The Best Online Lectures And Talks To Boost Your Brain

The Best Online Lectures And Talks To Boost Your Brain

If you have a little time to spare, there are lots of interesting, informative and actually useful talks and lectures all over the web that you can enjoy for free. The best can teach you a new skill, inspire you to do something new, or just expand your horizons. Check out this list of the best ones for a lunch break or commute home.

Photo by venimo (Shutterstock) and OpenClips

We talk about free online classes frequently, especially in our Lifehacker U series. This time we’re focusing squarely on individual lectures and talks that are self-contained, and yet still informative and educational — something you can listen to while you’re eating lunch, have a little spare time to kill at the office, or winding down after work.

David Christian: The History Of Our World In 18 Minutes

This video definitely deserves your full attention. Not only is it informative, but the images that Christian chooses to back up his presentation are really stunning. Over the course of the talk, he goes from the Big Bang to the Internet, and while there’s never really enough time to dive deeply into one specific part of the history of everything, it’s an amazing, sweeping overview.


This Khan Academy lecture details exactly what cancer is, how it’s formed, and exactly where it comes from — it’s a by-product of broken DNA replication. That part you may know, but how that process takes place, where everything goes awry, and what happens after that is eye-opening, especially if all you know about cancer is the way people talk about “risk factors”. It’s a great way familiarise yourself with the basic science behind the illness.

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

How many times have you heard “fake it till you make it?” Sometimes putting on a few airs can actually help you do the things you want to do, find the confidence you need to succeed, and really make a difference. We’ve talked about how body language can reduce stress and make you feel more confident. This is the TED talk that started it all.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio shows up in more places than you might realise, and is often used and references by artists, photographers and scientists. This Khan Academy lecture introduces you to one of the most incredible topics in mathematics.

Keith Barry: Brain Magic

Part magic tricks, part brain hacks, this riveting 20 minutes will show you exactly how gullible our minds really are given the right stimulus, and how sharp they can be as well. Barry does a trick in the first two minutes of the talk that will leave you scratching your head, and it only gets more incredible from there.

Jeffrey Brenzel: The Essential Value of a Classic Education

Brenzel’s hour-long talk at Big Think is an excellent analysis on why there’s value in a classical education and why more of us should take time to enjoy classic literature. It can tell us so much about our own history and how our current views of the world evolved. Brenzel argues that reading classics such as Plato’s Republic and Dante’s Inferno don’t just help you understand history, they build more well-rounded people. He even offers a guide to deciding which books you should read.

Introduction To Cryptography

Cryptography is a hot topic in a security-conscious age, but what do terms like “encryption” and “256-bit AES” really mean? What is cryptography, and how is it applied to information? This Khan Academy lecture will get you started with a short, one minute introduction to the topic that’s a great jumping off point for more research.

Stephen Hawking: Questioning The Universe

This lecture is a little old, but it’s well worth watching. Stephen Hawking asks some really big questions about the nature of the universe — where it came from, how it was able to spontaneously start itself from nothing, what happens now, are we alone in it, and so on — and then explains how we may be able to go about answering those questions, thanks to science, testing, examination, and of course, philosophy. The big questions don’t have to be so big that we can’t tackle them, and Hawking explains exactly why that is in this 10-minute video.

Dan Ariely Asks: Are We In Control Of Our Decisions?

Friend of Lifehacker Dan Ariely hosts this talk where he questions whether or not we’re truly in control of our decisions, or we’re just at the mercy of external stimuli. He explains how easily our decision-making process can be co-opted by the right setup walking into it, and uses some great visualisations to help you understand that we’re really not as rational as we like to think we are.

Dan Ariely: What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?

I’m going for a Dan Ariely two-fer here. This lecture will be familiar to anyone who’s been reading Lifehacker for a while. We’ve highlighted it before as proof that contrary to common belief, money isn’t the primary motivator behind our work. Often it’s feeling like our work has meaning that drives us to keep going, and makes those of us who are happiest with what we do stand out from the others.

Julian Treasure: 5 Ways To Listen Better

Are you a good listener? Julian Treasure argues that you may not be as good as you think you are. Our culture is moving increasingly towards everyone wanting to make themselves heard, broadcasting their opinions and expecting affirmation back from everyone else. Fewer and fewer of us are actually listening to each other, reading for comprehension and understanding, and trying to hear what people are really saying before forming our own opinions and responding. This 8-minute talk will equip you with the tools to be better.

David Pogue: 10 Top Time-Saving Tech Tips

In five minutes, tech journalist David Pogue walks you through ten time-saving technology tips that everyone should know. Longtime Lifehacker readers will be familiar with many of these, but it’s a handy guide to send to less tech-savvy friends.

Have suggestions for extra additions to this list? Let’s hear them in the comments.

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