Your education doesn’t have to stop once you leave school. We’ve put together a curriculum of some of the best free online classes available on the web this fall for the latest term of Lifehacker U, our regularly-updating guide to improving your life with free, online college-level classes. Let’s get started.
Orientation: What Is Lifehacker U?
Whether you’re headed to college for the first time or you’re back in classes after a relaxing summer vacation, or long out of school and interested in learning something new, now’s the time to turn it on and amp up your skills with some interesting and informative classes and seminars. Anyone with a little time and a passion for self-growth can audit, read, and “enroll” in these courses for their own personal benefit. Schools like Yale University, MIT, Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, and many more are all offering free online classes that you can audit and participate in from the comfort of your office chair, couch, or computing chair-of-choice.
If you’ll remember from our Summer 2015 semester, some of these classes are available year-round, but many of them are only available during the a specific term or semester, and because we’re all about helping you improve your life at Lifehacker, we put together a list of courses available this summer 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
- University of Michigan – Programming for Everybody (Python) – Professor Charles Severance – Learning to code is pretty popular these days, but as we’ve discussed several times, there are smart ways to get your feet wet that will help you build the skills you need to actually work on modern projects, and then…there are other ways to learn. This course gets you started learning Python, which is our favorite language for first-time learners, in a no prerequisites-required environment that anyone can follow. Best of all, once you’re comfortable with Python, you’ll be ready to actually take on web-based projects and move to other, more advanced languages. Even the textbook for this course is free.
- Udacity – Intro to Computer Science – Professor Dave Evans – It’s been a while since we highlighted this Udacity course, mostly because it’s free if you take the self-paced route and just access the course materials but Udacity has been charging a good bit for the group-led versions of their classes, but this is a good introductory class if you’re interested in learning to put Python to work building working web tools. This is another class where you’ll learn Python from the ground up, but by the end of it you’ll have built your own little social network, and learned to build a mini “search engine,” complete with a web crawler to gather information to index.
- Udacity – Intro to iOS App Development with Swift – Professor Kunal Chawla – If you’re interested in app development and iOS is your preferred platform, this free course is a good first start. You’ll need a little background knowledge to make the most of it, namely some programming experience, but you don’t need to know Swift or be that familiar with iOS app development to master it. You will, however, need a Mac (running OS X 10.10) and an iOS device. Beyond that, bring your enthusiasm and you’ll be ready to go. By the end of the course you’ll have built an app that can record you and a friend’s voices, play them back, and then modulate your voices to sound like chipmunks or Darth Vader. By the end of the class you’ll have a working knowledge of Swift, enough to get your own app idea off the ground.
- University of Maryland – Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems Part One and Part Two – Professor Dr. Adam Porter – If your preferred mobile app platform is Android, these two courses in Android development might be more your speed. Both classes just started, and while we wouldn’t recommend trying to do them both at the same time, if you’ve been through part one or you’re no beginner, maybe part two would be a better fit for you. By the end of the first course, you’ll have a more than working knowledge of Android Studio, how to build an app for varying screen sizes and system configurations, and how to design a user interface with Google’s guidelines in mind. Part two dives deeper into topics like push notifications, acquiring data over the device network, building in touch and graphics and accessing system sensors into your application. Both courses assume you have some understanding of Java going in, so keep that in mind before you sign up.
- Microsoft – Developing International Software – Professors Björn Rettig, Daniel Goldschmidt, and Nadine Kano – An often-overlooked but critical skill is being able to develop and design applications to be used by people around the globe, taking into consideration not just varying languages, but the various computer types, input types, and interfaces common in software around the globe. This course from Microsoft aims to tackle some of the common issues that developers will face when trying to take their platforms abroad, what audiences in various countries expect from software, and how to take different languages, cultures, and more into consideration when building their platforms.
- Code School – Try Git – Professors Gregg Pollack and Olivier Lacan –Version control when you’re programming, and especially when working with other people on software, is essential. Being able to back out of changes, commit changes to your code in an orderly fashion, see what you’ve changed and when, trace changes (and yes, errors and mistakes), are all critical to the development process, and right now Git and GitHub are the most popular and often-used tools on the web to manage software repositories and development. This course will show you how they work, how you can sign up and build your own repo, commit your own software, share with and fork the projects of others, and more.
