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 edition of Lifehacker U, our regularly updating guide to improving your life with free, online university-level classes. Let’s get started.
Student picture from Shutterstock
Orientation: What Is Lifehacker U?
Whether you’re a graduate, a full-time worker, a retiree or just someone with a passion for learning, there are loads of great courses online. Anyone with a little time and a passion for self-growth (and a computer) can “enrol” in these courses for their own personal benefit.
Schools like Yale University, MIT, Stanford, the University of Queensland and many more are all offering free online classes that you can participate in from the comfort of your dorm room, office chair, couch or computing chair-of-choice.
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 – Intro to Object Oriented Programming – Professor Kunal Chawla: If you’re looking for a computer science course that’s a little more targeted, Udacity’s brand new introduction to object oriented programming will get you up to speed quickly. Don’t be scared off by the $US150 price tag at the top – you can take the course for free, you just miss out on some of the interactivity (there’s a table that outlines the differences later on in the course description). The course is designed to be taken by newcomers who may not have a history in technology or programming, so newbies are welcome. The language of choice? Python, of course. If you’re still not sold, the course description has some great examples of the kinds of projects you’ll work on by the end of the class.
- Johns Hopkins University – The Data Scientist’s Toolbox – Professors Jeff Leek, Roger D. Peng, and Brian Caffo: If you’re curious what “Big Data” is all about, and what differentiates a “data scientist” from a statistician, this is the course for you. The course is actually an introduction to Johns Hopkins’ new data science specialisation, and while it doesn’t require a coding or development background, you will touch on a number of technological topics that help data scientists take raw information and put it into practice as actionable knowledge. You’ll also explore the data scientist’s tools of the trade and core ideas.
- The University of Reading – Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game – Professor Karsten Øster Lundqvist: We often hear from people interested in getting started with mobile development, and since Android represents the largest global market, often people want to start there. This course will get you going with Java programming, and along the course you’ll learn to build a simple mobile game that will run on Android phones and tablets. You’ll acquire some fundamentals that apply to multiple programming languages, and you’ll also learn to solve problems with code and build algorithms. The course is multi-format, with videos and exercises as well as lectures.
- Technical University of Munich – AUTONAVx: Autonomous Navigation for Flying Robots – Professors Jürgen Sturm, Daniel Cremers and Christian Kerl: Drones are all the rage right now. Whether you’re interested in piloting your own quadcopter or you just want to know how they work, this course will give you a complete understanding of automatic navigation for on-board computers. You’ll learn the basics of programming a drone to navigate on its own to a given destination, or to make a round trip. Make no mistake, the topic is tech heavy — you’ll study things like probabilistic state estimation, linear control and path planning, and to get the most from it, you’ll have a background in either computer science or engineering. That doesn’t mean you can’t work through it just for kicks though.
- Monash University – Creative Coding – Professor Jon McCormack: Often when people learn to code, it’s taught in the context of solving problems or learning how to do specific things. In this course, coding is taught as a creative discipline as opposed to a purely structured one, where your development efforts will yield visuals, sounds, animation and more. You’ll use code not just to do specific things, but also to create something new and unique to you. The course is ideal for the artist, designer or musician who wants to know how learning to code can actually benefit them in a real, creative way.
- Linux Foundation – LFS101x: Introduction to Linux – Professor Jerry Cooperstein, PhD: We talk a lot about Linux around here, but if you’re still lost and want an interesting, fun and guided primer to Linux, its history, how far it’s come, what people are doing with it, and what you can do with it, this is the course for you. By the end, you’ll have a greater appreciation for Linux — the operating system that powers 94 per cent of the world’s supercomputers and a high proportion of the world’s servers. You’ll also learn some of the tricks of the trade that Linux administrators use as well as people who use Linux as a day-to-day productive operating system. By the end, you’ll be able to feel at home in any distribution.
Finance and Economics
- The Open University – Managing My Money – Professor Martin Upton: This course just started, but it’s still OK to hop in. If you’re overwhelmed by money, just starting out on your own, or just want a good way to make sure every penny stretches as far as you’d like it to go, this course in managing your own money is extremely useful. Hand it off to someone you know who’s having trouble with their finances, or use it yourself. You’ll start with the basics like making a budget that can stick, and then move on to things like saving for retirement and building an emergency fund, study debts and investments, look at the practice and perils of home ownership, and more, all from a practical, down-to-earth angle.
