It’s Australia Day and you may well be doing interesting things with BBQs, beer and bacon. You might also be cursing the weather. Regardless, time off gives you time to reflect on what you don’t know. Why not improve your life with a free online course? We’ve rounded up some of the best current options from around the globe. Welcome to Lifehacker U.
Picture by Nina Matthews
Orientation: What Is Lifehacker U?
There are an incredible number of free, university-level courses that become available on the web every school year, and anyone with a little time and a passion for self-growth can audit, read, and “enrol” in these courses for their own personal benefit.
Some of these classes are available year-round, but many of them are only available during the a specific term or semester, and because we’re all about helping you improve your life at Lifehacker, we put together a list of courses available right now that will inspire you, challenge you, open the door to something new, and give you the tools to improve your life. Grab your pen and paper and make sure your battery is charged — class is in session!
- Computer Science and Technology
- Finance and Economics
- Science and Medicine
- Social Sciences, Classics, and Humanities
- Cross-Disciplinary Courses and Seminars
- Extra Credit: How to Find Your Own Online Courses
- UC Berkeley – Computer Science 10 – Professor Dan Garcia – An introduction to computer science and computing in our society, including topics like algorithms and how businesses around the globe use them to predict almost everything, video games and how they’re developed, social media and communications, social implications of computing, and what the future of computing holds. Designed for lightly-technical audiences.
- Stanford University – Computer Science 101 – Professor Nick Parlante – Designed primarily for an audience with no prior experience but an interest in computer science and programming, Stanford’s CS 101 course will introduce you to programming and writing your own code, as well as offer a primer on basic computer technology, including hardware, software, the internet, and their intersections.
- The Open University – An Introduction to Data and Information – A primer on how computers handle information, how they communicate the data that we provide or that they obtain from the external world into the commands required to operate machinery, perform calculations, and more. Designed for non-technical or lightly-technical audiences.
- MIT – Introduction to Computer Science and Programming – Professor Eric Grimson, Professor John Guttag – Targeted to users with some background in technology or basic programming, looking for additional training in programming and the basics of application development. Also includes a crash course in statistics and data analysis, and a primer on computer science and applied mathematics as opposed to strict programming.
- Stanford University – Artificial Intelligence: Introduction to Robotics – Professor Oussama Khatib – An introduction to the modelling, design, and control of robotic systems for those interested in AI programming and development. Requires an understanding of the applied mathematics (specifically linear algebra and an understanding of matrices) required for building robotic systems for the nitty gritty, but still an excellent primer to how computer scientists and developers build semi-autonomous robotic systems and control mechanisms.
- Stanford University – Computer Security – Professors Dan Boneh, John Mitchell and Dawn Song – Computer security means more than just keeping your antivirus or anti-malware software up to date. This course will walk you through computer security as a discipline, the tools required for secure and lock down individual computers and computer networks, write secure code and secure applications, identify and defend against threats, and secure mobile platforms.
- The Open University – Debt and Borrowing in a Broader Context – Personal debt like auto-loans, home mortgages, and credit card debt all have serious implications on individuals, communities, and larger economies. This course helps you understand how debt plays a role in the big picture, and how you may be helping — and hurting — yourself and the economy of your region or country by taking on too much or too little debt.
- UC Berkeley – Economics 1 – Professor Ken Train – An introduction to the core topics required for an understanding of economics, including supply and demand, the differences between macroeconomics and microeconomics, the sessions on the basics of competition and monopoly, and a deep dive into government-style economics and the mechanisms behind how governments raise, spend, and borrow money.
- Yale University – Financial Markets – Professor Robert Shiller – If you’re confused why your local economy responds so much to events that take place far away from home, or don’t understand why a dropping index overnight in Asia leads to lower market openings in the United States, this is the course for you. The course offers a walkthrough of how financial markets around the world work, work together, and manage collective risk.
- MIT – Einstein, Oppenheimer, and Feynman – Physics in the 20th Century – Prof. David Kaiser – Take it from someone with a degree in the discipline, physics is a science that pulls back the veil and helps you understand the basic forces and workings behind the mechanisms of our natural world. This course focuses on the strides made in physics and our understanding of the physical world during the 20th century throuh the work of some of the century’s most famous names in the field. Additionally, the social, political, and cultural impacts of their work and surrounding work are discussed.
