Plan Your Free Online Education At Lifehacker U (September 2013 Edition)

Plan Your Free Online Education At Lifehacker U (September 2013 Edition)

Education isn’t tied to school, university and certification courses — there are dozens of great ways to get educated online. Spring into action and 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

Plan Your Free Online Education At Lifehacker U (September 2013 Edition)
  • Harvard University – CS50X: Introduction to Computer Science – Professor David J. Malan – It’s fall, which means it’s time to revisit one of our favourite courses; Harvard’s excellent Introduction to Computer Science course. When freshmen arrive at Harvard looking to study CompSci, this is the course they land in first, and you can take it online. In this class you’ll learn the basics of computer science, learn to code from the ground up, and study languages like C, PHP, and JavaScript plus SQL, CSS, and HTML. You’ll solve real problems in biology, cryptography, finance, forensics, and gaming. It’s demanding, but it’s an amazing course. Supplimental material is available at
  • University of Toronto – Learn to Program: The Fundamentals – Professors Jennifer Campbell and Paul Gries – If CS50 is a little too much for you, or you’re just too busy for an intensive course like that, you can still learn to code. This course from the University of Toronto is a little less intensive, but still teaches you the groundwork and required skills to understand development and programming. The course is designed for people who have never even seen a computer program, so you don’t need to know any languages or be familiar with coding tools in order to make the most of it. In fact, you don’t need any background in technology for it — aside from a desire to learn how your favourite apps or desktop programs are built.
  • Utah State University – Adobe Flash: Art and Animation – Professor Andy Walker – Flash may not dominate the web’s UI and interfaces like it used to, but Flash is still an exceptionally powerful animation tool, tool for creating video, art, and more. In this four week course, you’ll learn the basics of using Flash for design and animation, and you don’t need a deep background in computing to make the most of it. It’s simple, straight-forward, and if you’ve ever wondered how every random kid on the web has managed to make dozens of Flash videos, now you’ll learn how it’s done.
  • Indian Institute of Technology Delhi – Web Intelligence and Big Data – Professor Gautam Shroff – If you’ve heard the phrase “big data” and you’ve never really been sure what it means, or how it ties into the reams upon reams of so-called “anonymous” information that businsses collect on your browsing habits, visits, trends, and behaviours, this course is for you. You’ll need a background in some database administration to make the most of it, since you’ll actually build some smart, web-enabled applications in the process, and if you’re interested in a career in business intelligence, this course is definitely for you.
  • Udacity – Mobile Web Development – Professors Chris Wilson and Peter Lubbers – developing for the mobile web isn’t easy, and it’s not just because of smaller screens. You have to consider touch as a primary interface for your site or application, variable screen sizes, users using your service in desktop mode on a mobile device, and more. This course will teach you how to build mobile web experiences that enrich your users and visitors, and even use open APIs available for mobile devices, like geolocation, accelerometer access, and more. You’ll also learn how to evaluate mobile performance, so you can make sure your apps and tools work even when network access is spotty.
  • Udacity/San Jose State University – Introduction to Programming (Java) – Professor Cay Horstmann – If you’re more interested in developing for mobile devices like Android, or if you just want to hone in on one of the most popular (but often most reviled) programming languages in heavy use today, this course will teach you Java, inside and out. In the course you’ll get familiar with classes, methods and argument passing, loops, and more. By the end, you’ll be familiar with the language and have used it in practical, useful applications.
  • Stanford University – Cryptography I – Professor Dan Boneh – Dan Boneh’s amazing crypto course is back for another term, and if you didn’t take it before, it’s time to take it now, especially with cryptography, security, and data collection by government and private organisations in the news. In the course you’ll learn how cryptography is everywhere, and how it secures communications, how powerful adversaries and decrypt and obtain encoded information, and study real world applications of cryptography.