- Udemy – MySQL Database for Beginners – Professor Bucky Roberts – A lot of attention is paid in CS circles to learning programming languages specifically, but people often neglect database administration—and the myriad careers available to people who are comfortable rolling up their sleeves and getting busy with SQL. The depths of the SQL world await in this beginner’s course, which will take you from no experience with SQL at all to well versed in the language, tools, and techniques for managing, building, optimizing, and maintaining SQL databases. You’ll be no DBA out of the box, to be sure, but you’ll be well on your way—and definitely qualified to help out if you work somewhere you might be able to get some hands-on training. Bucky’s examples and teaching style are spot on as well, and the course is a joy to browse on your own, or follow along with.
- Swinburne University of Technology – Concepts in Game Development – Professor Dr. Clinton Woodward – Learning to write and build your own games is exciting, and there’s no time to make your own voice heard and do your own thing in the games industry than right now. This course will help you get the basics down, and will cover concepts like the fundamentals of game design, the understanding that you have to start small and build from extremely small pieces and steps, and of course, work your way up to complex things like movement, interaction, and artificial intelligences. Prepare to have your expectations reset, but by the time the course is over, you’ll be ready to try your hand at game development in your own way.
Finance and Economics
- The Open University – Managing My Money – Professor Martin Upton – The extremely popular “Managing My Money” course is making its return this semester, since it’s one of the (surprisingly few) great personal finance courses on the web that gives you solid basics from start to finish on a variety of financial topics. You’ll learn about how to compile a budget and get some practical advice to organizing your finances. You’ll also learn about saving for the future, various types of insurance and what types you actually need versus others, and more. The course has a UK focus to it, but the information you’ll get is applicable everywhere.
- Udemy – The Beginner’s Guide to the Stock Market – Professor John Ducas – The stock market can often look like a mysterious thing; a capricious beast that makes money sometimes and loses a ton other times completely on a whim, without explanation. Well, this course won’t change how the market behaves, but it will give you some insight into how it works, what influences it, and why it behaves the way it does. You’ll get the tools you need to interpret market movements and read financial news with an informed—not just a frightened—eye.
- The New York Institute of Finance – Understanding the Federal Reserve – Professor William Addiss – Returning for another semester is this crash course into The “Fed,” or the Federal Reserve. We’ve discussed how the Federal Reserve is a complicated organization with l0ts of responsibilities, but many people have no idea how it operates, how people are appointed, and the wide impact of its decisions before they form opinions on it. This course is a walkthrough of not just the Fed itself, but how their decisions impact the economy at home and abroad, and why their choices matter so much. The course examines the relationship between the Federal Government and the Fed, and how their decisions ultimately impact everything from how easy it is for you to get a credit card to how easy it is for you to save for the future.
- Udemy and DeVry University – Financial Analysis: A Recipe for Success – Professor Ellen Jakovich – This course may sound daunting, but don’t let it scare you off—the art of financial analysis is an important tool to have in your money management toolkit. It’s more than just making budgets and tracking your finances, it’s the ability to make sure that you’re saving the right amount at the right rates to hit your financial goals, how to make a multi-year budget for a big home renovation or project, and more. You’ll get skills that are definitely useful in the workplace, but your activities will be centered around personal and real-world projects in your everyday life, so you can see their applicability across the board.
Science and Medicine
- Rutgers University – Analyzing the Universe – Professor Dr. Terry A Matilsky – Explore some of the mysteries of the universe in this course, using publicly available NASA imagery and data to examine and explore some of the universe’s most amazing natural and physical phenomena. The course takes two large themes and puts them together—first, you’ll come to learn how the images and data you’ll review are obtained, what they mean, and how they’re interpreted by scientists, and then you’ll be presented with your own information to study, interpret, and follow along with on your own in an educated way. You’ll be able to “do your own research,” as it were, and investigate the mysteries of the universe with your own eyes and skills.
