Your education doesn't have to stop once you leave school -- freedom from the classroom just means you have more control over what you learn and when you learn it. We've put together a curriculum of some of the best free online classes available on the web for the latest term of Lifehacker U, our regularly updating guide to improving your life with free, online university-level classes. Let's get started.
Study picture from Shutterstock
Orientation: What Is Lifehacker U?
Whether you're headed to university for the first time, you're back in classes after a fun, food and family-filled holiday break, or you're long out of school and interested in learning something new, now's the time to turn it on and amp up your skills with some interesting and informative classes and seminars. Anyone with a little time and a passion for self-growth (and a computer) can audit, read and "enrol" in these courses for their own personal benefit.
Schools like Yale University, MIT, Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley and many more are all offering free online classes that you can audit and participate in from the comfort of your dorm room, office chair, couch or computing chair-of-choice.
If you'll remember from our September 2013 semester, some of these classes are available year-round, but many of them are only available during a specific term. 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
Computer Science and Technology
- 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 -- one we've mentioned before but is still one of our favourite classes for mobile web development -- 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.
- University of Reading Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game - Professor Karsten Øster Lundqvist - If you're eager to code because you want to build mobile games or start a business building mobile apps, this course can get you started building Java-based mobile games. The aim of the class is, of course, to give you an introduction to programming, specifically in Java, using mobile games and gaming as a hook, and it's beginner-friendly at that. No specific knowledge of programming is required to get started, and this seven week course (starting near the end of January) will have you building and playing mobile games before it's all over and done.
- University of Maryland - Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems - Professor Adam Porter - If you're looking for a more rounded approach to building a mobile app for Android, this course (from my alma mater!) will have you up and running in no time. You don't have to have an Android device to participate (you can use an emulator), but the full syllabus for the course is already posted, and it'll walk you through the basics of the Android platform, resources available to Android developers, application design and frameworks, graphics and animation, using device sensors, and more.
- Stanford University - Networking: Introduction to Computer Networking - Professors Philip Levis and Nick McKeown - If network administration or engineering is more your interest (as opposed to software development and coding), then this course will teach you the basics of connected information networks, most notably the largest one on the planet: the Internet. You'll learn everything from the ground up, including how popular technologies like BitTorrent and HTTP work, but you'll also study the basics of network design and protocols. You'll read RFCs, study them, and then discuss them with classmates, and the course even touches on current events and internet issues like net neutrality, DNS security, and wiretapping.
- University of Michigan - Internet History, Technology, and Security - Professor Charles Severance - There are still a lot of us who remember the early days of the internet, when the public was just becoming aware of this vast resource of information available at our fingertips. However, the history of the internet extends far past when consumers and the public got on board, and new users or today's beginners may have no idea how the internet was born, what it was originally designed to do, and the technology that powered (and in some cases, still powers) it. This course will give you a primer to all of those topics and more, including current events and topics of identity, personalisation, data collection, individual and corporate security, and more. By the end of the course, the professor explains, you won't take the internet for granted.
- University of Oklahoma - Power and Elegance of Computational Thinking - Professor Amy McGovern, PhD - If you have absolutely no programming experience (and aren't interested in learning to code) but you're still interested in how computers work and how systems "think," this course will help you understand computational thinking, start thinking that way yourself, and apply basic computational principles in real-world exercises. By the end of the course, you may very well be more interested in computer science.
- University of Southampton - Web Science: How the Web is Changing the World - Professors Leslie Carr and Susan Halford - The web is very different from the Internet, although the two have largely become mingled because so many people live on the web. There's more to the picture, but the web -- the World Wide Web, precisely -- shouldn't be discounted in the way it's changed the way we live our lives. Everything from the way we shop, the way we plan major life events like weddings, holidays, jobs, moves, and the way we entertain ourselves have all changed drastically thanks to the web, and in this course you'll examine the history of the web, the technology that drives and powers it, and learn about the people who made it what it is today. You'll also study key questions of democracy and freedom when it comes to the web versus information control, networking principles, the economics of the web, and of course, how you can get in.
