How to Choose Online Social Work Courses + Free Options

As technology is improving, more students than ever are choosing to take online classes. US News and World Report noted in 2014 that 5.8 million students were taking distance learning classes, which was a 4% increase from the previous year.

The trend towards online education is affecting all sectors, including the growth area of social work. Social workers are seeing more demand for their services, especially clinical and health care social workers. Government statistics state that job growth will increase by 12% by 2024. This growing trend in social work employment means that more students want to take online social work courses to advance their careers.

If you are interested in a social work career, you can really benefit from taking online social work courses. There are many options online – some of them are free and others require a fee – but either way, you will be able to hone your social work skills.

Below we highlight some of the things you should look for as you choose online social work courses.

Important Topics in Social Work

You may be taking a single course or several classes online in social work, but you should look for classes that cover the basic social work principles below. These topics are covered in depth in bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, so your courses should as well:

  • Social environment and effects on human behavior: Students should be able to show theoretical knowledge that is supported by strong evidence to understand human behavior across the lifespan.
  • Research: Knowledge, values and skills related to social work research are needed to be an effective practitioner in the field.
  • Practice: Applying the values, knowledge and skills of social work practice. Includes the main social work roles of advocate, broker, community change agent, counselor, mediator and researcher.
  • Social welfare policy: Understanding how social services have been developed and using skills to analyze, formulate and be an influence on social policy.
  • At risk populations and social/economic justice: Understand how oppression and discrimination occurs and be able to apply advocacy and social change to advance both forms of justice
  • Diversity: Appreciation of human differences as a strength and also as a reason for discrimination.
  • Critical thinking: Applying critical thinking skills in social work practice

Free or Pay Classes

There are a number of online resources today that have free social work courses that can provide you with basic knowledge in social work. These classes do not offer any type of certificate of completion usually, but they still are very helpful for getting your feet wet in the field.

For instance, there are free social work courses available at Open University. One of them is Social Work Learning Practice. This is a free audio course that describes social work learning practices and focuses on how important people’s backgrounds and experiences are in social work.

The course pinpoints the many ways that social service clients and workers define themselves. This class helps the person just starting in social work to better understand how these groups may perceive one another and therefore may be able to relate better.

Open University also has other free social work courses online, such as:

  • An Introduction to Social Work
  • Social Care, Social Work and the Law in England and Wales
  • Becoming a Critical Social Work Practitioner
  • Social Work and the Law in Scotland

Single or Certificate Social Work Courses

You can choose from many online social work classes. First, you will need to determine if you want to just take single courses, or possibly earn a social work certificate. A certificate program may be a good option if you believe that you want to make social work your career. Those courses may be applicable to a bachelor’s degree in social work later on.

There are online educators who offer online social work associate’s degree programs. These can be a good fit for you if you want to get started in a social work career with two years of education, and then get your bachelor’s degree later.

For example, McKinley College offers a Social Work Associate Degree program that will provide you with the skills to work as a social work assistant. This two year, online program will give you the skills so you can work well with child, the elderly and find resources for people in need.

You may be able to earn your degree in only 16 months, and your courses include these subjects:

  • Multicultural Issues
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Child & Adult Problems
  • Behavior Modification
  • Principles of Sociology
  • Social Welfare
  • Social Problems

Free and Paid MOOCs

You may also consider taking an online course in social work through a MOOC, which is an acronym for Massive Open Online Course. These courses are offered in virtually any subject online and can be attended by hundreds or even thousands of students. Some MOOCs are live and others are recorded. Many courses are free, and some you need to pay for. Either way, a social work MOOC can give you a great headstart in a social work career.

Many MOOC courses are taught by leading universities, and some of them are free of charge.

edX is a very well known online provider of MOOCs, and it currently offers a free five week course called Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change. This course is taught by professors at the University of Michigan. The class deals with how social workers in the US create change and support the strength and resilience of individuals, families and communities in the 21st century.

edX also offers other free and paid MOOCs in social work:

  • Social Work Research
  • Social Work Practice, Policy and Research
  • Social Work Practice with Individuals
  • Social Work Practice in the Community
  • Global Social Change
  • Journalism for Social Change
  • Diversity and Justice in Social Work

Online Learning Options

When you take your online social worker courses, you can choose either live classes or recorded classes. Some learners prefer to engage in online courses with other students at the same time. This is a more dynamic way of learning for some people. Others may need to take their classes on their own time due to their busy schedules.

Which works for you is a matter of personal preference. Just bear this factor in mind as you are searching for online social work courses.


For those taking a certificate program, you should see if the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education or CSWE. This could be important when it comes time to transfer your courses to a bachelor’s degree program.


Online technology provides us with many options for expanding our knowledge of the social work field. Use the information on this page as a simple resource to find good online social work courses to get your social work career rolling.