- The University of Tokyo – From the Big Bang to Dark Energy – Professor Hitoshi Murayama – 13.7 billion years is a long long time, but a lot has happened in that time, and this course will take you through the history of the universe from then until now. Of course, a lot—we mean a lot—happened in the first trillionth of a second after the big bang, like the emergence of the Higgs Boson, for example, along with the other elementary particles that make up the universe as we know it. In this course, you’ll use up to date research and information to study those critical moments right after the beginning of the universe, how the balance between matter and energy was determined, how the balance between matter and antimatter was determined, how galaxies and stars and planets formed, and so on, all the way to the present day.
- University of Alberta – Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology – Professor Angelica Torices – Dinosaurs are awesome, but odds are there’s a lot about them that you may have learned at a young age that have changed over the years, or new developments that you might not be aware of. If you’re a dinosaur fan or you always wanted to be a paleontologist, this free course just started, and it’s for you. You’ll learn all about the many kinds of dinosaurs that lived during the Mezozoic Era, how they lived, what they ate, how they adapted to their environment (and to each other), and the kind of Earth they lived on. You’ll also study how we learned so much about them, from how bones fossilize and what clues have been left behind for modern scientists to understand how dinosaurs were born, lived, and died.
- University of Tasmania – Marine and Antarctic Science – Professor Craig Johnson and Dr. Jess Melbourne-Thomas – Perhaps the coldest, most forbidding environments on the planet is also one of the most amazing places to learn all about the history of the Earth. In this course, you’ll learn about undersea life in the oceans around the world, how there’s such a massive diversity of life underwater, and even how marine science in the coldest parts of the planet are done. You’ll learn what oceanographers do and how they work, how the oceans and global ocean currents play a significant role in managing the planetary climate, you’ll get an understanding of how Antarctic science is conducted, and how ecosystems in such a cold place manage to not only survive, but thrive.
- Tokyo Institute of Technology – Introduction to Deep Earth Science – Part 1 – Professor Kei Hirose – Virtually everything we know about the Earth and our environment exists on a thin layer of scrum on top of depths of churning, hot, magnetized, highly active rock, just below the Earth’s crust. What’s it doing, how did the planet form this way, how does the crust and everything we know about the earth—mountains, rivers, oceans, continents, and islands—move around on top of all of it, and how has the Earth changed over the eons? This course is a great starting point to the incredibly active world beneath our feet, what the innermost parts of the planet are really made of and how the Earth came to its present state.
- World Bank Group – Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C World Must Be Avoided – Professors Pablo Benitez and Alan S Miller – Climate change is clearly one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced, and whether we’ll prove capable of doing something about it or just forced to adapt to a warming world remains to be seen. This course is broken into two major cohorts—Climate Champions and Policy and Leadership, with the former being for people interested in the topic and the science behind it, and the latter being for leaders in industry, politics, business, and more looking for ways to connect with other leaders on the topic. In all cases, the course will walk you through the imminent changes to the global climate, what the world will look like as the planet warms, and specific attention to each region of the world and the very specific changes that will likely take place in those places (if they haven’t taken place already.) The course will discuss topics like diminishing crop yields, the spread of vector-borne diseases, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity, and more—as well as mitigation and adaptations required to live in a warmer world.
- Swinburne University of Technology – Basic Physics – Professor Dr. Wayne Rowlands – The basis of so much of earth and physical science is Physics, and without a foundation in it, it can be difficult to understand other, more complex things. Physics explains virtually everything about the world around us, from why wheels roll, why objects that go up must come down (most of the time), how we put people in orbit, why we can see stars millions of miles away, and more. This course will start smaller though, and help you see the world around you in terms of basic physics; like Newton’s Laws of Motion and the relationships between force and energy. You should have your math skills honed before you jump in, though—the course won’t shy away from the math required to really explain how the world around you works.
- Flinders University – The Human Body as a Machine – Professor Colin Carati – The human body is a wondrous instrument, made up of tons of individual parts that move together in a highly interconnected and interdependent system. This course talks about how the body coordinates so well, introduces the basic building blocks that make up the human body, discusses the complex systems that make up the human body, and discusses how everything you need to make another human is available information at the cellular level—but next to impossible to reuse without a more complicated system. The course even examines how the human body replaces itself by creating new humans.