Finance and Economics
- University of California, Irvine - The Power of Macroeconomics: Economic Principles in the Real World - Professors Peter Navarro and Ali Saffari - Macroeconomics, or the branch of economics that has to do with large scale economies and financial systems as a whole, can be pretty difficult to understand and get your arms around. That doesn't stop many people from positing on what economies should and shouldn't do, or what is or isn't in the best interest of businesses, nations, and peoples. This course will give you the information required to really understand the economics of nations, businesses, and international systems so you can be a more informed consumer of news and public policy. You'll learn about popular theories and economists who shaped today's approach to finance, and cover topics like unemployment, inflation, deflation, monetary policy, budget deficits and public debt, and more. Best of all, the course is aimed at people with no economics background.
- University of California, Irvine - The Power of Microeconomics: Economic Principles in the Real World - Professors Peter Navarro and Ali Saffari - By contrast to macroeconomics, microeconomics has to do with smaller organisations, individual households and businesses, and smaller movements of money. In this course, you'll pick up the basics of supply and demand, consumer behaviour and marketing, monopolies and competition, oligopolies, strategic behaviour of businesses, the labour market, even land and rent. You may not be balancing your chequebook in this course, but you will understand how businesses do it, and what it really means when you call someone a monopoly -- and how it compares to the monopolies of the past, whether it's more or less similar than you expected.
- IE Business School - Understanding Economic Policymaking - Professor Gayle Allard -The decisions and movements of money by large governments and public organisations can be confusing to say the least, and it's easier to rise up in outrage than to stop and consider why the money moves where it does and who actually benefits from it. This course is designed to help you understand those processes, how the media uses financial information to inform the public, and what terms like GDP and inflation really mean on a global scale. You'll study the current and ongoing international financial crisis and how governments around the globe are responding, along with the success (or lack thereof) many of them are seeing in response to their policies. Before the end of the course, you'll try your hand at policymaking for a hypothetical nation, and see how your own philosophies and decisions pan out for the people of your fictional nation.
- University of East Angila - The Secret Power of Brands - Professor Robert Jones - From Apple and Samsung to Google and Microsoft to McDonalds and Taco Bell, brands have huge marketing power and mind share. Merely uttering the name of a company inspires imagery and specific messages in consumers' heads inspired either by their own marketing efforts or by their competition, and competing brands don't just drive incredible sales, but fierce competition among champions of those brands who aren't even employed by the companies that own them. This course examines the power of brands and branding, why brands matter so much and how they have such incredible sway over people -- even when those people say that branding and marketing doesn't matter to them. You'll learn directly from marketing experts at companies like Google and Virgin, and open up topics of branding and marketing that are still controversial and under research.
- University of California, Irvine - Fundamentals of Financial Planning - Finance and economics are all well and good when they're on a large scale and have nothing to do with your household, but what about your personal finances? This self-led, anytime financial planning course is designed to help you walk through the basics like budgeting and balancing your own books all the way up to investments, estate planning, insurance, and retirement. The course covers topics that a professional financial planner would discuss with you, and by the time you've worked your way through its 22 modules, you'll ideally have a strong handle on your personal finances -- and be a better consumer of financial information and services from others.
Science and Medicine
- University of Virginia - How Things Work I - Professor Louis A Bloomfield - Physics is all around us; from the cars we drive to the computers we use, and this course, designed explicitly for people with no science background, aims to show you the physics behind how the world works. The course takes examples from the world around us and uses them to showcase physics in action, from how levers work, wheels roll, ice skaters glide across the ice, and so on. The class is case study driven, so while there's a little bit of maths involved, it's nothing you'll need to study up for. The goal is to get people thinking about science and understanding the role that physics plays in... well, everything.
- The University of Edinburgh - The Discovery of the Higgs Boson - Professor Luigi Del Debbio - The discovery of the Higgs Boson was a huge milestone for physics, and it verified a lot about our understanding of the universe, how particles obtain mass, and went a long way towards completing the Standard Model of particle physics. If all of that means nothing to you, but you did hear about the Higgs when it was discovered, that's because it was also one of the most covered and publicised scientific events in recent memory, even earning Peter Higgs, the man for which the particle is named, a Nobel Prize. So how did it happen? What is the Higgs Boson, and what does it mean that we discovered it? This course will tell you, and help you explore the purpose and design of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which was so instrumental in its discovery.