- Khan Academy – Banking and Money (iTunes U): This is a lecture series that does a great job at distilling complicated topics in ways that normal people can understand. You’ll learn about everything from how mortgage-backed securities work to how to make a rational, realistic decision on whether renting or buying a home is best for you. You’ll learn about “present value” versus “future value” and “estimated value,” learn what a credit default swap is (and why they played a significant role in the economic meltdown back in 2008), and more.
Science and Medicine
- University of Geneva – The Diversity of Exoplanets – Professors Stéphane Udry, MIchael Mayor, Didier Queloz, Francesco Pepe, Christophe Lovis, and Damien Ségransan: In a few short years, we’ve gone from wondering if stars in the sky had exoplanets at all to actually having equipment in the sky that lets us see them clearly — and boy what a trip it’s been. We’ve discovered thousands of extrasolar planet in star systems all over the galaxy, and this course will help bring you up to speed on what that research means, what we’ve discovered, and what kinds of planets we’ve seen out there. You don’t need a background in astronomy to get along here, but it certainly helps. You’ll learn the language of extrasolar observers, how we’ve observed these planets and the myriad techniques astronomers use to see what’s out there, and even find out what the atmospheres of those planets are made of.
- Duke University – The Brain and Space – Professor Jennifer M. Groh: Not space as in outer space, this course tackles how the brain perceives the area around it, as in, how you and I know how far apart from one another we are, or how far we have to reach out to pick up a pencil or type on the keyboard without constantly looking and judging distance. The course gets into how the brain recognises patterns, like patterns in people’s faces, for example, so you know what your friend looks like and can identify them. The brain dedicates a lot of processing power to these types of activities, and this course will take you under the hood to see how the brain works and how our senses play into all of it.
- Harvard University – SPU30x: Super Earths and Life– Professors Dimitar Sasselov and Colin Fredericks: This course focuses on the search for rocky, earth-like planets circling stars far away, and the likelihood that those planets may harbor life in some form that we may be able to recognise. This course is a bit astronomy and a bit biology, and studies how we began to see extrasolar planets around stars far away, and how by studying their atmospheres and chemical compositions, we can begin to deduce whether it’s possible life evolved there the way it evolved here.
- University of California, San Diego – Climate Change in Four Dimentions – Professors Charles Kennel, Naomi Oreskes, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Richard Somerville, and David Victor: This course is a multi-faceted look at climate change, both from the purely scientific approach and data gathered to date about the phenomenon and its causes to the sociological impacts and technological aspects. You’ll study the consensus on the matter and address the “how do we know we’re not wrong” question head-on, talk about theories and ideas behind mitigating the damage being done by climate change, how many parts of the world already being impacted by climate change are trying to adapt to rising tides and sinking islands, and how the public views climate change.
- The University of Glasgow – Cancer in the 21st Century: The Genomic Revolution: In recent years, cancer detection and treatment have come a long way, and genomics is partially to credit for it. Since cancer is a disease that will touch almost all of our lives in some way, it’s a good idea to understand how long it’s been with us, how much we know about it now, what we’ve learned, and possibilities for future treatments. You’ll be treated to guest lectures by researchers and physicians leading the charge in cancer research and directing patient care.
- University of Reading – Obesity: Causes and Consequences – Professor Angela Alexander: Obesity is a global epidemic, with varied causes, influences, and results across a wide segment of our global population. This course examines how the modern world and our modern lifestyles contribute to or influence obesity, how we measure and define it in a medical sense, what the real consequences of obesity are on health, and what current research is saying on the topic. The course is aimed at people with an interest in public health and medical topics, but is also designed to be specifically useful to caretakers and medical professionals looking to better understand patient care.
- McGill – ATOC185x: Natural Disasters – Professors John Gyakum and John Stix: If you’ve ever wondered about the science behind natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes and hurricanes, this course will introduce you to all of them directly. It covers how they happen, how we study them, and how we try to predict them. By understanding the scientific principles and processed behind these types of disasters, we can all serve as more aware and educated citizens — everyone from city planners who need to pay attention to building design and evacuation routes to homeowners investing in resilient housing.
