Free Online Courses Help Refugees Move Ahead

By Patricia Nyhan

For refugees, moving forward in the U.S., where their educational and work backgrounds don’t often match available jobs, can be tough. And for the first few years in their new home, they have little time for attending classes anyway. Meanwhile, their friends and mentors may find it hard to locate resources targeted for them.

Online classes can fill this need. A good example is Alison, a for-profit social enterprise based in Ireland It is one of the world’s largest free e-learning providers, with 1,000 free courses for 12 million learners in 195 countries. For details of its course offerings and how to register, see its website: 

“Alison’s Publishing Team have put together a list of courses we believe would be of great necessity for Refugee Aid Organizations and Peace Corps to share with refugees to prepare them for new opportunities,” according to the website.

Alison offers courses geared to  Empowering Refugees” including study skills, life skills, job search skills, general IT skills and speaking English, ranging from very basic to advanced. Students simply register online and start studying, at their own rate. To pass the course, they must pass assessments along the way. If they want a certificate or diploma, which can be valuable to show an employer, they pay a modest fee to Alison – one of the ways the company earns money, along with online advertising and merchandise sales.

More than half of Alison’s students worldwide are women, for whom it can be impractical or culturally difficult to leave home to attend classes. Another population who benefit are asylum-seekers, who often cannot come out of the shadows to attend public courses until they are granted asylum.

Alison was founded by Mike Freerick in Galway, Ireland, in 2007. Since then, 1.5 million learners have graduated, he says. His vision is “to empower billions of people around the world through free high quality knowledge and workplace skills training.  As part of that vision, we are committed to being a catalyst for social change, and we believe that the power of education can change people’s lives for the better."


If you have a story to tell about mentoring a refugee or asylum-seeker trying to move ahead, but struggling to establish credentials to get a better job, we’d love to hear from you! Also, please share any success stories about refugees using online courses to further their training.


*Pictured 03/19/17."Congratulations to our learner Lyne Naluwaga on the completion of her Diploma in Human Resources! We wish you great success in the future!" FB @AlisonCourses