- The University of Southampton - Exploring Our Oceans - Professors Jon Copley and Verity Nye - More than half of the Earth's surface is covered by water, and while we largely have them mapped, so little of it has actually been explored that it's remarkable. The depths of the oceans still harbour amazing creatures, formations, and ongoing processes that clue us in to how the Earth was formed, how everything we know got here, and what the Earth will look like thousands or millions of years from now. This course will show you some of those mind-blowing sights and stories, from the icy depths of the poles to the tropical trenches near the equator.
- University of Bath - Inside Cancer: How Genes Influence Cancer Development - Dr Momna Hejmadi - If you've ever heard that someone in your family had a certain type of cancer and it made you worried, or that a direct relative of yours died of cancer, you undoubtedly started wondering and researching about whether their type of cancer is hereditary or influenced by genetics. This course explains how genes and genetic expression can influence cancer, how genes can make people more or less likely to develop cancer, and the fundamental differences between cancer cells and regular cells. Essentially how cancer forms, how it differs from normal cells in our bodies, and what makes some people more or less likely to develop it.
- Duke University - Introduction to Astronomy - Professor Ronen Plesser - Without a doubt, you've looked up at the starry night sky and wondered what was out there, what you were looking at exactly, how far away from us it was, and what it looked like close up. This introduction to Astronomy course will help you understand not just what it was you were looking at, but the processes and mechanisms that describe how the stars and planets came to be, how they move around the sky, what they look like near and far, and more. You'll start with basic, naked-eye astronomy and progress from near-earth out to the far reaches of the galaxy, learning more about everything you pass along the way, and then beyond to quasars, supernovae, and the universe as a whole, exploring what we know about it and, more interestingly, what we don't know.
- Australian National University - The Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe - Professors Brian Schmidt, PhD and Paul Francis, PhD - If you've ever wanted to sit in the tutelage of a Nobel Prize winner, now's your chance. This course from the Australian National University is led by Brian Schmidt, 2011 Nobel Prize winner in Physics and one of the people responsible for the discovery of dark energy -- the mysterious inflationary force that's causing our universe to continually expand at an ever-increasing rate. What is dark energy? Why is the universe still expanding? How do we detect dark energy? These are all contemporary questions in modern astronomy and cosmology, and while there may not be specific answers, there are plenty of theories. Join Schmidt and Francis in exploring some of the greatest mysteries of the Universe in this course -- things that, for all we know and understand, we still don't have the data or technology to puzzle out just yet.
- University of Birmingham - Good Brain, Bad Brain - Professor Alison Cooper - We know a lot about the brain and how it works, but a detailed map of it and what every part of the brain does still eludes us. For as much as we understand about neurology and neuroscience, there's just as much that's not clear to us, or has conflicting reports and studies over the years. This course will guide you into the topic of neurological science, help you get your bearings around how the brain works, what -- beyond our thoughts and feelings -- it's capable of doing, what we know, and what we're trying to figure out. Designed for the non-technical or non-medical person, by the end of the class you'll have a whole new appreciation for your own brain, and how it works diligently around the clock to keep you alive, inspired, functioning, and healthy.
- University of Alberta - Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology - Professors Philip John Currie and Victoria Megan Arbour - A lot has changed in the field of palaeontology since you were a child, and that's comfortable to say without knowing what age you may be. Dinosaur physiology used to be extremely poorly understood, but even today, thanks to DNA sequencing, better imaging tools and technologies, and never-before seen samples and fossils, we know more about dinosaur biology than ever before. In this course, you'll learn about the myriad dinosaur species that roamed the earth in the Mesozoic Era, from 250 to 65 million years ago. You'll study how dinosaur species evolved and adapted to their changing world, developing new techniques to attack and defend themselves, run, jump, swim, and fly, find mates, settle down, and, of course, what brought the age of the dinosaurs to an end and what that end probably looked like.
