Learn All You Can: Free Online Courses


Thanks to Open Education Week, which wrapped up yesterday, we’ve learned about hundreds of free resources available online for anyone who cares to delve into Victorian literature with an Oxford don, learn how to listen to music from a Yale professor, or jump into any number of topics in archaeology, economics, humanities… the list goes on.

The Open Education movement makes academic courses from some of the world’s top universities freely available through digital technology. If you’re looking to expand your mind, check out courses that offer video lectures; these are the easiest to follow. Among them is MIT’s Challenge of World Poverty, whose 21 video lectures should be enough to keep you busy even without downloading course materials.

Open Education course websites can be hard to navigate, and some professors are deathly boring and/or their lectures are mired in procedural info that you don’t need, so we’ve done some browsing and listed the 10 most interesting, engaging and user-friendly courses below. Some are from the Open Education list (scroll all the way down to access the complete list); a few are from the blog Open Culture’s list of 700 free online courses.

Remember that you can easily expand a video window on your screen to full-screen view by clicking on the symbol on the lower right video frame. To minimize the window again, use the “esc” key on the top left of your keyboard.fullscreen-icon

  • Art Through Time: A Global View This Annenberg multimedia site is designed to help teachers stay current on the topics they teach, and it’s packed with fascinating info around several themes (among them are History and Memory, Dreams and Visions, and The Body). You can watch the videos, read the transcripts, explore questions (“How can art inspire technical innovation?”) and test your thinking. Or you can just browse the artworks and learn something about them. The contributors, all at the doctoral level, are directors of various museums around the world. Click here to access this site.
  • Cars: Past, present and Future. Don’t be put off by the title. This is a fascinating series of lectures from Stanford University’s continuing education arm about hos cars defined our past and will shape our future, and where we’re going in terms of mobility. Click here to check it out.
  • Financial Markets. By plugging into Yale University’s undergraduate lecture series, you can hear the famous economist Robert Schiller talk, in 2008, about the history of financial markets and how they’ve shaped society, and how they’ll evolve as we dig deeper into the information age. Click here to access the course on YouTube.
  • Darwin and Design. This MIT undergraduate video course looks at the treatment of the topic of evolution within literature and speculative thought since the eighteenth century, and covers Darwin’s model for understanding how natural objects and systems can help us understand design. Click here for the whole series, and on the series page, click on “Play All” or each segment at a time.
  • Google Art Project videos by the KhanAcademy. Each video in this series – there are 118 of them date – focuses on a single work of a well-known artist. The videos are based on unscripted conversations between art historians. Less easy to navigate but with a richer selection is the KhanAcademy’s SmartHistory site, where you can explore by theme as well as by artist. Click here for SmartHistory. (Check out one of our favorites, Hirst’s Shark: Interpreting Contemporary Art.)
  • Science & Cooking. This public lecture series puts together Harvard professors with well-known chefs (Wylie Dufresne visits in video number 8). From the series description: “Each lecture features a world-class chef who visited and presented their remarkable culinary designs. The lectures then use these culinary creations as inspiration to delve into understanding how and why cooking techniques and recipes work, focusing on the physical transformations of foods and material properties.” Click here for the series.
  • String Theory, Black Holes and the Fundamental Laws of Nature. This video course from Harvard delves into the mysteries in the course title and others. Skip the 3-minute-20-second intro and go straight to The Scientific Quest: Understanding the Basic Laws of Nature. Click here to go straight there.
  • New York City: A Social History. From NYU, this video course looks at NYC from the 17th Century to the present, through the built environment, music, dance, film and other media. Click here to access the full course listing. When you get to the page, use the “Get Started” drop-down menu on the top right of screen to pick a topic. You’ll also have the option of joining a live, online study group.
  • Elementary French. Carnegie Mellon University’s Open learning Initiative has created a video-based, highly interactive course for beginners, which plunges you into the language and has you responding to questions right away. It’s the best way to learn. Click here to go to the main page, then click the first link under “French Online Assignment.”
  • An Introduction to Psychology. Via MIT, a scientific look at why we think, feel and act in the ways we do, reflecting the latest thinking (new to you, even if you did take psychology 101 a few decades ago). Among the topics the video course examines are the interplay between mind and brain, and theories of consciousness. Click here for the complete list of videos; if you also want to download course materials, click here.

You’ll find many courses in the list of 700 on Open Culture that require you to download audio or video from iTunes. If you’re using an iPad, try some of these out, too.

Networking to Learn

Very few of the Open Education courses offer an option to join with other learners online, so following a course is a solitary experience. If you want to make learning more social, visit Peer to Peer University, or P2PU, a grassroots open education project that helps groups organize themselves around specific courses and also encourages peer-to-peer teaching. Many of the courses here are about open learning and tech topics; a few explore writing (how to write and edit a Wikipedia entry), business (how to build a sustainable business with social objectives) and more. A Masters program is in development. Click here to see the full list.

More to Browse

Then let us know what you learned in the comments box below.


15 responses to “Learn All You Can: Free Online Courses

  1. i am a 73 yr old women, very active, my biggest regard was not getting a degree a certificate or just learning.

    i would love to take on line classes leading to a degree of somesort. are there any free classes on line.

    thank you so much.

    1. I’m a Celtophile. I’ve been studying the Celts on my own for some years, now. I would like an overview, with language (Irish/Scots Gaelic, perhaps Breton as well), included.
      If no such program is available, what would the next best thing?
      Thank you for your help.

      1. Hi, Dana,
        I did a search on:
        “longlearning courses near Dana Point California”
        Lots of courses.
        I do LLI at a local state college.
        Do It. You will enjoy. Even if it has to be via Zoom.

  2. I’m 61 years old. Disabled. wanting to stop my brain from turning to mush.
    When I was little my dream was to be an artist. Not only do I want my brain to accomplish this I’d also love to use it to help other’s.
    Is there anything out there for me?

    In all sincerity and no kidding please help.

  3. the link sign up for Elementary Spanish is here:

    The notes at the link are unclear about who pays a ‘maintenance fee. It may apply only to teachers directing classes to the website and not to individuals. Please remember that this course is not affiliated or operated by Seniorplanet; you must direct comments or questions to the administrators of this online learning program.

  4. Which computer classes did you take? Did you learn the technology of how to conqure the iphone and how to figure out how to use the internet for whatever you wanted to get information that was informative to your needs?

  5. I am so grateful for the computer classes we have here at Quincy Sr. Residence i never knew anything about computers until i took these classes.I have taken three classes and very happy that i did.Thank you. Gloria

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