- Open2Study – Water in a Thirsty World – Professor Rima Itani – The issue of water scarcity is one that’s only going to grow in importance as more and more people on the planet need access to clean and potable water, and water systems are constantly drained for both human and agricultural use. Droughts are already an issue in many parts of the world, threatening crops as well as the health of communities. In this course, you’ll tackle those issues, look at ways many countries and communities around the world are innovating to protect their water supplies, and how a global effort to address water scarcity issues is taking shape.
- University of Wollongong – Understanding Common Diseases – Professors Dr Kylie Mansfield and Lyndal Parker-Newlyn – Some of the most common diseases people suffer from are also some of the most poorly understood. The common cold, diabetes, reflux, and hypertension all plague millions of people around the globe, and yet so many people are completely unclear on what causes them, how they’re diagnoses, and what symptoms to look out for. This course approaches each of these illnesses individually so you walk away with a better understanding of each disease, how it impacts your overall health, prevention, management, and treatments.
- Cardiff University – The Informed Health Consumer: Making Sense of Evidence – Professor Fiona Morgan – When I wrote my piece about why health and nutrition is so confusing, I discussed the business of and rapid release of health studies, news, research, and data. Every day the public is treated—in many cases by an overeager press—to new information about what’s good or bad for them, what will lengthen or shorten their lives, what they should or shouldn’t buy. In this course, you’ll learn to examine these stories—and their associated studies—appropriately. You’ll learn to examine evidence, determine its reliability, find out where to turn for reliable and useful health information, come to understand the terminology used in health and medical studies, and more.
- Udemy – Math is Everywhere: Applications of Finite Math – Professor Tim Chartier – From creating scalable fonts to how games like Angry Birds work to Google’s own pagerank and search algorithms, mathematics is everywhere around us. This course examines all of those specific examples and more to explain how mathematics is applied everywhere in our daily lives, from the most basic things to some amazingly complicated ones. By the time you finish the course, you’ll have a better appreciation for the level of thought that goes into a lot of things—even minor ones—around us, like the games we play or the tools we use every day, or even predicting how well your favorite team is going to do this season.
- Loughborough University – Getting a Grip on Mathematical Symbolism – Professor Tony Croft – Mathematical symbols are no joke. To an outsider, they can look like squiggles and strange letters in an unknown language, but there’s meaning to all of them, and this course will help you understand it. If you’re interested in science or engineering at all, you’ll come across all of these symbols, and you’ll need to know how they differ from their greek lettering counterparts, and what they mean in a numerical context. You’ll also be doing a good bit of your own problem solving, so be ready for that, too.
- The University of Texas at Austin – Discovery Precalculus: A Creative and Connected Approach – Professors Mark L Daniels, Jeremiah W Lucas, and Karen E Smid – Whether you’re studying calculus right now, need a brush-up on your pre-calc, or just having a hard time learning this material yourself and could use a hand, this approach to teaching pre-calculus is certainly an interesting one that might do a lot of people some good. Through learning about mathematical concepts, you’ll also learn about logical statements, and learn to justify your own arguments by explaining your reasoning. Sure, you’ll study functions and models, you’ll learn all about exponents and logarithmic functions, but you’ll learn them in a practical, step-by-step manner where one lesson or piece of information follows to the next, and then to the next, in a way you can trace back to concepts you already understand. You’ll apply the same lessons to trigonometry, binomials, and more as you approach calculus directly.
Social Sciences, Classics, and Humanities
- Harvard University – The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours – Professors Gregory Nagy, Leonard Muellner, Kevin McGrath, Keith Stone, and Claudia Filos – Learning what it took to be a “hero” in ancient Greece shines a bright light on the expectations of people in our society even today. What does it mean to be a “hero,” and how should normal people conduct themselves as a result? You’ll learn those lessons by studying ancient Greek literature, specifically the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey; tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; songs of Sappho and Pindar; dialogues of Plato, and On Heroes by Philostratus.
- Yale University of Michigan – Moral Foundations of Politics – Professor Ian Shapiro – This course explores when governments deserve the allegiance of their peoples, and when it should be denied, using the answers proposed by political theorists both modern and ancient. You’ll study the arguments for—and against—democratic systems of government, when governments should be overthrown and what their primary purposes should be, Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political theories (like Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the Social Contract Tradition), and their lingering problems, lessons, and paths to the future.