- University of Exeter - Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions - Professor Tim Lenton - This course aims to take the topic of climate change, set it against the natural climate variations of the past, and examine -- with real data -- the causes and influences of the global climate shifts of the past several hundred years. It's a multidisciplinary course with a heavy focus on provable science, and incorporates experts from multiple fields to discuss the data at hand, the impacts of climate change, and what can be done to avert, remedy, or correct for those effects.
- Stanford University - EP101: Your Body in the World: Adapting to Your Next Big Adventure - Professor Anne L. Friedlander, PhD - If you wanted to climb a mountain, base jump, or dive into the deepest parts of the ocean, would you be physically ready? You may be in good shape (or maybe not), but drastic things happen to our bodies when we put them in amazing situations. This course will help you prepare for your next big adventure, and rather than just teach you lessons, you'll hear from experts, doctors, and adventurers, watch them as they do what they do best, and see real videos of amazing things that only humans can do. You'll learn how the body responds to cold, heat, stress, altitude, pressure, even how the ageing process works, and more, in a truly exhilarating environment.
- University of Oklahoma - Chemistry of Beer - Professor Mark Morvant, PhD - Beer is delicious, and can even be nutritious, since it's fortified with minerals and vitamins that your body actually needs. In this course, you'll understand the chemistry that's not just going on in your bottle or glass of beer, but the chemistry behind how beer is made, how beer was made in the past, and the differences between styles and types of beer. You may want to have some knowledge of general or organic chemistry for this course to make the most of it, but since it's free (and not for credit unless you're a UO student), you might be able to squeak past on an otherwise incredibly interesting topic.
- Stanford University - Introduction to Mathematical Thinking - Professor Keith Devlin - Mathematical thinking isn't the same as actually doing mathematics, as Devlin will describe. The goal of this course is to teach you to think mathematically and analytically -- to think logically about a problem or puzzle and try to deduce the best approach based on the information available. The course starts at the beginning of February and comes in two flavours, the Extended version that's designed for college students interested in studying mathematics, and the shorter Basic version for people who just want to improve their critical and analytical thinking skills and apply what they've learned to their general and professional lives.
- MIT - Dynamics - Professors David Gossard, Thomas Peacock, and J. Kim Vandiver - If you land at MIT interested in studying mechanical engineering, you first have to work your way through some of the basic mathematics that explains and describes how mechanical systems work. This course will help you do just that, and has the same rigour as the MIT class for undergraduates -- you'll learn about the geometry of objects in motion, you'll learn to predict the movements of objects accurately, use tools like MATLAB to perform your calculations, and understand topics like torque and angular momentum -- things you see every day, but may not be able to describe. You'll definitely be able to by the end of this course.
- Udacity/San Jose State University - Visualising Algebra - Professor Sandra DeSousa - Algebra can be a tricky topic, and this course will help you tackle and master it visually, with real world examples, puzzles to solve, and visual exercises for those of us who like to put our eyes on a problem instead of work in the abstract. The course is designed for people with no maths background really. By the end of the course, you'll have a better feel for algebra and mathematics in general, and you'll be ready to tackle more complicated topics. Even if you're not, you'll find yourself more prepared to tackle other logical problems and analysing patterns.
- The Ohio State University - Calculus One - Professors Bart Snapp and Jim Fowler - If you've mastered algebra and you're eager for more of a challenge, or you want to embrace some of the mathematics that some of your favourite scientific topics are steeped in, this course is for you. You'll need some understanding of algebra to succeed in it, but beyond that, they'll take you through the basics of derivatives, integrals, functions and limits, and more. The course is designed as a first and easygoing introduction to calculus for people who haven't approached the topic before.
