Your education doesn’t have to stop once you leave school and university — freedom from the classroom just means you have more control over what you learn and when you learn it. The winter months are approaching and you’ll be indoors anyway, so gain new knowledge with our latest Lifehacker U listing of some of the best free classes available online.
Studying picture from Shutterstock
As you may remember from previous Lifehacker U posts, many universities offer free classes year-round, while others are tied to a specific time period. We have assembled 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
Computer Science and Technology
- Udacity – Introduction to Computer Science – Professor David Evans – David Evans has evolved his How to Build a Search Engine course into an introduction to computer science class for Udacity. The course will help you learn the basics of computer science and technology, even if you have no prior experience. You’ll start by learning how to extract links, learn how to program simple loops, and then how to start crawling the web to collect information. By the end of the course, you’ll have written a basic web crawler, and you’ll be ready to tackle more intermediate computer science classes and basic coding projects of your own.
- Unviersity of Michigan – Internet History, Technology and Security – Professor Charles Severance – This course will walk you through the exciting history of the internet, from the beginnings of electronic computing to the the birth of the largest interconnected network of electronic systems and wealth of information humanity has ever seen. The course then explores topics of privacy, information control and management, and networked applications that live entirely on top of this infrastructure. It’s a class worth taking if you’re curious about the technology, people and events that led to the creation of the internet.
- Udacity – Web Development – Professors Steve Huffman and Anthony Teate – Want to build your own space to express yourself online? This course will help you do it, from start to finish. You’ll be introduced to HTTP and web applications, databases and managing dynamic data using them, and access control and security for those databases. By the end of the course you’ll have a blog or personal web site up and running with a database managing the content you post to it behind the scenes. You’ll also learn about APIs and how to connect to them, and how to scale your site or service to support larger numbers of visitors and users. Steve Huffman is the cofounder of both Reddit and Hipmunk, so he knows what he’s talking about.
- University of London – Malicious Software and its Underground Economy: Two Sides to Every Story – Professor Lorenzo Cavallaro – For many of us, malware and viruses are a simple security problem that need to be dealt with and eradicated, not something to really think about and ponder. However, if you ever wondered why people write this stuff, and what they hope to accomplish by intruding on your personal data or taking control of your computer, this course will explain it in detail. Cavallaro examines the massive underground economy and trading done in botnets, ransomware, scareware, and private data obtained through cybercrime. You should have some programming background or understanding to fully benefit from the class, as you’ll be examining software vulnerabilities and holes yourself in the course.
- Saylor University – Information Security – Professor Bhanu Kapoor – Information security is more than just anti-virus tools and firewalls. In this course you’ll examine the principles of securing connected systems, from basic concepts in security to the basics of cryptography all the way to protecting data in web-connected applications. By the end of the course, you’ll be fluent in current security issues, trends and problems, and you’ll be knowledgeable enough to help others protect their personal data on a small scale.
- University of Washington – Introduction to Data Science – Professor Bill Howe – You’ve probably heard the phrase “big data” thrown around by the tech media and various bloggers. Now it’s time to learn what that really means, and what kinds of data are actually “big” data. Companies are eager for data scientists to help them sift through the ever-growing amount of information they collect on their customers, business partners, and products. Those people can transform piles and piles of useless information into intelligence that a company can act on to better market its products, position itself among its competition, and ultimately make more money. Grab your virtual pickaxe, it’s time to go data mining.
Finance and Economics
- University of Michigan – Introduction to Finance – Professor Gautam Kaul – Whether it’s your personal finances you want to organise, or you’re interested in corporate finances on the business level, this introductory course to finances will help you with the topic. You’ll learn the principles of valuation, how to make intelligent long and short term decisions, how to judge the worth of an asset, and ultimately how to make intelligent buying and selling decisions.
- Saylor University – Money, Banking, and Financial Markets – Professor Samuel K. Andoh – Financial markets around the world and how currencies interrelate can be a confusing topic. Why do floundering banks in Greece cause banks in Portugal to get worried? Why does an economic downturn in the US hit manufacturing in China so hard, and why does China persist in pegging its currency to the US dollar? The course will give you an understanding of how markets and banks play a role in developed economies, and how they interrelate.