- MIT – Hands on Astronomy: Observing Stars and Planets – Professor James Elliot – If you’ve ever wanted to look up to the sky in your backyard and understand exactly what it is you see, how far away the different objects and constellations are, and tell the difference between stars, planets, and other celestial bodies, this is the course for you. Requires no science background, and has several hands-on labs you can conduct with a telescope, pair of binoculars, or your bare eyes in your backyard at night.
- Yale University – Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics – Professor Charles Bailyn – You’ve heard about black holes, dark energy, dark matter, earth-like planets elsewhere in the galaxy, and water on Mars and on other planets in our solar system. This course will help you make sense of all of those theories and controversies in a way that allows you to speak intelligently on the matter, learn some of the latest research and observations that support or refute those theories, and how far astronomers have yet to go. The course focuses on what we know as well as what we don’t know, and new horizons of astronomical research. No science or maths background is required.
- Tufts University – Nutrition and Medicine – Recommended for individuals with some medical understanding or knowledge, this course focuses on developing the ability to make healthy dietary and nutrition based recommendations for individuals based on their medical histories, risk factors, lifestyles, and needs. The course will start with some fundamentals of nutrition, diet, and exercise, and progress into related illnesses and medical conditions, as well as controversies and research in the field, with an emphasis on critical thinking.
- The Open University – Gene Testing – Genetic testing is on the rise, and this course walks you through how genetic testing is performed, why doctors request genetic testing in many cases, and what genetic testing can and cannot tell you about your health, well-being, and risk for disease. The course also breaks down different genetic testing cases, including pre-natal testing, child testing, and adult testing, explaining the goals of each.
- Tufts University – Human Growth and Development – An introduction to the human growth process and human development from a medical perspective. No prior medical knowledge is required, as the course walks you through how human beings are born, grow, learn, and age. Additional emphasis is placed on understanding how disease and illness play a role in human development, and how external conditions can effect normal development processes.
- The Open University – Studying Darwin – A crash course to Darwin’s observations and travels that led him to writing his book On the Origin of Species, as well as a guide to the fundamentals of evolution, natural selection, and how Darwin’s work influenced and inspired additional research.
- The Open University – Exploring Data: Graphs and Numerical Summaries – This course, designed for people who have seen representations of data in the past but who have never been required to strictly interpret it, will help develop your ability to determine good representations of numerical information from erroneous ones, and help you build the skills required to dig through piles of information and present it to others in a way that makes sense and conveys your desired message.
- MIT – Street Fighting Mathematics – Professor Sanjoy Mahajan – Some mathematical knowledge is required for this course, but you won’t be in too much trouble if you haven’t brushed up. The goal of the course is to help you learn to do complex mathematics in your head, make educated guesses based on the information you have available, and is taught in a conversational style that only occasionally moves into the strictly variable and calculation based.
- Stanford University – Cryptography – Professor Dan Boneh – Part information science and part mathematics, cryptography is the discipline of turning normal information into coded information for secure transmissions or the use of another computing system or platform. The class walks you through securing communications, understanding the nature of cryptography and how codes are made and broken, and then moves into technical topics like authentication protocols and key encryption.
- The Rise of Modern Science – Prof. David Jones and Prof. David Kaiser – While the course title sounds scientific, the focus of the class is really on what we consider “science” in modern culture, and the role of scientists and philosphers in recent history that have helped define the discipline as we understand it. The course discusses the rise of science and the evolution of the term through the ages of magic, alchemy, philosophy, folk knowledge, and observation through to experimentation and deduction.
- Yale University – Death – Professor Shelly Kagan – If there’s one thing that’s sure for all of us, it’s that we’ll all die someday. But what exactly does that mean for us and the people around us? How do we come to terms with our own mortality, and adjust to the mortality of those around us? This course will introduce you to the concept of mortality and transform it from a fact to something you’re aware of, as well as introduce and examine attitudes about death and dying, including suicide, the moral implications of death and dying, and what it means to be “immortal.”
- Yale University – The Psychology, Biology, and Politics of Food – Professor Kelly D. Brownell – This course introduces us to the concepts of individual tastes, dietary preferences, and the impact culture has on our diets and the types of foods we enjoy and seek out. By the end of the course, you’ll understand why palates differ so greatly even in places with similar diets, and also dive into topics involving nutrition and the politics around food, like sustainable agriculture, local agriculture and farmer’s markets, genetically modified foods, and much more.
- The Open University – Getting Started with Classical Latin – Latin is the foundation of many languages in the western world, and is the language in which much of the knowledge of the western world is archived and translated from. While the language itself is dead, understanding how it has influenced other languages and some basic understanding of the language and how to intertpret it will serve you well.