Social Sciences, Classics, and Humanities
- Yale University - Moralities of Everyday Life - Professor Paul Bloom - If you've ever wondered how human beings are capable of such amazing acts of brilliance, beauty, and achievement, but simultaneously capable of unspeakable cruelty and devastation, this is the class for you. The course talks about morals and ethics and how to make sense of varying opinions on topics of torture, war, genocide, racism, abortion, and more. The course aims to teach you to challenge your own biases and teach you to look at your own deeply held beliefs, but also how to challenge others, understand them, and explore the modern science of moral belief and moral action. You'll study actions from households to the battlefield, study laboratory research and real world situations, and investigate the differences between beliefs on opposite ends of every political and ideological spectrum. It's not for the easily offended or puritanical though -- you'll cover topics of prejudice and bigotry, sexuality and purity, crime and punishment, vengeance and revenge, and more.
- University of Birmingham - Shakespeare's Hamlet: Text, Performance, and Culture - Professor Michael Dobson -Shakespeare's Hamlet is often described as one of his best works: multi-layered and intelligent, at times contradictory and paranoid, but a seminal tragedy that helps define the genre and is still performed even today. This course will walk you through the text, how the play is performed, the environment in which it was written, and so much more. You'll hear from experts in theatrical history, classic literature, and modern drama to understand how and why such a amazing piece of fiction has managed to persevere for so long.
- Harvard - Early Christianity: The Letters of Paul - Professor Laura Nasrallah - So much of Christianity focuses entirely on the Bible, when the Letters of Paul are some of the oldest Christian documents, written at a time when the word "Christian" didn't exist by arguably one of the first people to ever hold the title. This course examines the religious and political context of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago, what those letters said, how they were interpreted, and how their impact is still with us today. The course also examines archaeological materials and ancient documents that help shape the world in which Paul lived and wrote his letters, some of his inspirations, and what, if anything, there is to be learned from them today.
- University of Virginia - The Modern World: Global History Since 1760 - Professor Philip Zelikow - The world was a very different place over 300 years ago, but the underpinnings of that society are the foundations on which everything we know today are built. What did the world look like back then? What were the worries and concerns of global powers, nation-states, and of course, of everyday people? What were the amazing discoveries of the day, or the world-changing events that shaped the world then until now? This course will walk you through all of that, with special emphasis on individuals and the little histories that give us clues into what the world was like and how it came to be the way it is today.
- The University of Warwick - The Mind Is Flat: The Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology- Professor Nick Chater - In many ways, human beings are incredibly predictable. We suffer under the illusion of mental depth -- that all of our actions and decisions are based on some deeper, mental wrangling and inner thought processes when in reality most of our decisions, actions, and everyday activities are really defined by simple sets of needs, desires, habits, and behaviours. This course will expose some of those things to you, not to dissuade you from thinking you're an interesting person or that humans are interesting, but to help you understand the real motivations behind your own actions and decisions, and those of others, their morality, and even the movements of large markets, nations, and leaders.
- Rutgers University - Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences - Explore how the human perspective on the afterlife and the soul formed in this course. The course goes back into the depths of ancient history to explore how societies gone by all came up with and cemented their own various beliefs in a persistent "soul" that would exist after death, what those various cultures and societies believed, how those beliefs changed as time progressed, and where we stand today. The point of the course isn't to challenge anyone's specific beliefs, but rather to examine the causes and the consequences of those beliefs -- how they arose, and how those beliefs then shape society, morality, ethics, and human behaviour as a result.
- Harvard - Poetry in America: The Poetry of New England - Professor Elisa New - From Puritan poets to hip hop artists, this Harvard course aims to explore the history and variety of the past 400 years of poetry on the American continent. The course will start with the classic poets of the 17th century, retelling their lives and experiences in the New World, and progress through history all the way to the current day, where many of the themes and topics remain the same, even if the language, style, and structures have changed. You'll cover major historical figures you may know (Poe, Frost, Dickinson, etc.) but go beyond and study less well-known names and avant garde poets working on their art today.
- iVersity - Public Privacy: Cyber Security and Human Rights - Professor Anja Mihr - "Human Rights" is a phrase thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean, especially in the context of the digital age and the internet? This course will examine human rights, both afforded by international law and common belief and practice, and then weave in the internet, topics of privacy, public space, e-governance, and the conflict between state sovereignty and the privacy rights of the public all in one course. It's currently going (it started last month) so hop in now to catch up!
