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.
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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.
Institutions like Yale University, MIT, Stanford, Monash, Macquarie and many more are all offering free online classes that you can participate in from the comfort of your dorm room, office, 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 Computer Science - Professor Dave Evans: In this Udacity course, you'll learn the basics of how to program for the web, and by the end of the course you'll have built a basic social network, and a basic search engine complete with a web crawler. You'll do it all in Python, and free students will be able to follow the class along and complete activities on their own. If you shell out for the paid version of the course, you'll get expert help and code reviews.
- Stanford University - Cryptography I - Professor Dan Boneh: The course will walk you through all things encryption, starting with how two parties can exchange coded information using a basic shared key. You'll cover public key techniques that offer easier secure communication, common encryption methods, and how all of this is applicable in the current surveillance and data collection environment.
- ETH Zurich - Computing: Art, Magic, Science - Professors Bertrand Meyer, Marco Piccioni, and Nadia Polikarpova: This course is a more basic primer covering information technology, how computer technology works and what's happening behind the scenes of the most popular technologies we use, and how to demystify those high levels of technology from the near-magic they often appear to be. You will learn the basics of programming and theoretical computer science.
- Rice University - An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python - Professors Joe Warren, Scott Rixner, John Greiner, and Stephen Wong: This guided course from an all-star team at Rice University will get you up to speed quickly with Python. The course is designed for students with little to no programming background. You'll work on a number of mini-projects, building tools and perfecting them as you learn new skills.
- University of Maryland at College Park - Usable Security - Professor Jennifer Golbeck: Crypto and code are only one part of cryptography — the end user is equally important. This course in usable security teaches you to approach security from a human-centric perspective. You won't need your programming background for this class — the focus is on the role that design and usability play in securing information systems.
- University of California Berkeley - CS184.1x: Foundations of Computer Graphics - Professor Ravi Ramamoorthi: This course from UC Berkeley will get you started with computer graphics. You'll need to bring a little programming knowledge with you to the class, and maths skills will help too. You'll learn how to make 3D scenes and images and render them in real time.
- University of Alberta - Understanding Video Games - Professors Leah Hackman and Sean Gouglas: This course will give you the tools and literacy required to join in intelligent and informed discussions about video gaming. You'll learn about the language, logic, social issues, and creation and development of video games with the help of the team at Bioware. You'll develop skills to examine video games from a cultural and intellectual perspective — to critique them as you would any other form of media.
Finance and Economics
- Technical And Further Education (TAFE) NSW -Financial Planning - Professors Kerrie Adra and Diana Bugarcic: Financial planning is an essential skill for all of us. This course is angled towards people who want to be financial advisors, and also offers useful insights into the planning process. Whether you've thought about becoming a financial advisor or you think your own finances could benefit from a more objective approach to your own finances, this course could help.
- Macquarie Graduate School of Management - Diagnosing the Financial Health of a Business - Professor Guy Ford: You can learn a lot about the financial health of a business just by looking at their regular reports. This course will walk you through how to read financial statements and earnings reports issued by companies and determine how financially healthy the company is
Science and Medicine
- Monash University - The Science of Medicines - Professor Ian Larson: We all know that medicines work, but how do they work? This new course aims to explain the development and effect of medicines in a way that anyone can understand. You'll learn about how medicines that are key to treating some of our most critical diseases, from diabetes to heart disease, were developed, and how they operate inside the body.
- University of Alberta - Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology - Professor Philip John Currie: This course offers an up-to-date approach to dinosaur biology, based on recent research. You'll learn more about how dinosaurs actually moved around, what their bones and muscular systems were like, how they really reproduced and nested, and how many dinosaur bones fossilised in the first place.
- Princeton University - Imagining Other Earths- Professor David Spergel: Using telescopes on the ground or in space (most notably, NASA's Kepler) astronomers have discovered thousands upon thousands of "earth-like" planets that share many characteristics with our own Earth. This course examines what we know about those planets, and specifically what astronomers mean when they use terms like "exoplanet" or "Earth-like." You'll study elements of biology, chemistry and geology to understand what it takes to make a planet.
- Open 2 Study - Food, Nutrition, and Your Health - Professor Nicholas Vardaxis, PhD: The course covers basic nutrition, dietary intake, eating disorders and how they stem from poor eating habits as well as social conditioning around food and health, and learning the individual science of healthful nutrition and how to apply it to your own lifestyle.
- California Institute of Technology - Ay1001x: The Evolving Universe - Professor S. George Djorgovski: This course offers an introduction to the physical universe from quasars to black holes, all the way to dark matter and dark energy. The course is technically an introductory Astronomy class, but you won't need much in the way of background to appreciate it. Not only will you study how the Universe is changing all around us, you'll also look into how research into how that Universe is changing has grown over the years, and where we've had to rethink our hypotheses.
