Some of the past classes are still available:
Plan Your Free Online Education at Lifehacker U: Spring Semester 2016
Plan Your Free Online Education at Lifehacker U: Fall Semester 2015
Plan Your Free Online Education at Lifehacker U: Summer Semester 2015
Computer Science and Technology
- Stanford University – Principles of Computing – This course is self-paced, geared completely towards beginners, and requires no computer science or technology background to really appreciate. If you’ve ever wanted a super simple, basic primer to computing technology—something you could send to a completely tech-phobic friend (or maybe that’s you!) this is it. You’ll learn basic lingo like CPUs and chips, GPUs and memory, disk and megabytes and gigabytes and so on, but you’ll also learn the nature of computers and code, how digital images work, and you’ll eventually dive into the basics of logic, how the internet itself works (IP addresses, routing tables, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and so on), and the basics of computer security.
- Hebrew University of Jerusalem – Build a Computer from First Principles: From Nand to Tetris – Professors Shimon Schocken and Noam Nisan – By “first principles,” this course means teaching you the basics of elementary logic and how logic gates work, and you’ll use that knowledge to work through six hands-on projects that will have you building a completely functioning computer by the end of the course. You won’t need previous computer engineering or science knowledge to get the most out of this, either. All of the tools and the hardware simulator you need will be supplied with the course. In the process, you’ll learn exactly how computers work on a ground level, in probably the best way possible.
- Harvey Mudd College – CS For All: Introduction to Computer Science and Python Programming – Professor Zachary Dodds – Python is one of our favorite programming languages for first-time learners, and this course will introduce you to both the language and to computer science in general. The course covers concepts around computer science from both a high and ground level, showing you how circuits work as well as how computers handle information in general. You’ll then learn the basics of Python to see how computers process and handle instructions, sift through data, and how to design algorithms to make computers do your bidding. Of course, no programming knowledge is required in advance.
- The University of British Columbia- How to Code: Systematic Program Design – Part 1 – Professor Gregor Kiczales – This course is part one in a short series of classes that will walk you through concepts like how to represent information as data that a computer can understand, and the basics of how to structure code and commands in a way that computers can understand, how to properly test a program, and how to simplify and streamline code. The first part of the series focuses on how to make sure your code is as tight and well-structured as possible. If you follow all three parts of the series, you’ll end up at the final project, where you’ll make an interactive game, and learn a ton along the way.
- Microsoft – Introduction to Windows Server – Professor Cynthia Staley – If you’re going to work in technology as a sysadmin or an analyst, you’ll probably have to work on Microsoft’s Windows Server at some point or another—and even if you don’t, having it in your back pocket is a valuable skill. This course will introduce you to the technology and its capabilities, help you learn the basics of installing and administering a Server 2012 system, and get the fundamentals down you may need for future classes (or an MCSA certification!) on the topic. You’ll learn about server roles and features, learn to install and monitor Windows server, and choose between Server 2012 editions based on you and your needs.
- The University of Maryland at College Park – Software Security – Professor Michael Hicks – Learn the foundations of software security and common attack vectors like SQL injections, buffer overflows, and session hijacking and sidejacking in this course. The course takes the approach that you’re learning to build a system with security in mind as a practice, so while you’re learning how threats work and how exploits are used against common platforms, you’ll learn how to design systems to protect against them and minimize risk at the same time. At the end of the course, you’ll get a great introduction to penetration testing, which is a great aspect of cybersecurity often saved for expensive certification courses.
- Cornell University – The Computing Technology Inside Your Smartphone – Professor Dave Albonesi – You probably have a smartphone in your pocket already, and it’s likely a very powerful computer in its own right. But how much do you know about that tech, aside from that it’s just smaller and lighter than what you may use in your desktop or laptop computer? This course will explain all of that to you, including concepts like how smartphone CPUs work, how mobile computer systems are designed, and common methods to speed up computing for smaller, mobile platforms. It’s still a computer science course, so you’ll design your own small, working computer in the process, and you’ll also learn about logic, instruction sets, and application software along the way.
- Code School – Learn HTML/CSS – This is actually a course series from Code School on learning to build web sites and manage front ends of web platforms, but we’re focusing here on the first two classes in the series, Front End Foundations and Front End Formations. Both courses will teach you up to date HTML and CSS, how to build basic web sites with those technologies, and how to customize web pages and sites accordingly based on specific needs or design choices. From there though, the sky’s the limit, and you can move on through the course path to more complex technologies, like intermediate CSS and SVG.