Finance and Economics

Plan Your Free Online Education At Lifehacker U (September 2013 Edition)
  • Macquarie University – Financial Literacy – Professors Peter Mordaunt and Paul Clitheroe – If all of the buzzwords used in financial news confuse you, this is the course for you. understand the language, learn the difference between lifestyle goals and money goals, and learn about the tools and options available to you in the market, common money mistakes people fall into when they start budgeting, and learn how to follow it and stick to it for the long haul.
  • Technical And Further Education (TAFE) NSW – Syndey Instititute – Financial Planning – Professors Kerrie Adra and Diana Bugarcic – If you’re familiar with the basics of financial literacy, this course in financial planning will help you make understand your savings and investments from the perspective of a financial advisor. If you’re interested in becoming a financial advisor, this course will walk you through how to handle a client’s finances confidentially and in their best interest, and give you an idea of what financial planners actually do.
  • Barnard College – Economics of Money and Banking, Part One – Professor Perry G Mehrling – Have you ever wondered how the economics of the world are so intertwined, and why banks in Australia respond to sensitively to banks in the UK, or in Japan? This course will help you understand, and also expose you to older banking traditions. You’ll learn the roles of central banking authorities and the root of the 2006-2007 global financial collapse.
  • The Open University – 60 Second Adventures in Economics (iTunes U) – Professor David Mitchell – In quick, digestible bites designed to be listened to on your mobile device, this podcast series will teach you some basic principles of economics, including The Invisible Hand and the Paradox of Thrift. You’ll learn how governments and other institutions decide to save or spend, whether to raise or lower interest rates, fix exchange rates, and more. You’ll also get some insight into economic history, such as why Adam Smith valued free markets or how Keynes reduced unemployment.
  • Stanford University – Entrepreneurship Through the Lens of Venture Capital (iTunes U) – Interested in starting your own business? Maybe you have a brilliant idea that just needs to be real and you need some startup cash. Well, it may seem like venture capital is there for the taking and angel investors just rain money down on people with ideas, but the truth is a bit more complicated. This course explains how startup companies can be successful funding, managing, and scaling their businesses using money from would-be investors aligned with their vision.

Science and Medicine

Plan Your Free Online Education At Lifehacker U (September 2013 Edition)
  • Udacity – Tales from the Genome – Professors Matthew Cook and Joanna Mountain – in a partnership with 23 and Me, this course will give you a basic introduction to genetics and DNA, with specific attention to the social, personal, and medical implications of your genome. You won’t need any experience with genetics, just an interest in what exactly our DNA does and doesn’t do, what traits it’s responsible for, and how genetics work on a larger scale.
  • Georgia Institute of Technology – Introduction to Physics I with Laboratory – Professor Michael F. Schatz – This introductory course will get you familiar with physical topics and basic Newtonian mechanics. There is a lab involved though, so if you’re interested in getting out and seeing some of the principles you’ve studied in the real world, the course will guide you to that as well. This course uses computer graphics, motion capture, and modelling to help you really understand physical concepts, so you get to study bodies in motion to understand exactly how and why they move the way they do.
  • McHenry County College – Exploring Chemistry – Professor Li Li Zyzak, Ph.D. – Chemistry is one of the three pillars of science, and while it may seem daunting or imposing, this course can give you an introduction to the topic that’s easy to grasp and follow without dulling the topic down. This course will expose you to the fundamentals of chemistry, from solutions to precipitates and mixtures to elements on the periodic table and how they interact. No background in science or chemistry is required for the course.
  • MIT – Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life – Professors Eric S. Lander and Graham Walker – Professor Lander worked on the Human Genome Project, and shares his experiences with new students looking to understand how genetics and DNA are the building blocks of life, along with the basics of DNA, RNA, and other proteins like amino acids that make up the expression of genetic material.
  • MIT – Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics – Professors Mark Drela and Alejandra Uranga – Ever want to know how a modern aircraft stays afloat in the air seemingly effortlessly, while your paper aeroplane can’t get off the ground or comes crashing down as soon as you let go of it? This course explains the basic concepts of aerodynamics. By the end of the course, you’ll understand the forces operating on aircraft as they fly, how vortices work, what turbulence really is, and how to deconstruct the forces acting on any body moving through the air.
  • Columbia University – Virology I: How Viruses Work – Professor Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D. – Viruses aren’t like bacteria and the “germs” you’re used to hearing about. They behave in different ways, replicate differently, and while bacteria can be easily treated with something like antibiotics, when you have a viral infection like a cold or the flu, sometimes it’s all about keeping yourself bundled up and on light duty until it runs its course and your body’s immune system fights it off. Want to know how they work? This course will get into it in great detail. You’ll learn how viruses propagate and how they work within a host’s body and cells. You’ll need some background in biology to get the most from this one.
  • Georgetown University – Introduction to Bioethics – Professors Tom Beauchamp, John Keown, Rebecca Kukla, Margaret Little, Madison Powers, Karen Stohr, and Robert M. Veatch – If you’ve ever wondered whether or not we should clone human beings, grow organs in labs, harvest organs from condemned prisoners, augment the human genome, or augment the human body, you’ve thought about topics in bioethics. All of these points are discussed in this robust course in science, ethics, philosophy and where all three meet. You’ll hear a number of different perspectives and positions on the topic of science and medicine and whether human knowledge has outpaces our ethical responsibilities to one another.
  • University of British Columbia – Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations – Dr. Sarah Burch and Dr. Sara Harris – In this course, you’ll learn the difference between “climate” and “weather”, and exactly how wrong people are when they experience a cold winter and then scoff at the topic of global climate change because it’s feezing in their neighbourhood. You’ll learn the intricate connections between local, regional, and global climate, and discuss the social and political implications of the topic. Perhaps most directly, you’ll learn how to discuss topics like climate change in a manner that puts the emphasis on science, evidence and objective proof.