- University of Hong Kong - Epidemic - Professors Gabriel M. Leung, Thomas Abraham, Benjamin Cowling, Guan Yi, Mark Jit, Tommy Lam, Marc Lipsitch, Malik Peiris, Joseph Wu, Kwok-Yung Yuen, and Maria Huachen Zhu: The rapid spread of disease is a hot topic thanks to flu pandemics, Ebola outbreaks and uninformed anti-vaccination campaigns. This course examines the never-ending back and forth between human ingenuity and ever-evolving bacteria and viruses, along with new generations of pathogens that threaten to overwhelm our current crop of antibiotic drugs and treatments. The class also examines how infectious diseases can spread across large populations, and how public health organisations prepare for and respond to disease crises.
- University of Amsterdam - Solid Science: Research Methods - Professor Annemarie Zand Scholten: This course highlights the best methodologies to follow ) in the social sciences, along with an introduction to statistics, analytics, and the rigorous procedures and principles required for research to be trustworthy, reproducible, and reputable. The course is aimed at people interested in the social sciences, or interested in becoming social scientists.
- The Open University - Basic Science: Understanding Experiments - Professor Hazel Rymer: How are experiments conducted? How do scientists test hypotheses, or perform experiments to eliminate external variables? In this course, you'll learn — mostly by conducting a number of basic physics experiments on your own. You'll extract DNA from fruits and vegetables at home, observe osmosis in action, and bake a potato until it meets its grisly end. You'll understand how experiments are rigorously conducted, how information is gathered along the process, and how to report your findings in a meaningful way.
- Loughborough University - Getting a Grip on Mathematical Symbolism - Professor Tony Croft: This course is designed for people interested in scientific disciplines but who may feel shaky on some of the maths that serves as the underpinnings for that discipline. This course will get you familiar with the basics, and also help you understand how to think mathematically and approach complex topics and processes with a mathematical eye.
- California Institute of Technology - CS1156x: Learning from Data - Professor Yaser S. Abu-Mostafa: This course is technically a computer science class that focuses on machine learning, but it does so by teaching you how not just machines, but people learn from accumulating information. The focus of the course isn't just on learning information, but on actually "knowing," from a machine perspective. If you've ever wanted to dive into the intersection between computer science and mathematics, this course is a great place to get started.
- University of Massachusetts, Boston - Maths Q114 Quantitative Reasoning - Professor Mark Pawlak: This short course will teach you how to apply algebraic and mathematical principles to real world situations in other disciplines. The course examines the basic algebra and mathematical tools used in social, physical and life sciences, and how necessary those skills are to properly decode and understand information in those fields.
Social Sciences, Classics and Humanities
- MIT - Evaluating Social Programs - Professors Rachel Glennerster and Marc Shotland: It's easy to complain that social programs cost too much and don't necessarily deliver on the good that they promise, but it's tricky to actually quantify the good that those programs do based on rigorous analysis. In this course, you'll learn to evaluate social programs and measure their performance.
- Wellesey - Introduction to Global Sociology - Professor Smitha Radhakrishnan: Part basic sociology course and part detailed look at how global perspectives and individual culture shape our sociological views of the world, this introduction to global sociology will get you thinking about where your place in society is, and how your world view is shaped by the culture in which you live. You'll learn to put yourself in the position of other people in other parts of the world and try to and understand their world view, with a focus on the global garment industry.
- Harvard University - HUM2.1x: The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (Hours 1-5): Epic and Lyric - Professor Gregory Nagy: Focusing on ancient stories including Homer's Iliad and Sappho's poems, this first five hours of a technically "24 hour" course will walk you through the ancient Greek heroes and stores which had a lasting influence on western literature. You'll study the ancient Greek hero archetype from two perspectives: the Epic, in the form of Homer's work, and the Lyric, in the form of Sappho's work, and examine the themes that run through them both, how both storytellers chose to present their characters and themes to you, and which of those themes we can easily see carried down to more recent stories today.
- Harvard University - HUM2.1x: The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (Hours 6-11): Signs of the Hero in Epic and Iconography - Professor Gregory Nagy: In the second five hours of the same course discussed above, the focus shifts away from Homer and Sappho and moves to how the Greek hero is displayed in art, iconography and other portrayals. The course continues to touch on Homer's heroes specifically, but instead of looking at written themes, this course focuses on the visual, including live performances and artwork.