- University of California, Berkeley – Descriptive Introduction to Physics – Professor Carlos J Bustamante – This course will introduce you to common and important topics in physics, including energy and energy conservation, thermodynamics, radiation, the Theory of Relativity and General Relativity, earthquakes, supercolliders and particle accelerators. The course is all videos and completely follow at-your-own pace, and stresses conceptual understanding over mathematics, so you don’t need to bring your calculus textbook just to follow along.
- MIT – 8.02x: Electricity and Magnetism – Professor Walter Lewin – For those of you who do prefer being armed with maths when discussing physics, this course in electricity and magnetism will introduce you to the topic in a way you can actually put pen to paper to understand. Electricity and magnetism is an incredibly interesting topic, and you’ll discuss the science of bullet trains, superconductors, the Aurora Borealis, radio transmitters, and everything in between in this comprehensive analysis on the topic. You’ll even learn what the Doppler Effect really is (and why every weather station is pulling your leg with their radar systems), and why the moon has a halo around it on some nights.
- University of British Columbia – Useful Genetics – Professor Rosemary Redfield – Perhaps you’ve read about Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy, partially based on the genetic test she took that returned an 87 per cent risk for developing breast cancer. How can genetics weigh so heavily on someone? How can that test lead her to make such a significant personal decision? This course will help you understand what genes are, how they function, and what can be learned from personal genomics, and the mechanics of inheritance, both in risk factor and in other characteristics.
- TED – Neuroscience – A collection of lectures and TED talks about the quest to map the brain, understand its processes, and quantify the way the human mind works. We understand remarkably little about the human brain, and while renewed efforts have picked up in recent years to really study it, chart it, and perhaps change it for the better (in terms of treating mental illness). These talks will help you get up to speed on that current research, and give you the opportunity to hear from experts in the field on where we are today and what the future holds.
- The University of Texas, Austin – UT.1.01x: Energy 101 – Professor Michael E. Webber – Energy, energy conservation, and energy policy are things people talk a lot about without being fully informed. Don’t be that person — this course will help you get a full and complete understanding of energy production, issues, technologies, environmental impacts, and public policies so you can think critically on the topic. The course focuses on contemporary issues around energy policy and technology, and uses a lecture-based approach to tackle those current issues with a look back at the history of energy technology and use in the past. From wind to shale, fracking to offshore farms, by the end of the course, you’ll understand one of the most important issues facing humanity today.
- The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology – The Science of Gastronomy – Professors Lam Lung Yeung and King L. Chow – Cooking is chemistry, and chemistry is science, and in this course you’ll dive into all three. The Science of Gastronomy examines the science behind food preparation and eating. You’ll study the senses of smell and taste, the concept of energy transfer, the biology of hunger, and then move on to study things like the Maillard Reaction, learn to cook the perfect steak (even if you think you already know), learn how to cook vegetables so they retain their taste and nutritional value, and more. Best of all, you’ll learn it all from a scientific perspective, not just a culinary one.
- Harvard – SPU27x: Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science – Professors Michael Brenner, David Weitz, and Pia Sörensen – For even more science and food, and for an equally analytical (but still fun) take, this Harvard course might be up your alley. Each course begins with an “equation of the day” that will illustrate the cooking concept being demonstrated in that course, but don’t fear: every week you’ll watch chefs illustrate the science of cooking in their daily work, from emulsions to elasticity. Plus, the course comes with plenty of homework and at-home laboratory work to take away and do..in your own kitchen.
- Johns Hopkins University – Critical Analysis of Popular Diets and Dietary Supplements – Professor Lawrence J. Cheskin – Every few months there’s another fad diet that promises you will lose weight, feel better, and live longer if only you stop eating that, or eat more of this, or cut that out of your diet, or eat like these people who live here or lived at that point in time. This course will help you cut through the fog of the self-help and money-driven diet market and help you think critically about the fad diets you’ve heard about before you invest time, energy, and money doing something that’s at best harmless but not effective and at worst grossly unhealthy for you.