- Rice University – BIOC372.1x: Fundamentals of Immunology – Professor Alma Moon Novotny: In this course, you’ll learn to understand your body’s natural defences against disease, how those defences work, where they break down and when they overact, and how they all play a role in when and how you get sick. The course will cover topics like how your body recognises pathogens versus healthy cells, how your immune system signals to the rest of the body that there’s an attack underway, and what the various parts of your immune system are each responsible for.
- MIT – 6.SFMx: Street-Fighting Maths – Professors Sanjoy Mahajan, Isaac Chuang, and Amira Eltony: This course describes the art of applying basic mathematical knowledge — you know, the stuff that you thought would never be useful in “real life” — to making educated guesses in the real world that will stun your friends, help you work more efficiently, and see the world around you in a different light. This course will teach you reasoning tools and methods of deduction without forcing you to rely entirely on equations and proofs to get to the answers you need. You’ll learn to shoot from the hip and come up with accurate results, and learn to be fearless when it comes to mathematics.
- University of Pennsylvania: Single Variable Calculus – Professor Robert Ghrist: Whether you’re eager for a brush-up of your skills or you never really did well at calculus and need a refresher, this course in single variable calculus serves as a great starting point to get back on the horse. This course will definitely get you studying the topic again, but you’ll also see its relevance to broader phenomena we can observe in the physical sciences, engineering, and medicine. Some understanding of calculus is required for the course, so if you’re not familiar with the topic at all, this probably isn’t the best course for you.
- Udacity/San Jose State University – Statistics: The Science of Decisions – Professors Sean Laraway, Ronald Rogers, and Katie Kormanik: Another one of our favourite classes, this course seeks to dispel the simple notion that statistics is something wishy-washy and easily fudged, often perpetuated by people who don’t understand the subject. Don’t be that person, and take this course on basic statistics — all it takes is a little knowledge and you’ll catch yourself calling out the way numbers are presented in popular media on a regular basis, and pointing out that you can’t necessarily draw complete conclusions based on simple data sets.
Social Sciences, Classics and Humanities
- Unviersity of Pennsylvania – Growing Old Around the Globe – Professors Sarah Kagan and Anne Shoemaker: If you’re lucky, you’ll live to see old age, but depending on where you live in the world, your experiences may be vastly different. Many societies and cultures are facing the hard realities of an ageing public with little or no means of properly caring for them, and others have lots to teach the rest of the world about how to care for your elders. This course tackles the topic from both a scientific angle (what the biological processes of ageing and senescence are) and the social and psychological processes as well (how our bodies and minds change when we get older and how other people’s perceptions of us change). The course also discusses what societies need to do to prepare for ageing populations.
- Boston University: ARPO222x: The Art of Poetry – Professors Robert Pinsky, Duy Doan, Tara Skurtu, and Elizabeth Houston: This course doesn’t start for a while, but we wanted to get it on your radar. The Art of Poetry isn’t a creative writing course, but you will be asked to critically examine other poems, sometimes from a writer’s perspective. You’ll study poetry as an art form, in all of its types and styles, including authors from 18th century to modern poets, all with the same critical eye. The goal here isn’t to just read a bunch of poems and think about what they mean, but to examine them, how they were crafted, what they’re trying to say within the guidelines of their style, what’s being communicated, and how they’re emblematic of their times.
- Georgetown University: HUMX421-01: The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Journey to Freedom, Part 1 – Professors Frank Ambrosio, Rita Pearson, Jo Ann Moran Cruz, and Elisabetta Lanzilao: This course takes a deep dive into Dante’s 14th century Divine Comedy. Different thematically from some of Dante’s other works and the first of the major three (there will be follow-on courses for Vita Nuova and Inferno you can sign up for when this one is completed), you’ll be able to put a 21st century eye to this historical work with a full understanding of changes in worldview that have occurred since Dante’s era.