Plan Your Free Online Education At Lifehacker U (September 2013 Edition)
  • Canvas Network – Statistics in Education for Mere Mortals – Professor Lloyd Rieber – Statistics get a bad rap; this course will help you get your arms around what could otherwise be a tricky and complicated topic. You’ll learn the basics of statistical models, how to interpret and analyse statistical data, and basic principles and skills. You’ll build Excel spreadsheets and learn how to navigate them and process the data included, and study video-based tutorials that will help you crunch numbers with the best of them.
  • University of California Irvine – Pre-Calculus – Professors Sarah Eichhorn and Rachel Cohen Lehman – If you want to brush up on some of the advanced mathematics that you may have forgotten over the years, this course will give you a healthy and easy-to-follow refresher. You’ll study basic mathematical concepts like trigonometry, algebra, linear equations, quadratic equations and polynomials.
  • Khan Academy – Algebra (iTunes U) – If algebra is where you need your refresher, this podcast series will help you get up to speed quickly. Each course is between five and 10 minutes long and covers topics including linear equations, graphing, imaginary and irrational numbers, quadratic equations and proofs. The courses are designed for you to follow them yourself, so you can tackle each topic as you see fit, or just brush up on the topics you know you need a little help with.

Social Sciences, Classics and Humanities

Plan Your Free Online Education At Lifehacker U (September 2013 Edition)
  • The Hebrew University of Jerusalem – A Brief History of Humankind – Dr. Yuval Noah Harari – This course starts in the stone age with an overview of the various human species of the time and then progresses all the way through history to the technological revolutions of the 21st century. Along the way you’ll discuss topics like how humanity came to be the dominant species on the planet, why empires were so common in historical civilisations, how gender played a role in historical societies, whether or not progress meant happiness in the cultures of the past (and the present), and where we’ll likely go from here.
  • Harvard University – Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement – Professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey – If you’re reading Lifehacker, you’ve probably struggled with a goal or personal desire for change that just never seems to really manifest, even though you’ve tried. This course will help you understand why human beings are so resistant to change, why making significant changes in our lives is so incredibly difficult, and how to apply the lessons you’ll learn to your own personal goals. You’ll learn about new research that will help you unlock your own potential for change and overcome some of the psychological roadblocks that keep us stuck in our old routines and ruts.
  • Curtis Institute of Music – Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas – Professor Jonathan Biss – This series of lectures will help you explore and listen to Beethoven’s piano sonatas in a new light, and take away an understanding of the time and place in which they were composed. Each lecture focuses on a different aspect of Beethoven’s music, and over the course you’ll study 32 of his greatest sonatas. You’ll understand why many musicians see Beethoven as the pinnacle of musical construction.
  • Wellesley – Was Alexander Great? The Life, Leadership, and Legacies of History’s Greatest Warrior – Professor Guy MacLean Rogers – Alexander The Great is one of the most larger-than-life figures in human history, but what was his real story? His empire stretched across most of Europe and much of Asia, and many people considered him a god, and that was all before he turned 33 years old. What made him such a force in the ancient world, and what can we learn from him today? This course explores all of those topics, including some controversial ones involving the history of warfare, human sexuality, and historical relations between the east and west as a result of his life.
