Back to School: It’s Never Too Late for Online Learning

September’s a time of beginnings, and with students flooding back to campus for a new school year, online courses are getting underway, too – on every subject and for every level of interest. Ranging from the rigorously academic to the fun-to-know, online courses make the concept of lifelong learning more possible than ever before.

The best part:  Most are free and you can participate at any time of day, from any place that has an Internet connection.

Among the offerings are Massive Open Online Courses – a.k.a. MOOCS – so named because of the vast number of people who take advantage of these educational opportunities provided by universities around the world. More informal – and more fun – alternatives have proliferated, too, including stand-alone video classes hosted on YouTube. Here are some of the more user-friendly.


The courseware site offers more than 300 courses created by universities in several countries. The pedagogical principles on which the courses are founded – students watch scheduled video lectures, test their knowledge with quizzes, and interact online with professors and classmates – are based on longstanding research about online self-directed learning; you learn at your own pace. Online sessions begin this month; you can audit video lectures and some course content for free and you can take additional time to complete course work.  Click here to see all Coursera offerings and to enroll.

Some interesting examples:

  • The Science of Well-Being, offered by Yale University’s Professor Laurie Santos, explores “The Science of Well-Being” and what psychological science says about happiness. The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice. It already started but you can see the videos for free. Learn more here.
  • The Music of the Beatles, taught at the University of Rochester, tracks the musical development of the band, from the earliest days in Liverpool and Hamburg, through the excitement of Beatlemania, the rush of psychedelia, and the maturity of Abbey Road.  Learn more here.


Offbook is an episodic PBS series of brief videos featuring  cutting-edge experts in the arts, from video games to typography.

  • One especially engaging episode looks at portrait photography.  You can listen to photographers talk about our appetite for images of other people with some very moving commentary and examples of unforgettable images: you’ll never look at a photo the same way again. Click here.
  • Another Offbook episode is a good introduction to RPG’s or Role Playing Games, starting with games played on tabletops like the popular Dungeons and Dragons.  Click here.

If you want to receive email alerts about new additions to the Offbook series, you can subscribe to the channel. It’s like free cable. All you have to do is create a YouTube account first, which is free. Click here to see the whole Offbook series so far.


TED Ed – the education arm of the well known TED Talks – offers many great video courses. The site allows anyone to create a course around YouTube video or to tweak an existing one. (Click here to see all TED Ed courses.)

Among our favorites:

  • Mysteries of Vernacular is an artful series of etymology lessons that explore the history of words using exquisite papercraft animation. (You’ll never guess where the word “clue” came from.) The talented creators of MoV recently teamed with TED Ed to develop a course based on the videos. Included are opportunities to test your recollection of the content, dig deeper by accessing additional resources and take part in guided discussions. Click here to view.
  • In Toward a New Understanding of Mental Illness – part of the Mind Matters series of TED Ed talks – Director of the National Institute of mental health Thomas Insel looks at the need for additional research on diseases like schizophrenia. Click here to view.
  • In Why There Are So Few Women Leaders, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talks about the glass ceiling, and the companion material offers additional statistics. Click here to view.

Photo by Timothy Muza for UnSplash.


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