- University of Strathclyde - Introduction to Forensic Science - Professor Jim Fraser -Forensic science is one of the fastest growing areas of law and law enforcement, and this course will help you get familiar with the topic, whether you're interested in a career in forensics or you're just a fan of procedural police shows and dramas. The course covers four major areas of forensics, including DNA analysis, drugs and their abuse, firearms, and impression evidence. The course walks through all four with discussions on their relevance to criminal cases, crime scene investigations, reporting in criminal cases and trials, how evidence plays a role in the way justice systems handle criminal cases, and more. The course itself is set against the background of a murder mystery that the students themselves are invited to solve using evidence collected and presented by the course.
- University of Oklahoma - Civil Rights and Civil Liberties - Professor Justin Wert, PhD - This course will examine the Supreme Court's decisions and cases involving the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, including topics of privacy, freedom of speech and expression, guarantees against unreasonable search and seizures, cruel and unusual punishment, and more. You'll also study the history of the application of those laws and rights, related cases that have addressed the marginalisation of historically oppressed groups in the United States like minorities, immigrants, and women, and the course will pay special attention to court decisions where civil rights and liberties were either expressly expanded or specifically contracted, and the reasons behind those trends.
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy - Professor Donald Hornstein - Environmental policy is not small topic, and environmental law and science are no longer topics relegated to activist groups (although they definitely play a role). Resource management, environmental preservation, large corporate interests, and nations eager to both protect their natural lands and their resources all play a role, and this course will help you understand the complexities of environmental law, from the large international scale to the local. You'll study common law approaches to environmental problems to the concept of property "ownership," along with more advanced topics like toxic waste and environmental damage, environmental responsibility, water and air pollution, fracking and its dangers and effects, and the cost-effectiveness of environmental regulation.
- University of Leicester - Forensic Science and Criminal Justice - Professor Lisa Smith - If you're interested in a career in forensics, or criminology and criminal justice interest you, this course (coming in March, but sign up now!) will definitely be of interest to you. The class studies the various elements of forensic evidence and the role that technology and laboratory science has come to play in solving crimes, narrowing down suspects, and prosecuting criminals, but also how those technological advances can be ignored, misused, and used to free innocent people, vindicate convicts, and prove innocence. The course also examines how forensic science is used in the classroom, and perhaps most interestingly, the so-called "CSI effect," and how real forensic science differs from its portrayal in the media.
- Griffith University - Understanding the Origins of Crime - Professor Aaron Sell - Crime is a part of human society, we understand that. While there's a lot of work to be done to reduce crime as a chronic factor, eliminating it is a whole other issue. This course serves to describe how crime fits into human society, factors into topics like natural selection, and to understand some of the motivations and reasons behind crime, not just from a social perspective but removed a bit from a Darwinian, criminological perspective as well. The course also talks about topics like infanticide and child neglect, along with other kin murder and why it's so incredibly rare (and yet world-shaking when it happens), the characteristics of a "normal" homicide, how jealousy and other irrational emotion plays a role in criminal activity, and of course, war and warriorship from human society to the animal kingdom.
Cross-Disciplinary Courses and Seminars
- National University of Singapore - Reason and Persuasion: Thinking Through Three Dialogues By Plato - Professor John Holbo - Plato was one of the fathers of philosophy, but he was also one of the first and more prominent people to challenge what we know today as confirmation bias -- he taught all of his students (and anyone who would listen) to "blow up their beliefs" as they progressed through life, to make sure they were built to survive the rigours of new experiences and the changing world around them. This course will walk you through that mentality, explain how Plato taught people to do just this, and why it's so critically important to living an informed, intelligent, and reasoned life to be ready to challenge your beliefs in the face of new information and evidence, and to be willing to make adjustments to them as you learn or the world around you changes.