- University of Liverpool - Psychology and Mental Health: Beyond Nature and Nurture - Professor Peter Kinderman: Much discussion of psychology focuses on whether people "were born with" certain traits, or "developed them" over time, but the reality is more complex. This course aims to go beyond that simple dichotomy and explore some of the current challenges in the mental health community, and how many researchers are looking for ways to improve our overall mental health at every age. You'll discuss and learn how clinical psychologists examine, learn from, and treat their patients, and get a greater understanding of how difficult it can be to diagnose and properly treat mental illnesses.
- Newcastle University - Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier - Professor Ian Haynes: In this part history, part archaeology course, you'll learn about life on the frontier of the Roman Empire, and what daily life was like for soldiers and civilians living on one of the most heavily fortified parts of the Roman Empire in its heyday.
- James Cook University - World Music - Dr. David Salisbury: In many countries, "world music" has a stigma of essentially being vaguely "tribal" or stereotypically "other". In this course, you'll learn how to be a cultural explorer in your own community, understand the influence of popular western musicians and composers on current forms of popular music, and learn how to explore world music in your own community and environment.
- Griffith University - Understanding the Origins of Crime - Professor Aaron Sell: Aaron Sell approaches the topic of crime in human society from an almost evolutionary perspective, noting that while we can reduce crime as a chronic factor, eliminating it is much more challening. Crime has a place in human society, one that factors into topics like natural selection and animal behaviour.
- The Ohio State University - Human Trafficking - Professor Jacquelyn Meshelemiah: This course will walk you through both the social and the political issues surrounding human trafficking and slavery, examine the scale of the problem, and discuss potential ways of stopping it.
- Georgetown University - Terrorism and Counterterrorism - Professors Daniel Byman, Jonathan Brown, Laura K. Donahue, John Esposito, Christine Fair, Bruce Hoffman, David Koplow, Fathali M. Moghaddam, and Paul Pillar: What are our real options for dealing with terrorist threats? This course examines some of the questions surrounding terrorism, and looks at the tools available to security forces and authorities around the world to deal with threats.
Cross-Disciplinary Courses and Seminars
- Copenhagen Business School - Social Entrepeneurship - Professors Kai Hockerts, Kristjan Jespersen, Ester Barinaga, Anirudh Agrawal, Sudhanshu Rai, and Robert Austin: This course aims show you how to see opportunities in society not just for building your own businesses or bringing your own ideas to the fore, but to effect positive social change in the process. You'll read case studies of entrepreneurs who have used their own ideas and businesses to improve their communities while simultaneously making their own ideas come to light.
- Udacity -How to Build a Startup - Professors Steve Blank and Kathleen Mullaney: If you have a brilliant idea, or you just want to start your own business and do your own thing instead of working for someone else, you can use this course in how to build a lean startup. You'll read case studies about specific companies, learn to find your business model and how to identify your customer and market your startup.
- Emory University - Understanding Violence - Professors Deb Houry and Pamela Scully: Violence — in all of its forms — is the leading cause of death and injury in human beings. To understand why human beings are so violent towards one another, you have to look deeper than simple explanations like competition over resources, land, or people and ideologies, and instead take a more cross-disciplinary approach that includes elements of biology, sociology, and psychology. You'll study the biological and psychological causes of violence, how violence is reported and portrayed in the media, and the aftermath and cycle of violence.
- University of Michigan - Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World - Professor Eric Rabkin: Science fiction and fantasy fans will enjoy this course that looks at the genres in both print and other media as a reflection on modern society. The course examines both genres as literary work as well as insights into our world and our culture. The course is an intensive look at both genres, starting with stories like Grimm's Children's and Household Tales, all the way forward to Dracula and Frankenstein and eventually ending with Cory Doctorow's recent book, Little Brother.
- The University of Sheffield - Exploring Play: the Importance of Play in Everyday Life - Professors Elizabeth Wood and Jackie Marsh: It's hard to understate the importance of play and leisure time, not just for children looking to stay active, but for adults to reduce stress. This course examines play in its many forms, and explores how important is to childhood development as well as how critical it remains as we grow into adulthood and beyond.
- University of Texas, Austin - UT.8.01x: Jazz Appreciation - Professors Jeffrey Hellmer and Alex Heitlinger: Jazz is an amazing and influential form of music, one that's uniquely 20th century in its development, expression and maturation. This course will walk you through the history of jazz, the development of the form and its various sub-genres, and highlight artists and musicians both well-known and unknown that have shaped the landscape of jazz.
- 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.
Extra Credit: How To Find Your Own Online Classes
The curriculum at Lifehacker U is rich and deep, but it may not reflect all of your areas of interests or expertise. If you're looking for more or more varied course material, here are some resources to help you find great, university-level online classes that you can take from the comfort of your desk, at any time of day.
The beautiful thing about taking classes online is that you can pick and choose the classes you want to attend, skip lectures and come back to them later (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.