  • Saylor University – PHIL304: Existentialism – You’ve heard the phrase thrown around a lot, but what exactly is existentialism, and what does it mean to have an “existential crisis?” This course examines one of the most often-referenced but frequently-misunderstood topics in philosophy from every angle. By the end of the course, you’ll understand its origins, logical reasoning, and how the philosophy has evolved over time.
  • Macquarrie University – Becoming Human: Anthropology (BeHuman) – Professor Greg Downey – This course in anthropology will take you on a whirlwind journey from pre-history through to the modern day, and describe how some of the basic characteristics we associate with our humanity came to be. There’s discussion of Darwin and human evolution, but there’s also a great focus on the impact that our growing brains had on our societal development, and the role that sexual selection played even up to modern times (and the role that all of those factors still play in our societies).
  • The University of Melbourne – Animal Behaviour – Professors Raoul Mulder and Mark Elgar – If you’ve ever wondered why animals do what they do, where the line is between instinctual behaviour and force of will, and why animal behaviour is predictable at some times and completely wild at others, this course will illuminate the topic for you. You’ll come to understand how animals compete over resources, how evolutionary biology influences the actions of individuals and groups, mate selection and migration and movement patternsmore. You’ll study the basics, like biology and evolution, but you’ll also get into social constructs and passed-down traits, like familial behaviour, parental care and social conflicts.


Plan Your Free Online Education At Lifehacker U (September 2013 Edition)
  • Griffith University – Understanding the Origins of Crime – Professor Dr. Aaron Sell – When we ask “why” someone committed a crime, we usually look to their direct motive — whether they were angry, needed money, wanted revenge or made a mistake. In this course, you’ll take a broader look at the origins of crime and criminal behaviour — one that starts with the concepts of human evolution and natural selection. Dr Sell examines why crime is a social construct and how it’s been sociologically and biologically coded into who we are as a species.
  • TED – Cyber-Influence and Power (iTunes U) – The internet presents new challenges and opportunities for people, organisations, and states to exercise their will, enforce their foreign policies, inspire revolutions or horrifying crimes, and act against other competing organisations. This series of TED talks discusses the topic from the perspective of everyone involved, from the activist looking to keep information free, the protester who wants their voice heard by power-brokers, state agencies and organisations that can use communication technology to flout international laws and legal sanctions.
  • The Open University – Childhood and The Law (iTunes U) – While many people focus exclusively on how the law impacts adults and the crimes they commit, legal issues around children are much murkier and often controversial. This course examines topics such as adoption, the legal boundaries for adoptive parents or children who want to seek their birth parents, social work and child welfare issues, children and violence, and more. The course studies the topic from the perspective of international law, and examines how laws and legal penalties shift from culture to culture and nation to nation.