- Udacity/San Jose State University – Elementary Statistics: The Science of Decisions – Professors Sean Laraway, Ronald Rogers, and Katie Kormanik – You’ve probably heard people cynically say that “X-number of statistics are made up” and that you can make numbers “say whatever you want them to”, but that often comes from people who don’t have a basic understanding of statistics and basic decision making. This course explains that statistics are simply objective measurements of quantifiable things — whatever those things may be. The decision-making on the other hand, is left to humans who interpret that data.
- Saylor University – Beginning Alegbra – Professors Frank Appiah and Mark Arnold – If all of the maths required for some of these advanced topics goes over your head, this course will help you step back and start from the beginning. Not everyone has a background that includes multi-variable calculus, and this beginning algebra class will help you build the mathematical foundation you’ll need to survive in an a rapidly advancing technological world. Whether your eventual interest is in coding and development, science, medicine, or engineering, this is the maths that starts it all.
- La Trobe University – The Algebra of Everything (iTunes U) – Stepping up one rung from beginning algebra, this course will help you understand exactly how applicable algebra really is in real life, especially if you’re the type who’s always thought that you’d never need it in the real world. You may not wind up solving equations in your career, but that doesn’t mean that maths isn’t everywhere, and understanding it will give you a richer and broader perspective. This course starts with the algebra of Google Page Ranks, and goes all the way to the algebra of buying coffee.
- University of Texas, Austin – UT.2.01x: Ideas of the 20th Century – Professors Daniel Bonevac and Roy Flukinger – The 20th century saw a massive shift in the human condition. Despite major technological advances, the past hundred years have been extremely violent, and forced humanity to come to terms with some of its worst atrocities. What have we learned? This course will take a roller coaster ride through the ideas, topics and events of the 20th century and attempt to look at them from all sides. If you’re a history fan and want to begin to understand how future generations will look at the past hundred years, this is the course for you.
- Yale University – SOCY 151: Foundations of Modern Social Theory – Professor Iván Szelényi – If you’re a philosophy or sociology fan, take this course. You’ll look back through the works of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Marx, Weber and Durkheim to examine how philosophers, activists, and observers of the past viewed the direction of society and modern culture — in some cases fearing it was leading to a horrendous demise, while others were more hopeful. You’ll pay attention to the theoretical and conceptual ideas that led each writer to their viewpoints, and see whether those viewpoints are still valid and understandable in today’s society.
- Rutgers University – The Future of Humankind – Professor James Martin – In the billions of years of life on earth, no single organism has had quite the kind of impact that humanity has on the face of the planet. The human being is an incredibly unique creature, and this course walks you through the history of humanity, how technology has helped us grow and develop, the role art and inspiration has played in our development, and what the future may hold for our species.
- Case Western Reserve University -Introduction to International Criminal Law – Professor Michael Scharf – Part of Coursera’s Signature Track of classes, this basic introduction to international criminal law will guide you through the topic of international law. From the Nuremberg trial at the end of World War II to Saddam Hussein’s day in court to the way Somali pirates and international terrorists are tried and convicted, international criminal law crosses borders. This course examines topics of genocide, terrorism, piracy, and more, all in the same context: How nations cooperate — or fail to cooperate — in bringing criminals across borders to justice. If you’re interested, enrol now- the class has already started!
- The University of Cambridge – The Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law Seminar Series (iTunes U) – This seminar series, brought to you by Cambridge, addresses a variety of contentious topics, including patent law, whether genes and DNA can be patented, copyright law and copyright protection, copyright and the music industry, and the quest for copyright reform. If you have opinions on copyright law and patent law but haven’t taken the time to study it, this free lecture series will get you up to speed on the issue quickly, and help you come away a more informed citizen on the topic.
- Johns Hopkins University – Animals in Research: Law, Policy, and Humane Sciences – An interesting cross between medicine and law, this course examines the topic of animal research, and the laws that govern it. There’s an extensive legal framework that describes how animals can be used in testing, when they absolutely cannot be, and how they must be treated. The course will also discuss work being done to strengthen those laws and discourage animal testing when it’s not absolutely necessary.