- Harvard University – PH555x: Improving Global Health: Focusing on Quality and Safety – Professor Ashish Jha: Clearly access to health care is a good thing for everyone, but this course asks you to put that aside and ask yourself the question “access to what, exactly?” You’ll dive into topics in global public health that involve cultural differences, what types of health care are commonplace around the world, and what it takes for health care to be safe, effective, and reliably delivered, even in poor nations, smaller nations, and third-world countries that don’t benefit from the massive industries other nations have. You’ll discuss how you can go about measuring the quality of health care in the first place, where the law falls in all of this, and how to keep health care patient-centric regardless of place or culture.
- Cardiff University – Community Journalism – Professor Richard Sambrook: Community journalism is a hot topic, and journalists around the globe are looking for more ways to not just appeal to the public but engage them directly in making and shaping the news, reporting accurate stories, getting multiple sides of the story, and obtaining relevant information to clarify, update, and further report events in our world. This course approaches how many journalists and outlets are seeking to bring their communities into the newsroom, as it were, and make them involved in the process of creating the news, not just absorbing it.
- University of Queensland – World101x: Anthropology of Current World Issues – Professors Gerhard Hoffstaedter, David Trigger, Anna Cristina Pertierra, Annie Ross, and Sally Babidge: In this course, you’ll learn to look at the difficulty we have relating with one another from an anthropological viewpoint — namely, how we each see the world and see each other , and our collective role in it. You’ll study your own sense of self-identity and the way other cultures perceive themselves, and enjoy guest lectures by anthropologists from around the world who can shed light on how cultures around the globe experience sameness and difference every day.
- ETH Zurich – FC-01x: Future Cities – Professors Gerhard Schmitt, Dirk Hebel, Reinhard König, Bernhard Klein, Marcel Brülisauer, Estefania Tapias, and Chen Zhong: Part art, part architecture, and part urban planning, this course will introduce you to the cities of the future, and how we’ll transform existing cities into new places to live. This course will help you understand everything from migration patterns, population growth, gentrification and diversification, how cities “breathe” and how the people in them move and flow as they get from place to place. You’ll sit down with the data that shows all of this, and look beyond the physical representation of a city to get a feel for what really happens on the ground, sometimes in spite of how it’s designed. Most importantly, you’ll get insight into how to do better, and how the cities of the future will try.
- Nanyang Technical University- Introduction to Forensic Science – Professor Roderick Bates: Forensics is a complicated topic, and while we’ve highlighted courses in it before, this one dives right into the science and the scientific processes involved, from spectroscopy to DNA analysis, the tools involved, and the technologies that have made forensics an ever-increasingly valuable discipline to law enforcement agencies around the world. You’ll study toxicology, fingerprinting, how to measure time of death, and more, and you’ll use case studies like the Kennedy assassination and the death of Napoleon as examples of the science you’re studying.
- Harvard – HLS1.1x: Copyright – Professor William Fisher III: Back in January of 2013, Harvard held an experimental free online course in copyright law, and it filled up immediately. Now you can take the course yourself, self-paced, anytime online, using the same lessons and exercises that first course section enjoyed. You won’t get the interactive components of the class, like the discussion forum or interacting with other students, but the wealth of study material is all available, including the videos, and they’re all worth going through if you’re interested at all in copyright law, what copyrights were originally intended to do and the purpose they were designed to serve in society, and how all of that has changed in the past 20-50 years. The majority of the course focuses on copyright law in the United States, but some time is devoted to copyright law internationally, as well.
- Penn State University – Presumed Innocent? The Social Science of Wrongful Conviction – Professor Tim R Robicheaux: Many people like to proclaim their innocence when they go to trial, but how many people are actually wrongfully convicted, and how many of them actually serve time behind bars when the real culprit is out and about in society, free? What does it really mean to be “wrongfully convicted”, and how often does it really happen? This course uses statistics and real data to answer those questions, and discuss the social impacts of putting innocent people behind bars.
- University of Florida – The Global Student’s Introduction to US Law – Professors Pedro A Malavet, Lyrissa Barnett Lidsky, Claire M. Germain, Loren Turner, Sharon E. Rush, Jeffrey L. Harrison, Kenneth B. Nunn, and Jennifer L. Wondracek: This course is designed for international students studying in the United States, or people from abroad who are interested in American law and the American legal system. You’ll learn basic legal terms, topics of constitutional law, and similarities to legal systems elsewhere around the globe.
