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
- Grovo – Introduction to Digital Security and Privacy: If you’re looking for a basic course that covers topics like encryption, staying safe on Wi-Fi networks, and protecting your personal information from scammers and identity thieves, this series of short lessons at Grovo on information security and privacy will do the trick. The lessons are about a minute long each, followed by quick quizzes that will reinforce what you’ve learned. They’re not particularly in-depth, and many of you may be familiar with the material already, but it’s a good basic primer to the importance of and risks around security and privacy-related issues, in a nicely presented package.
- University of Maryland at College Park – Hardware Security – Professor Gang Qu: Often security topics are discussed in terms of software security, but there’s a whole other side to making sure information systems are secure: hardware. This course, part of Coursera’s cybersecurity specialisation, examines security and trust from a hardware perspective, including the fundamentals of digital logic design, how the role of hardware has changed over the years, security systems like smart cards and FPGA-based systems, and the attacks that try to compromise them.
- Udacity – Introduction to HTML/CSS – Professors Cameron Pittman, Jessica Uelmen, and Gundega Dekena: You can argue whether or not HTML is a programming language, but you can’t argue about its utility. Learning HTML and CSS are important, whether you plan to design and develop for the web or you just want to build a personal website. Knowing HTML and CSS gives you an understanding and level of control that a GUI or content editor simply can’t — and you’ll be able to fix what those systems inevitably break. This course at Udacity will teach you everything you need to know, starting from zero and ending with your own personal framework for web projects, and an understanding of responsive design.
- Harvey Mudd College – Programming in Scratch – Professor Colleen Lewis: Learning to code can be difficult enough without having to choose a starter language. The favourite around here is Python, but Scratch is a great first language for people looking to try their hand, and it’s easy and fun to learn. This course from Harvey Mudd College will have you designing animations, games and short programs in no time, and learning the kinds of habits that will serve you well in the future.
- Udacity – How to Use Git and GitHub – Professors Caroline Buckley and Sarah Spikes: Git and GitHub are some of the most-used tools in the development community right now, and learning how to use them is essential for contributing to and getting involved with open source projects. They’re not the easiest tools to use if you don’t know your way around, or how check-in/check-out revision systems work. This course will show you what you need to know, and have you up and using your own GitHub account smoothly — not to mention working with and collaborating on other people’s projects too.
- Cornell University – The Computing Technology Inside Your Smartphone – Professor Dave Albonesi: You’ve probably heard the statement over and over that your smartphone has more computing power than the world’s biggest computers did just a few decades ago. Exactly what does that mean, and how powerful are these tiny computers we carry around with us? This course examines the topic, moving step by step through layers of technology, from the basics to applications to data collection and interfaces.
- The Linux Foundation – Introduction to Linux – Professor Jerry Cooperstein: The immensely popular Linux Foundation introduction to Linux is back for another term, and the course just started a few days ago — there’s still time to jump in and get started. You have the option of taking the class for free, or getting a certificate for $US100, but either way if you’re ever never run Linux before, are just unfamiliar with the operating system, or want to expand your knowledge and horizons, this course is a great opportunity. You’ll learn key Linux tools , and the tips and tricks that Linux system administrators put to work to keep things running smoothly.
Finance and Economics
- The Open University – Managing My Money – Professor Martin Upton: This course offers practical guidance on managing your personal finances, including creating a budget, managing your debts and investments, how mortgages are used for home ownership, how pensions are handled and how to build retirement savings. If you’re looking for a primer on personal finance, or you need to hone your personal finance and money management skills, this course takes you across a number of critical topics and will send you away with more organised, well-managed finances as a result.
- Delft University of Technology – An Introduction to Credit Risk Management – Professor Pasquale Cirillo: We all think we understand how credit works, but the truth is it’s a multi-faceted beast, both from the perspective of an individual looking to prove their credit worthiness to a large organisation like a bank or lender seeking out reputable creditors who are capable and willing to pay their debts back — while still being customers. This course approaches the topic of credit from both sides, on both the practical and personal level as well as the broader organisational level, so you can see how both individuals and entire nations have their credit evaluated.