Cross-Disciplinary Courses and Seminars

Plan Your Free Online Education At Lifehacker U (September 2013 Edition)
  • The University of Tokyo – Conditions of War and Peace – Professor Kiichi Fujiwara – Why do we wage war in the name of peace and security? What have we learned about the history of war and what does that tell us about the future of armed combat? This course will ask some seemingly simple questions and get into their very complicated answers, like “When is war necessary?” and “What does peace look like?” The class will challenge your perceptions of what exactly a peaceable nation looks like, under what conditions an armed country or populace should fight — either to defend themselves or in response to direct or implied aggression.
  • Calarts – Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers Professor Jeannene Przyblyski, Ph.D. – This course approaches the history of art and design from the perspective of artists, covering topics including video games, movies, computer animation, cartoons, and how all of the artists who make those works get it all done. You’ll approach both the history of and the application of art from the context of contemporary art and artists, and consider the “conversation” that makers have with their mediums. The course seeks to help you understand how an artist manages to tell a story with something like a sculpture or a computer animation, and what a modern game designer can learn from classical painting.
  • Center for Creative Leadership – Leadership for Real – This course series focuses on ways you can develop your leadership skills. If that sounds trite, think again — you’ll get video lectures, interactive discussions with other classmates, and a laser focus on real-world applications of the skills you’ll learn. Whether you’re already a manager looking to be a better boss to your staff or you’re someone just interested in developing those “leadership skills” that so many employers want, this course can help you build them.
  • Penn State – Creativity, Innovation And Change – Dr. Jack V. Matson, Dr. Darrell Velegol and Dr. Kathryn W. Jablokow – In this course, you’ll learn to develop your own powers of creative thinking and apply them to even the most rigorous, routine responsibilities and duties you have in your day-to-day life. The goal of the course is to give you a way to develop your creative potential to make positive changes in your life, in your community, and in your work.
  • Taylor’s University – Success – Achieve Success with Emotional Intelligence – Professors Mushtak Al-Atabi and Jennifer DeBoer – We’ve often taught that success comes from working hard, getting good grades, making money, or doing a good job at work, but there’s more to the story. This course helps you first define success in terms that are actually meaningful, then rewire your brain to understand what happiness and success really mean to you and how to attain them (or rather, that you may already have them). You’ll learn what “emotional intelligence” really means, and how it plays a significant role in your interpersonal relationships, both at work or in your personal life, and how that understanding can help improve those relationships in all aspects of your life.
  • Udacity – The Design of Everyday Things – Professors Don Norman, Kristian Simsarian, and Chelsey Glasson – Design is everywhere. It’s all around us, from the apps on your smartphone to the building you live in and the clothes you wear. This course aims to help you understand the role that design plays in our everyday lives, how designers do their work, and how even you do design when you organise a room or set up a home or apartment. By the end of the class, you’ll be able to offer real critiques, you’ll have a better understanding of what exactly “design” entails and how it works, you’ll understand your own personal eye for design, and you’ll be able to appreciate design in a way you may not have before.
  • University of Colorado Boulder – Comic Books and Graphic Novels – Professor William Kuskin – Comic books and graphic novels are fun and entertaining to read, but there’s more to them than the pretty pictures. They’re some of the most engaging, informative and innovative art forms we have, and this course will help you appreciate them in a brand new light. You’ll examine (but move beyond) the traditional comics and names you may be familiar with and study comic books as an art form with their own canon, literary traditions, and long (and sometimes turbulent) history in the United States. You’ll see how the medium grew from simple entertainment to entertainment aimed at children, then adults, then all audiences, and how society has reacted to the evolution of stories, imagery, and narrative through the years.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Introduction to Sustainability – Professor Jonathan Tomkin – “Sustainability” is a buzzword used in environmental and ethical debates, but what does it really mean, and what would it take for us to live a truly sustainable lifestyle? This course examines those topics, and how human societies can adapt to embrace global changes, growing populations, and dwindling resources. You’ll study the Tragedy of the Commons, and you’ll dive into the mathematics and science involved in population growth and change, migration, energy use and its environmental effects, and contemporary issues in energy and fossil fuels, transportation, agriculture and water usage.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

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