- Queen's University Belfast - Identity, Conflict and Public Space: Contest and Transformation - Professor Dominic Bryan - In the United States and many other countries that value freedom of speech and expression, we have a long tradition of using public spaces as forums for speech, opinion, and demonstration. Times have been changing though, and there's a combination of fewer truly public places and the transformation of public spaces from public to semi-public or private entirely. This course seeks to examine that transformation and what it means for public discourse, especially as much of the dialogue moves to places that aren't public at all but appear to be, like the Internet. The course also looks at the tradition of public dialogue and discourse in countries that have a history of political violence, where public spaces mean something very different than they do here.
- Nanyang Technological University - Beauty, Form & Function: An Exploration of Symmetry - Professor Tim White - Art and architecture are largely the same thing, although the latter can be considered art that also has to work within the rigours of purpose and functionality. This course examines art and symmetry, why the human eye finds symmetry so appealing, and then examines the concept and application of symmetry in everything from architecture to crystals and natural formations, technological innovations, tiles and tessellation, and more. By the end of the course, you'll have a new appreciation for symmetry both in our man-made world and all of its structures, objects, and designs, but also in the natural world, from leaves on trees to snowflakes and gems.
- The University of Nottingham - Sustainability, Society, and You - Professor Sarah Speight -"Sustainable" is a bit of a buzzword these days, and it's been applied to everything from furniture manufacturing to vegetable farming, but what does it mean, and what does it mean globally for an industry, field, product, or even a household to be "sustainable?" This course will offer you the opportunity to dive deeper into the topic, explore what sustainability really means and how to identify it, and how to choose sustainable options on your own that are real and true, and not simple greenwashing.
- University of Virginia - Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World - Professors Kurtis R. Schaeffer and David Francis Germano - You've likely heard about the research and science of meditation, complete with brain scans that show how meditation can be good for you, can soothe anxiety, can help you relax, can help you think, and so on. This course aims to do a deeper dive into that science and the current resource around led, structured meditation from a scientific perspective. The professors aim to combine the ancient with the modern. The class will discuss and approach meditation techniques in their own cultural context, then examine modern research into meditation and its dynamics, relatively modern adaptations of meditation to suit modern lives, and more. By the end of the course, you'll understand not only the science behind meditation, but you'll learn how to do it yourself.
- Decision Education Foundation - Decision Skills: Power Tools to Build Your Life - Instructor Chris Spetzler - Decision making is difficult. If it weren't everyone would be leaders, and we'd all have the skills we need to not wrangle over or struggle with minor and major life decisions. This course will help you learn to make better decisions, quantify your needs and desires, make allowances for your personal wants and needs, and build a personal structure to make making difficult decisions easier -- or at least, more streamlined. By the end of the class, you'll be ready to take charge of your life, instead of letting life happen to you.
- Vanderbilt University - Nutrition, Health, and Lifestyle: Issues and Insights - Professors Jamie Pope - This course in nutrition and health will help you separate fact from fiction, determine what really is and isn't healthy based on the most current science on the topic, and most importantly disabuse you of the myths, marketing pitches, snake oil, and other beliefs that are so prevalent in pop culture around dieting, nutrition, and health. The goal of the course is to help you find your way to better behaviours and informative resources that will help you make intelligent decisions, instead of being tricked by someone selling a fad diet, the latest hot eating trend that promises cures for all of your ills, or worse, someone selling you pseudoscience with the promise that easy results and health will come to you if you just believe them over all others. The course will walk through the fundamentals of a healthy eating plan, the necessity of exercise and activity, dietary supplements, challenges in food labelling and nutrition info, food allergies and intolerances, and much more.
- Polytechnic West - Principles of Project Management - Professor Sue Dowson - We talk a lot about productivity here at Lifehacker, and one of the basic careers for someone who has a passion for productivity and organisation is project management. This course will walk you through the foundations of project management, including basics like the "golden triangle" of scope, time, and cost, the various "phases" of a project, the life cycle of a project, and the tools that project managers use to get their jobs done.
- University of Pennsylvania - Gamification - Professor Kevin Werbach - From achievements in video games and card collecting during Steam sales to badges and points for getting up and walking around the room, the concept of gamification has worked its way into almost every part of our lives. The most effective implementations of those games influence our psychology and our behaviours, encouraging us to improve our behaviours or change our behaviours in order to collect points, items, or do something else that we feel benefits us. But how does gamification work, and why does it work so well? This course will explain all of those things to you.