- University of Toronto – Behavioural Economics in Action – Professors Dilip Soman and Joonkyung Kim: Most people think that economic decisions are made using logical means and information on hand, and while that’s sometimes the case, there’s more to the picture. This course examines the topic of “behavioural economics”: the way that human behaviour influences our decisions, and how those behaviours can be used to influence people, help them make better decisions, and improve their financial situations. Part psychology and part economics, the course will help you understand your own actions, and the actions of others. The course is archived, and self-paced.
- Nanyang Technological University – Foundations of E-Commerce – Professor Vijay Sethi: Whether you’re just curious how a business might make a move from a traditional, offline presence to an online one, or you’re thinking about taking up a career in financial analysis and consulting, this course will give you the underpinnings required to understand how business is done online, the technologies involved, and the soft skills required. The course, taught by The Economist’s designated “World’s Best Business Educator,” will guide you through understanding disruptive markets and technologies, the utility of social media, online platforms and architectures that support ecommerce, and intellectual property issues.
- Babson Global – Financial Analysis of Entrepreneurial Ideas – Professors Shahid Ansari and Jan Bell: If you have a brilliant idea for a business, but don’t know how to get started, or even how to tell if your idea would actually make money in the long run, this course will show you how to objectively examine the feasibility of that idea. From there, you’ll also learn how to test it, start small, examine your results, and go forward from there. You’ll also learn how to look at the ideas and projects of others to determine whether or not they will find success, hopefully before you invest money into something that may not pan out. By the end of the course, you’ll have an eye for new opportunities and know how to put together a business plan.
- Delft University of Technology – The Economics of Cybersecurity – Professors Michel van Eten, Ross Anderson, Rainer Böhme, Carlos H. Gañán, and Tyler Moore – Information security may seem an essential requirement, but there was a time when businesses didn’t bother at all because they preferred not to spend the money. Even now, many companies fail to understand that the consequences of lax security can cost more than security investments up front. This course is designed to help students understand those costs, risks, and technologies. You’ll be able to more accurately describe the risks and costs to your organisation, and understand when and where you should invest in data security.
- Lund University – Greening the Economy: Lessons from Scandinavia – Professors Dr. Kes McCormick, Dr. Luis Mundaca, Dr. Oksana Mont, Lena Neij, Dr. Thomas Lindhqvist, and Dr. Håkan Rodhe: Issues like climate change, sustainability, environmental impact, and quality of life aren’t just buzzwords for politicians — they’re real economic concerns as well. This course touches on topics of individual choice, sustainable businesses and national policies that have been tested in a global context, with specific focus on the economic successes (and failures) of Scandinavian countries.
Science and Medicine
- Lancaster University – Ebola: Symptoms, History, and Origins – Professor Derek Gatherer: The most recent Ebola outbreak continues to make headlines around the globe. What is Ebola exactly, beyond a scary disease? Where did it come from, and how does it spread? This course will educate you on Ebola, dispelling myths along the way, and will show you what this current outbreak can teach us about disease prevention, treatment and medical science.
- Harvard University – Super Earths and Life – Professors Dimitar Sasselov and Colin Fredericks: Many people don’t understand the close relationships between astronomy and biology, but they are closely linked fields, especially as we expand our search for possible alien life. This course will show you how we look for life elsewhere in the universe, the tools we use, and what the search teaches us about our place in the universe.
- University of Michigan – Introduction to Thermodynamics: Transferring Energy from Here to There – Professor Margaret Wooldridge: The Laws of Thermodynamics are more than just physical principles — they explain why perpetual motion machines don’t work, why cold fusion isn’t a reality, and why you can’t just create limitless energy from nothing. This course is a primer to thermodynamics, energy loss, heat, and mass and energy conservation principles. You’ll need some basic science and maths (physics, algebra and calculus) to get the most out of the course.