- Arizona State University – Human Origins – Professor Dr. Donald C Johnanson – What does it mean to be human? Where do we come from, and what did our ancestors look like? How did they live? This course examines the evidence at hand for the origins of humanity, fossil records, and our place in nature—all taught by the award winning paleoanthropologist that discovered the skeleton known as Lucy, which you’ve probably heard of before. The course also includes an introduction to evolutionary biology, and an overview of the hominid fossil record, and how anthropological research like this is conducted.
- University of Liverpool – Superpowers of the Ancient World: The Near East – Professor Glenn Godenho – So much of history taught in schools focuses on the western world—specifically Europe and its conquests, colonies, and expansion, even back to the ancient world. This course on the other hand spins the globe and the clock and goes back to some of the biggest powers the ancient world ever saw—the ancient Egyptians, Mitannians, and Hittites. You’ll learn about their cultures, where they lives, where they expanded, what happened to their empires, and what we can learn from those historic lessons today.
- Dartmouth University – Introduction to Italian Opera – Professors Steve Swayne, Adam Nemeroff, Dan Maxell Crosby, and Pat Fisken – Opera has a pretty bad rap in pop circles. It’s viewed as powerful, but difficult to get into, and that’s a shame—this course will serve as a great introduction to some of the most amazing operas ever written, give you a chance to learn about them in context, listen to them, and experience them with the understanding of not just what’s going on, but the kinds of epic stories they tell. By the end of the course, you’ll be both a better student and listener of opera, and have the tools to go into other operas and appreciate them are more than just loud, powerful musical performances (although they’re often certainly that as well!)
- Canvas – Iowa Presidential Caucuses – Professor Dr. Steffen Schmidt – Have you ever wondered why the Iowa caucuses are generally held in such high regard by politicians, reporters, and political pundits? This course will explain—not just how they’re a bellweather for the rest of the country, but why they’ve been so important in history, how they came to be such great predictors (although not perfect ones) of future voting patterns, and of course, the political cycle of news, reporting, polling, and so on. By the time you finish the course, you’ll understand why everyone looks to Iowa when they’re planning Presidential campaigns.
- Università degli Studi di Padova – Bullying 101: Beyond Common Sense – Professors Gianluca Gini and Dr. Tiziana Pozzoli – Bullying, both face-to-face and online, are essentially endemic these days. Whether it’s in classrooms or the playground, in the workplace, or just online among people who don’t know each other but still see reason to harass and abuse one another, it’s a serious problem. In this course, you’ll examine specifically youth bullying, both in-person and when it extends to online interactions like cyberbullying in its many forms (releasing someone’s personal information, impersonating them online, spreading false or manufactured information about them, etc), and how young people today learn to cope with it. The course examines the characteristics of the young people involved, the tools necessary to address it, as well as prevention and intervention strategies to put a stop to it.
- University of California at Berkeley – The Science of Happiness – Professors Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas – Billed as one of the first online courses to teach positive psychology, this class studies what it takes to be happy from a social and psychological perspective. Strong connections, a sense of meaning and belonging, personal value, and more all come into play here, and you’ll span the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and more to get an understanding of how human beings interpret “happiness,” and the myriad paths to achieve it. By the end, you’ll have a ton of practical, research-backed tips to use to improve your life and your own mood.
- Yale University – Environmental Politics and Law – Professor John Wargo – This course examines the question of whether or not law is capable of changing human behavior to be less environmentally damaging. Over the course of the class you’ll look at several examples of times when the legal system was engaged to protect communities, nations and regions in the interest of security or the interest of environmental welfare, or to protect the planet as a whole, and their various levels of success. You’ll study laws that addressed use and overuse of pesticides, plastics, land use, urban sprawl, protected spaces and public spaces, and more. You’ll also examine the balance between the things that people say they want, in terms of clean air, water, and space for themselves and their families—and the way they act when those issues come up in a legal or political context.