- The University of Queensland – Crime101x: The Psychology of Criminal Justice – Professors Blake McKimmie, Mark Horswill, and Barbara Masser: This course explores how behavioural science can help improve the criminal justice system, cut off crime before it happens, and how it can encourage people to make different and better decisions. You’ll walk through a criminal case first-hand through the course, dispelling notions about the criminal justice system and learning how psychology can be applied to real-world legal issues along the way.
Cross-Disciplinary Courses and Seminars
- University of Washington – ECFS311x: Becoming a Resilient Person – The Science of Stress Management – Professor Clayton Cook: Stress is one of the biggest health challenges many of us face. Managing it in our day-to-day lives is almost always an uphill battle, and for many of us, it can lead directly to other health challenges. This course gives you permission to take care of yourself, and gives you the tools you need to be a more resilient person who can handle the buffets life throws your way with greater ease. You’ll learn optimistic thinking, relaxation strategies, time management tips, to show compassion to yourself and others, and to adjust to stressful, difficult situations on the fly.
- Udacity – Make Your Own 2048: 2048 is an incredibly addictive game of numbers and tiles you can play on just about any website anywhere, but if you’re interested in building your own version, this short course from Udacity will show you how it’s done, from the ground up. Best of all, you’ll manage to do it even if you’ve never written code before in your life.
- Karolinska Institutet – Behavioural Medicine: A Key to Better Health – Professors Anne H. Berman and Sakari Suominen: This course aims to tackle how behavioural medicine — or rather, the science of how we make decisions, what drives us to make those decisions, and how we can learn better habits and teach ourselves to make better choices — can be used to improve our health and happiness overall. You’ll learn the basics of habit forming, how habits can be broken and our brains re-wired to do different things, and more, all with the eventual goal of making better, healthier choices for ourselves and identifying the behaviours that represent a threat to our wellbeing.
- University of London – Enhance Your Career and Employability Skills – Professors David Winter and Laura Brammar: If you’re having trouble finding a job, or just finding a better job, boosting your skills and improving the way you present the skills you do have may need to be at the top of your to-do list. This course will help you in both areas, as well as introduce you to ways to improve your work-related skills you may not have thought to explore. You’ll learn to ask yourself what you really want from a job or career, how to do a self-assessment that doesn’t feel like a joke, make a great impression on others who are judging your skills, and how to articulate your experiences and knowledge in a way that’s useful to people trying to decide whether they should hire you.
- Northwestern University – Understanding Media by Understanding Google – Professors Owen R. Youngman: Google, if you haven’t figured it out, reigns supreme when it comes to media businesses, publishing companies, newspapers, and other media outlets. Every one of them jockeys for good positioning with Google, spends money optimising its techniques and reporting methods to make sure they’re Google friendly, and bows to the control that Google has to either open the floodgates of people to them or deny them an audience entirely with a single algorithm change. This course outlines how Google’s power has shaped and influenced media and reporting, both digital and offline, and how information gathering and reporting has changed as a result.
- The Ohio State University – Technology and Ethics – Professor Robert Bailey: Along with our rapid advancements in technology come the questions of what that technology should be used for, what it shouldn’t be used for, how applicable is it to the overall good of the public, and who it should be shared with. This course tackles many of those questions, and aims to bring your own personal ethics to bear with what “moral behaviour” means, what it means to be moral in the context of transferring technology to others, and the importance of considering the social impact of technologies before they’re introduced.
- Berklee College of Music – MB110x: Introduction to the Music Business – Professor John P. Kellogg: If you’ve ever wondered how the music business works, how artists are discovered, how bands are promoted, where the money goes and how musicians get paid, how labels fit into all of it, and where the creative process really takes place, this course is a great introduction to what really happens. The course is a clear, unbiased look at the changes in the music industry over the past dozen or so years, how it’s adapting and changing, and in other cases, how it’s not.
- University of California at Berkeley – GG101x: The Science of Happiness – Professors Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas: What does it really mean to be happy? We all want to be happy, and we all think we know what will make us happy, but it turns out that the things we think will make us happier and more fulfilled are often the things that cause more problems for us down the road. This course takes a cross-disciplinary approach that spans the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology to understand what it means to be happy, and to test out practical strategies for boosting your own happiness.
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.