- The University of Nottingham - How to Read...a Mind - Professor Peter Stockwell - Reading minds isn't as difficult as you think. We do it all the time when we watch television or read books, eagerly anticipating the next move of a character and trying to decipher their actions, and in the real world, we do it all the time when we try to figure out what someone is thinking, what they plan to do next, and what their impression is of us. This course will help you understand those processes, explore better ways to predict human behaviour patterns, and help you understand why we feel for fictional characters, why we try to relate to others, and more.
- Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health - An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health - Professors Keeve Nachman PhD and Robert S. Lawrence, MD - This course will help you understand where your food comes from (if you live in the United States, that is), separate fact from fiction when it comes to the US food supply, and how all of the distances, people, hands, and machines that handle your food from farm to table play a role in their nutrition, freshness, and your own health and well being. You'll examine case studies and current research that will give you a new appreciation -- or new concerns -- about the US food system.
- The Ohio State University - TechniCity - Professors Jennifer Evans-Cowley and Thomas W. Sanchez - The "TechniCity", as the professors call it, is around us now. We live in highly networked, highly connected, highly interconnected communities in which information can travel within instants from one region to another. This course will explain exactly what the TechniCity is, and why it's really just a short term for how technology has completely changed the way we build cities, form communities, and how the continuing evolution of technology will continue to play a role in how we live together and communicate with each other over long and short distances.
- The University of Maryland - Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship - Professor James V. Green - Most people assume that the way a company or a business starts is that someone essentially invents a tool or product that fills a specific need, and the company grows up around it. That's true in some cases, but in many (if not most) cases, a company is formed around an idea -- the product or product offering almost comes later. This course will teach you to develop those new ideas that can lead to your first business, and how to look at problems and systems in new ways, come up with methods to optimise them, and then find ways to stake your own claim on the business world to bring those ideas -- and subsequently your own company -- to life.
- Wesleyan University - How to Change the World - Professor Michael S Roth - Some of the world's biggest problems are perceived as intractable and impossible to address, but are they really? This course examines how to use common good and the things that almost all of us have in common to address the biggest challenges we face as a society. Poverty, war, crime, health care and more are on the agenda, and over the course of the class you'll find new angles and approaches to examine those problems that you may have never initially thought of. This highly interactive course may be challenging sometimes, but over the course of it you'll develop "social goods" that can then be used to tackle some of the biggest issues you can imagine in an intelligent and academic method that, you never know, may actually work.
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, 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.
- edX is a collection of free courses from leading Universities like the University of California, Berkeley, MIT and Harvard. There aren't many, but the ones offered are free, open to the public, and they rotate often.
- Coursera has a broad selection of courses in-session or beginning shortly that you can take for academic credit (if you're enrolled) or just a certificate of completion that shows you've learned a new skill. Topics range from science and technology to social science and humanities, and they're all free.
- Udacity offers a slimmer selection of courses, but the ones offered are not only often for-credit, but they're instructor led and geared towards specific goals, with skilled and talented instructors walking you through everything from building a startup to programming a robotic car.
- The Saylor Foundation offers a wide array of courses and entire course programs on topics from economics to political science and professional development. Interested in a crash course in mechanical engineering? The Saylor Foundation can help you with that.
- Class Central aggregates some of the best courses available from open universities and programs around the web in an easy to sort and search format. Just search for what you want to learn, and if a course is available and starting soon, you'll find it.
- Education-Portal.com has a list of universities offering free and for-credit online classes to students and the public at large.
- CreateLIVE features a number of interactive courses in business, photography, and self-improvement, many of which are free and available to listen in on at any time of day.
- 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 palaeontology, 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.
- 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 (in some cases -- some classes require your regular attendance and participation!), and do examinations and quizzes 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.
With Lifehacker U, you're free to take as many or as few of these classes as you like, and we'll update this course guide every term with a fresh list of courses on new and interesting topics, some of which are only available during that academic term.
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! Tell us about them in the comments.