- Emory University – Citizenship and US Immigration Law – Professor Polly J Price – Considering immigration is such a hot topic right now, it would make sense to actually study the history of immigration to the United States, including the myths and realities of an “open border” past, how US citizenship is acquired and whether or not it can ever be lost or revoked, citizenship by birth and the guarantees of the 14th amendment, rights and responsibilities of US citizens, dual citizenship and nationality, and more. You’ll also study how someone becomes eligible for immigration, how visas and green cards are issued, how someone can obtain their citizenship, how immigration requests are approved or denied, and of course, the issue of border control and deportation.
- Canvas – Investigative Concepts: FBI Major Case #203: The “Pizza Bomber” – Professor Jerry Clark, PhD – The case of the “Pizza Bomber” picked up a massive amount of media attention when it happened back in 2003—if you’re unfamiliar about something that surely would have topped the social media world in a time before social media, Brian Douglas was a pizza delivery man who was killed by a remotely controlled bomb fastened to his neck, after he was apprehended by the police for robbing a bank. Starting from that point, one of the FBI’s most puzzling, difficult, and intricate cases unfolded, and this course will walk you through the whole thing, serving as a crash course in criminal justice, forensic investigation, and getting into the mindset of not just Douglas himself, but the people he associated with, and the whole sordid affair.
- University of Dundee – Identifying the Dead: Forensic Science and Human Identification – Professor Helen Meadows – I always like to include at least one forensics course in Lifehacker U roundups, and this one’s a great one. If you’ve ever wondered how people who have died—even a long long time ago—are identified, even in the absence of a great deal of records, DNA, or other data on them, this course will explain the techniques and tools that forensic scientists use to get the job done. You’ll study DNA analysis, dental record analysis, and other techniques, all through participating in a mock murder mystery that’s up to you to solve. You’ll need to collect evidence, work with your classmates, and piece together the scarce information you have to identify the victim and determine the cause of death—and hopefully understand how the victim died. Week by week, the case will unfold while you take the course.
- The Open University – Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation – Professor Graham Pike – One tool that criminal investigators have relied on for as long as there have been criminal investigators is the account of witnesses to a crime, or to events leading up to a crime. In this course, you’ll study how psychology can help police or defenders obtain critical evidence to solve crimes, prevent miscarriages of justice, study the limits of witness accounts and memory, and test your own cognitive skills as you try to solve a crime using nothing but eyewitness accounts, taken from memory.
Cross-Disciplinary Courses and Seminars
- The Open University – The Science of Nutrition – Professor Audrey Brown – Nutrition is more than just getting a specific number or amount of specific nutrients and calling it a day, or getting fewer calories than you spend at the end of a given time period. This course will introduce you to the science of nutrition, including how nutritional studies are conducted, how difficult it is to do nutritional analysis in the complex machine that is the human body, how the various components of food are processed by the human body, and learn to understand your food not just in the context of chemistry and physics, but in terms of biology as well.
- Udemy – Chess Tactics Essentials – Professor Brendan J Norman – Whether you’ve been playing chess for years or never picked up a piece before, this course will teach you the basics you need to know in order to play a good, challenging, and rewarding game against an opponent of virtually any skill level. Some basic understanding of the game is assumed here, but if you’re a hobby player and want to understand the strategies and tactics that more advanced chess players use to completely dominate their opponents—especially those not thinking in terms of tactics, this is a great course for you. You’ll learn some of the tips that pros use, while you’re at it.
- Yale University -Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator – Professor Barry Nalebuff – Negotiation isn’t all about power, assertiveness, and position—a lot of it has to do with principles, communication, building rapport, and of course, those other things we mentioned as well. Over the course of this class, you’ll learn how to leverage all of those things, even if you’re anxious or awkward, in order to be a more efficient negotiator, whether you’re trying to get a good price on a car or trying to squeeze your boss for a raise. You’ll also study cases where negotiations went well and went poorly to understand what happened, learn lessons you can apply in your own life, and of course, avoid those mistakes yourself.
- Universiteit Leiden – Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics – Professor Marc van Oostendorp – Language is a very special thing, especially among humans—it’s allowed us to communicate with one another since time unrecorded, and the fact that so many of us have so many different languages that vary so widely is an amazing thing. This course will introduce you to linguistics, the study of language, and the miracle of communication that language represents. You’ll study some key features of both large and small languages, how languages develop—and have developed—over time, and language’s role in society, among other topics.