- University of California, Berkeley – BVF101x: Biology for Voters – Professors Jasper Rine and Fyodor Urnov: Topics that require scientific literacy aren’t limited to the classroom or the lab — they’re turning up in public policy debates, and in the voting booth. This is a simple biology class for people who are concerned about scientific issues, and who want to be informed when they go to the ballot box. The course touches on topics like genetics and genetically modified foods, disease and vaccines, health care and mass extinctions.
- The University of Edinburgh – EDIVET: Do You Have What It Takes to be a Veterinarian? – Professors Dr Jessie Paterson, Kay Aitchison, Susan Rhind, Dr Gurå Therese Bergkvist, Rachel Whittington, Dr Catriona Bell, and Dr Andrew Gardiner – Many people dream of becoming a vet at some point in their lives, but the truth is that like any medical career, it’s not for the squeamish, it’s not easy, it’s both intellectually and emotionally demanding, and it takes a toll. This course will help you understand whether you really do have what it takes to become a vet, from basic animal care to professional and clinical skills required to take care of animals large and small. You’ll also dive into the past, present and future of veterinary care.
- Duke University – Medical Neuroscience – Professor Leonard E. White: Your brain is your most powerful organ, but how exactly does it work? This course dives into the topic from a medical perspective, including the basic functions the brain is responsible for, how the brain operates, and the organisation and anatomy of the brain and the human central nervous system. You’ll learn which parts of the brain are responsible for what actions and functions, how nerves work and how your body communicates back and forth with your brain, and how those signals translate to everything from shouts of pain to simple breathing to your heart beating. The course is aimed at health professionals, but if you’re curious, you can get a lot out of it too.
- Harvard University – EMC2x: The Einstein Revolution – Professors Peter Galison Ph.D., Ion Mihailescu, and Connemara Doran: Einstein’s accomplishments and achievements are well noted, but if all you know of him is E=MC2 or relativity, this course will give you a broader picture. It traces everything from Einstein’s relationship with quantum mechanics, general and special relativity, and nuclear weapons — as well as his social relationships with Nazi Germany, philosophy and the arts. Every scientific topic is presented with its cultural and social context as well, so you can see the type of world Einstein was working in — and the people he was working with — when some of his most famous discoveries came to light.
- The University of Adelaide – HumBio101x: Essential Human Biology: Cells and Tissues – Professors Mario Ricci, Rachel Gibson, Sophie Karanicolas, Catherine Snelling and Femke Buisman-Pijlman: Understanding human biology starts with understanding the basic building blocks that make up the body: cells and tissues. This course will explain how cells work, divide, and make up tissues that then in turn make up parts of our bodies and our organs. You’ll learn the four main types of tissue in the body — epithelial, connective, muscular and nervous — and how they function.
- School Yourself – Introduction to Algebra – Professors Zach Wissner-Gross, John Lee, Vivek Venkatachalam, Kenny Peng, and Michael Fountaine: Sometimes it’s best to go back to the basics before you touch on advanced topics. Whether you’re still in school and could use a refresher, or you’ve been out of school for ages and have no idea how to do basic algebra anymore, this course will serve as a walkthrough of basic principles, exercises and methods. It’s suitable if you’re looking for ways to better solve problems you encounter at work, or if you’re just interested in more maths or science topics, but want to make sure you have the basics mastered first.
- School Yourself – Introduction to Geometry – Professors Zach Wissner-Gross, John Lee, Vivek Venkatachalam, Kenny Peng, and Michael Fountaine: This course covers geometry basics, from measuring angles to calculating area, volume and size. You’ll prove geometric theorems, and understand how geometry is immediately applicable to the things you do.
- Ohio State University – Introduction to Calculus – Professor Jim Fowler: Calculus is a crucial mathematical tool, but many of us forget it after high school. This course covers the basics.
Social Sciences, Classics, and Humanities
- The University of Virginia – Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World Professors Kurtis Schaeffer and David Francis Germano: Meditating is an excellent tool to help deal with our stressful, busy lives. This course will help you get a better appreciation for the origins of meditation as a practice, covering how it’s performed in India and Tibet, and with extensive contributions from scientists and doctors who have studied meditation and its effects on the body and mind.