- Harvard University – Justice – Professor Michael Sandel – Nearly a thousand students pack the lecture halls at Harvard every year to hear Dr. Sandel talk about justice, and how the concept has evolved and changed over the millennia. The ethics of fair treatment, the beginnings of the justice system, the line between the freedom to choose and the responsibility of the state to protect, the moral side of murder, and even a good conversation about cannibalism are all integral to the topic at hand and discussed in this wide-reaching course. By the end, you may find yourself questioning some of your longest held beliefs, and that’s a good thing — confirmation bias will not be well-served in this class.
- University of Oklahoma – Introduction to Management – Professor Jeremy Short – Management – the art of managing yourself and others, has never been taught like this before. This groundbreaking course from the University of Oklahoma is worth your time and credits for a couple of reasons. It’s taught as an interactive journey that follows our hero, Atlas Black, as he works his way through college and attempts to make ends meet however he can, and follows his experiences as he tries to make it on his own, starts a business, and learns how to be a better self and business manager in the process. The course textbook is a graphic novel that tells Atlas’ story from start to finish, and is probably the only textbook you’ll ever actually want to read ahead in.
- Vanderbilt University – Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative – Professor Jay Clayton – Whether you’re a hardcore gamer or you just dabble in virtual worlds from time to time, this course will give you a way to reflect on your hobby (or your passion) and explore it in an intellectual manner that will challenge your critical thinking skills. So many of the video games and virtual worlds we enjoy are drawn from classic literature, brilliant new stories, and talented writers and designers, and this course will introduce you to some of them, their concepts and ideas, and help you get a better appreciation for gaming. The course starts with The Lord of the Rings Online and how it works with (and at times against) Tolkien’s work, and puts it against the backdrop of other games such as Final Fantasy, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and of course, Skyrim.
- University of Washington – Introduction to Public Speaking – Professor Matt McGarrity – Have a little trouble getting up in front of a crowd and making your point without shaking or getting stage fright? This course will help you learn to cope with and address that anxiety, learn the differences between oral and written communication, and help you be a better presenter when you’re in front of a group of people. By the end, you’ll understand how to put yourself in the audience’s shoes, and remember what makes good presentations and speeches when you give your own.
- University of California, Berkeley – Edible Education 103: Telling Stories About Food and Agriculture – Professor Michael Pollan – Michael Pollan, of “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” fame, teaches this all-video seminar available on YouTube from Berkeley. Pollan examines the costs, both economic, environmental, and social, of our industrialised food system, and dives into the future of food and our national (and international) farming and agriculture system. He examines in detail where our food comes from, the effects of fad diets and fast food, and how educated, smart consumers can make all the difference when it comes to eating better, healthier, and smarter — not just for individuals, but for communities and the planet as a whole.
- Carnegie Mellon University – STEM Readiness – If you’re considering a career or a job in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, this course will brush up your skills so you’re ready to make the jump. Whether you’re underemployed or unemployed and looking to get the skills you need to move to something more technical, this course will walk you through basic mathematics you’ll need, data analysis, critical thinking, job search skills, resume writing skills, written and oral communication, and all of those skills that every job application says you should be fluent in before applying.
- 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 and history.
- 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 University of Reddit is a crowd-built set of classes and seminars by Reddit users who have expertise to share. Topics range from computer science and programming to paleontology, narrative poetry and Latin. Individuals interested in teaching classes regularly post to the University of Reddit subthread to gauge interest in future courses and announce when new modules are available.
- iTunes U hosts podcasts, seminars, lectures and full collections of entire courses from universities around the globe, including many of the ones listed above. Enjoy courses from Stanford, Duke, Harvard and more, all from the comfort of your desktop, or on the go with the iTunes U app for iOS.
- 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.
Science and Medicine
Social Sciences, Classics and Humanities
Cross-Disciplinary Courses and Seminars
Extra Credit: How To Find Your Own Online Classes
The curriculum 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.
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.