- University of Birmingham – Digital Storytelling: Filmmaking for the Web– Professors Michele Aaron and Richard Langley – Making video for the web isn’t as easy as just propping up a camera somewhere and pressing record, although that’s a good start on your path to more complicated topics. This course will discuss the nuances of making video for the web, planning your film or how to make your dream into real video, and how filmmaking theory and practice interact. You’ll learn tips specific to making videos for online consumption, how to build a compelling narrative, how to shoot your video, and more, from all aspects of video production. Yup—that means you’ll start with writing, story style and structure, critical thinking about your audience and your message, and eventually move on to picking up a camera and getting things done with sound, lighting, and more—even the ethics and legality of producing original (or borrowed and modified) content.
- Udemy – Photoshop for Web Design Beginners – Professors Karl Heaton– Building for the web is usually discussed in terms of coding and software, but good design, images, and graphic design is important as well, and this course will walk you through some of the basics you’ll need in order to make good use of Adobe Photoshop—the banner tool for the job. Your lessons will be portable to other platforms, but since Photoshop is the juggernaut, you’ll learn the ins and outs of it and how to find your way around and accomplish common tasks without stumbling. Definitely a primer, but a good one if you’ve never really dived into Photoshop—or any image editing tool—before.
- Monash University – Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance – Professors Dr. Craig Hassed and Dr. Richard Chambers – Mindfulness is a term that gets thrown around a bit too much these days, but this course takes its time to demystify the term and concept, break down what it means to real people in real world situations, and does so without the woo and nonsense of many other explanations. You’ll learn how to apply the concept of mindfulness to your own activities, reduce stress, and improve your own performance in everything that you do. Basing its treatment in the principle that mindfulness is literally about being more awake and aware and engaged with your life, instead of being on “autopilot,” as it were, the course goes from there and shows you how you can get started.
- The University of Sheffield – Exploring Play: The Importance of Play in Everyday Life – Professors Elizabeth Wood and Jackie Marsh – Most of us understand the importance of play to children, as a way of discovering the world around them, their own capabilities, and expanding their minds, but we think less about the importance of play later in life. This course tackles all of those topics, including the importance of play throughout a healthy life, and the fact that aspects and types of play are often varied and necessary, and not just a leisure activity or way of blowing off steam, as it were. Play is a fundamental part of not just learning, but innovation and creativity, problem solving, and motivation—and you’ll learn how over the course of this class.
- University of Alberta – Understanding Video Games – Professors Leah Hackman and Sean Gouglas – Video games are complex topic to study socially, especially right now (all things considered.) That aside, this amazing course is more than just an approach to the topic, it’s a deep dive into games, building video games, game development and developer communities from the indie to the AAA, and a deep dive into the gaming community as well. You’ll study game mechanics and various types of gameplay, story and games as well as game interpretation, and you’ll even get into more advanced (but critically necessary) topics like violence in video games, sex and gender representation in video games, exploitation in gaming, race and representation in video games, the battle for the soul of video games as an art form versus mindless distraction, and even touch on the inclusive and often highly exclusive nature and behaviors of gaming fans and communities.
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 fun or 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.
- Udemy is an online learning marketplace and resource that packs tons of free and paid courses in a wide variety of topics. Some are taught by amateurs and experts in their field, while others are backed by higher education institutions and taught by university professors. You’ll learn everything from how to master Microsoft Excel to how to learn another language here.
- FutureLearn offers regularly updating classes on topics like computer science and technology, history and humanities, political science, and culture from leading universities like the University of Birmingham, the University of Groningen, the University of Cape Town, and others.
- Sliderule maintains a massive course database that’s easy to browse and search from many of the other institutions listed here. They also offer their own skill paths and collections of courses designed to help you learn specific things and achieve your own learning goals, as well as their own hosted, mentor-led courses.
- 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.
- CreativeLIVE 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 math, 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 paleontology, narrative poetry, and Latin. Individuals interested in teaching classes regularly post to the University of Reddit subthread to gauge interest in future couses 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.