- National University of Singapore – Reason and Persuasion: Thinking Through Three Dialogues By Plato – Professor John Holboa: Plato remains a hugely influential figure, and this course examines modern dilemmas and problems with an eye back to three Platonic dialogues, where he sought to challenge belief systems and encourage critical, rational thought by asking intelligent, thoughtful questions. The course is a primer in moral psychology and theory.
- University of Strathclyde, Glasgow – Caring for Vulnerable Children – Professor Graham McPheat: This course is designed for educators and social workers looking for ways to help identify and care for disadvantaged or disabled children in times where social services designed to help them are shrinking away. The course examines ways to communicate with and relate to young people in difficult life situations, work with them, and prepare for a career in social work or child care.
- University of California, Berkeley – ColWri3.3x: “Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus” by Shelley: BerkeleyX Book Club – Professor Maggie Sokolik: Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus was written by Mary Shelley when she was 18 years old, and it has endured as a cultural and social touchpoint since. The course discusses how the book is a reflection of Gothic and Romantic cultural movements in the early 1800s, how it was received when it was published, and how it took off and became a fixture in pop culture.
- The University of London – The Magna Carta and Its Legacy – Professors Dr Emm Johnstone, Dr Graham Smith, Justin Champion, Jonathan Phillips, and Nigel Saul: The Magna Carta is generally referred to as the base document prototyping what “law” would come to be known in western society. This course examines that document in detail, the cultural and social situation leading up to it, and the lasting legacy of the Magna Carta on constitutional documents, legal reforms and systems of law and justice, and entire nation-building efforts.
- University of Strathclyde, Glasgow – Introduction to Forensic Science – Professor Jim Fraser: I try to include a forensics class with every Lifehacker U, and this course fits the bill perfectly. The course covers four different evidence types, including drugs of abuse, DNA, firearms and impression evidence, and covers how crime scene investigators and forensics experts retrieve and preserve that evidence in order to identify and try suspects. The course follows an example murder case from discovery to investigation and through to identifying a potential suspect.
Cross-Disciplinary Courses and Seminars
- Wagenigen University – NUTR101x: Introduction to Nutrition – Food for Health – Professor Sander Kersten: Nutrition can be a a difficult and confusing topic<. this course a new offering from wageningen university outlines well-tested health and nutrition tips knowledge so you can apply them in your own cooking when dining out.>
- University of California, San Diego – Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects – Professors Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski: Really absorbing information and processing it isn’t a skill you’re just good at or not. Learning how to learn, and how to organise, process and really absorb and think critically about information you’re presented with is an important skill to develop. This course seeks to give you some helpful tools to better absorb information, understand how procrastination and memory really work, and adopt the the “chunking” approach to learning.
- University of Reading – Managing People: Engaging Your Workforce – Professor Martin Bicknell: Whether you’re already a manager or you’re about to become one, managing isn’t a skill people are just born with — you have to learn it. This course will help you with the process, from motivating people to give you their best, to relating to the staff who have to work for you on a human level as well as a professional one.
- University of California Irvine – The Art of Negotiation – Professor Sue Robbins: This course walks you through the basics of negotiation: keeping your options open, how to approach difficult negotiations or emotionally charged ones, how to address power inequities when you’re negotiating, and the role emotional intelligence plays.
- McGill – The Body Matters – Professor Ian Shrier: We all know it’s important to stay active, and that physical activity is important for a healthy body — but how much is necessary, and what exactly are those benefits? This course walks through the impact of physical activity and exercise on the body, how to exercise and work out safely, and what to do when injury occurs.
- Grovo – Digital Etiquette: This series of short video courses will walk you through the basics of digital etiquette, and how to behave responsibly online. The subject matter includes everything from how to leave constructive comments, considering the audience of a message before you type or send it, the differences between public and private communication, how to set boundaries and respect both your and other peoples’ time, and creative commons and copyright.
- University of California, San Diego – Visual Design – Professor Scott Klemmer: There are a lot of elements that go into design, from colour and space to scale and organisation. This course focuses on user interfaces, but it approaches the topic on a broader scale, showing you how to turn blank canvases into useful and beautiful interfaces.
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.