- Yale University – Introduction to Ancient Greek History – Professor Donald Kagan – This course is a walkthrough of the growth and development of ancient Greece as a political, intellectual, and technological centre of the western world. Students in this course will be exposed to classic Greek literature, art, philosophy, history, and language. Documents and resources are presented in both their original form and their translations, so you can get familiar with ancient Greek as well.
- MIT – Law and Society – Prof. Susan S. Silbey – We all know that the law is a set of rules that lay out proper behaviour and order in our society, but where do they come from? Where did the concept of “the law” originate, and how does it differ from place to place? This course seeks to explain the history of the law, the applicability of the law and how laws are formed, written, and enforced, and offer the student a basic understanding of the legal system and its social implications.
- The Open University – Privacy Rights and the Law – Specifically geared at UK citizens and European citizens, this course from the Open University examines UK privacy laws and the rules laid out by the European Commission on Human Rights. How the different bodies interpret privacy rights is also examined, along with a basic examination of how the rest of the world sees the right to privacy — or whether their citizens have a right to privacy at all.
- Yale University – Technology Entrepreneurship – Professor Chuck Eesley – Have you ever considered taking your brilliant idea and building a startup? Have you ever written a business plan, only to let it sit on the shelf waiting for the right time to start a business or get your idea off the ground? This class will explain the pitfalls and the perils of starting your own technology company, how you can start your idea inside of a larger firm, and what it takes to build a successful startup company.
- The Open University – Reading – Even though we’ve discussed some great ways to boost your reading comprehension, this course offers practical exercises and walkthroughs to help you read critically and have more fun with the written word. There’s a special focus on critical thinking and building your own ideas based on what you’ve read, as well.
- Tufts University – Promoting Positive Development Among Youth – Professor Richard M. Lerner – If you’re considering giving back in your community, either by volunteering at a church or school, becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, or otherwise getting involved in a young person’s life, this course can help you navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of modern culture and encourage young people to become leaders in their communities.
- UC Berkeley – Search, Google, and Life – Guest Lecturers Sergey Brin, Bradley Horowitz, Jason Schultz, and more – This free course from the University of California at Berkeley gives you an opportunity to sit in on some of the greatest minds in modern technology as they discuss how their products, services, and companies play a major role in shaping the way we obtain information, process it, and view the world. They also discuss how they came to be involved in those technologies, and how search and search engines work and have changed the internet as we know it.
The cirriculum at Lifehacker U is rich and deep, but it may not reflect all of your areas of interests or expertise. If you’re looking for more or more varied course material, here are some resources to help you find great, university-level online classes that you can take from the comfort of your desk, at any time of day.
- Academic Earth curates an amazing list of video seminars and classes from some of the world’s smartest minds, innovators, and leaders on a variety of topics including science, mathematics, politics, public policy, art, history, and more.
- TED talks are well known for being thought provoking, interesting, intelligent, and in many cases, inspiring and informative. We’ve featured TED talks at Lifehacker before, and if you’re looking for seminars on the web worth watching, TED is worth perusing.
- Education-Portal.com has a list of universities offering free and for-credit online classes to students and the public at large.
- Open Culture’s list of free online courses is broken down by subject matter and includes classes available on YouTube, iTunes U, and direct from the University or School’s website.
- The Open Courseware Consortium is a collection of colleges and universities that have all agreed to use a similar platform to offer seminars and full classes — complete with notes, memos, examinations, and other documentation free on the web. They also maintain a great list of member schools around the world, so you can visit universities anywhere in the world and take the online classes they make available.
- The Khan Academy offers free YouTube-based video classes in maths, science, technology, the humanities, and test preparation and study skills. If you’re looking to augment your education or just take a couple video classes in your spare time, it’s a great place to start and has a lot of interesting topics to offer.
- The Lifehacker Night School is our own set of tutorials and classes that help you out with deep and intricate subjects like becoming a better photographer, building your own computer, or getting to know your network, among others.
The beautiful thing about taking classes online is that you can pick and choose the classes you want to attend, skip lectures and come back to them later, and do examinations and exercises on your own time. You can load up with as many classes as you choose, or take a light course load and come back to some of the classes you meant to take at another time that’s more convenient for you.
If you have online course resources or your university offers classes that are available for free online that you know would be a great fit for Lifehacker U, don’t keep them to yourself — share them in the comments.