoy simmering and sautéing? A cooking course may just be your thing. Learn all the techniques required through free online classes in a range of disciplines. Make your own fresh pasta, cook sauces from scratch, or take a knife skills class to dice onions like a pro. Or bake your own bread, learn more about nutrition or roll your own sushi at Skillshare.

Become a tutor

There’s nothing more rewarding than learning a skill and teaching it to others. Gain a qualification to tutor, or learn to coach children through FutureLearn, which offers courses and degrees from top universities. Discover hundreds of free tuition classes and enrol today to gain a teaching qualification.

Creative writing classes

Creative writing allows you to express yourself through poetry or prose, build upon your literacy and enhance your communication skills.

TCK Publishing runs fiction, non-fiction and creative writing courses, to help you explore your own style of writing and bring your ideas to life.

The Open University offers several free online writing courses. The primary focus is on creating compelling characters at both an introductory and advanced level.

If you’re after a more intensive course, try Writers’ HQ’s 14-day creative writing programme to help you find your focus. Run by a group of writers, you’re in great hands.

Learn a language

Learning Spanish, Italian or French doesn’t have to come at a cost – you’ll be pleased to know there are plenty of free language resources available:

Find a course in your local area

If you’d prefer to take a course in your local area instead of from your living room, find out what free courses are available near you.

Free2Learn has a number of skill training centres across the UK, offering free courses to gain a qualification. Take a look through the courses on offer and see if there’s a centre nearby to start learning locally.

Alternatively, browse this list of institutes across the UK teaching free Level 3 qualifications. Find your nearest college or training provider from the list, and enquire about the free courses available.

Find the online course for you

The internet holds the key to a wide variety of free courses in pretty much any discipline you can imagine. So, if there’s any subject you’ve been wanting to learn – whether it’s for fun or to upskill and embark on a new career – take a look through the free online courses and start learning from the comfort of your own home. Alternatively, if taking a local class at a school sounds more like your thing, check out our guide to local learning