Finance and Economics
- Purdue University – Personal Finance Planning – Professor Sugato Chakravarty – I always like to include a personal finance course in Lifehacker U, mostly because it’s such an under-taught set of skills that can be super useful once you’ve made the decision to start managing your money better. In this course, you’ll learn the basics of managing your money, you’ll learn about the time value of money, how to study and read the stock market and make smart investments, how to use credit judiciously and make smart use of it, how insurance works, and of course, why you should start saving for retirement sooner rather than later.
- The Open University – Managing My Money – Professor Martin Upton – This popular finance course has made a couple of appearances in Lifehacker U in the past, but it’s still great, and packed with useful information for managing the basics of your money. The class starts with the basics of how to manage your money, making good and smart spending decisions, how to tackle debts and investments, and more. The class is based in the UK and uses a lot of UK-relevant data, but the skills are applicable anywhere in the world.
- The University of Pennsylvania – Microeconomics: When Markets Fail – Professor Rebecca Stein – Markets are imperfect, and subject to all sorts of errors, whether it’s in the judgement (or perception) of its human operators, or something else. This course in microeconomics explores why markets fail, what makes them fail, whether it’s always human error, and some of the solutions to market failure (like regulation, anti-trust policies, government intervention, and so on) and how they’ve performed in the past.
- IESE Business School – Finance: Building a Robust Business – Professor Miguel Antón – If your interests in finance extend past personal finance and into business and organizational finance, this course is for you. You’ll learn how to read a balance sheet and understand intuitively what it’s trying to tell you about the health of an organization, even if all the numbers look good. You’ll understand the financial consequences of managerial decisions on the operations and departments of an organization, you’ll understand how assets and liabilities work, and you’ll understand the concept of working capital.
Science and Medicine
- Université Paris Diderot– Gravity! From the Big Bang to Black Holes – Professor Pierre Binétruy – We all know gravity as that fundamental force that keeps us all on the ground, as it were, and that keeps the Earth moving around the Sun, but this course dives deeper into how gravity works, and how this fundamental force in the universe is important and common whether we’re talking about the Big Bang and how the universe was formed, how black holes are formed, and of course, all this recent fuss about Gravitational Waves. Einstein predicted them 100 years ago, and this course will talk about them in detail—along with the other topics we mentioned.
- The American Museum of Natural History – Our Earth’s Future – Professors Debra Tillinger, Ph.D. – Our Earth’s Future is a course about climate change, how it’s changing the planet, the multiple lines of evidence for the human-induced climate change we’ve already observed, and what it means for the future of our planet. You’ll hear from climatologists, oceanographers, anthropologists, and other experts, and by the end of the course you’ll be able to understand the key scientific principles at play in climatology, and identify and respond to climate misconceptions.
- Macquarie University – Big History: Connecting Knowledge – Professors David Christian and David Baker – One of the most interesting things about history is exactly how any single milestone can be considered important on its own, but said milestone is always really a long string of events that build on things that happened before it, take advantage of the circumstances around it, and of course, impact the future beyond it. This course is a journey across almost 14 billion years of history, connecting the dots between events in both natural and human history, and uncovering important links in the origins, nature, and future of humanity.
- The University of Virginia – How Things Work: An Introduction to Physics – Professor Louis Bloomfield – Physics is the science of the universe around us, and this introductory course in the topic studies the physics of everyday objects around us so you can understand how such a basic series of rules, laws, and mathematics so perfectly describes the way objects fall from heights to the way walls and buildings stand up. If you’ve ever had a passing interest in physics, this is a great starter course for you.
- Duke University – Music as Biology; What We Like to Hear and Why – Professor Dale Purves – In this course, you’ll study tone combinations that humans consider consonant or dissonant, and why, biologically speaking, we consider them so beautiful or jarring. The course studies concepts of why (and what kinds of) sound has such a huge impact on it, from making us feel tense and troubled to making us feel calm and at ease—and why as a species we tend to prefer only a subset of the billions of scales and tones that are possible.
- The University of Leeds- Anatomy: Know Your Abdomen – Professor James Pickering – Do you know where your liver is in your torso? What about your kidneys, or where your stomach actually is? This course will help you identify where your organs actually are, their structures, and their positions relative to one another. You’ll study the gastrointestinal tract (and learn that sometimes “stomachaches” are nothing of the sort), and hear from an abdominal surgeon about the work he does with his patients.
- Lancaster University – Soils: Introducing the World Beneath Our Feet – Professor Carly Stevens – The earth beneath our feet is more than just the stuff plants grow in. It’s actually a thriving ecosystem of its own, complete with tons of life and a complex environment that’s necessary for plants to grow, animals to thrive, and virtually every fundamental environmental process. This course will introduce you to that world, why it’s so interesting, and show you how soil resources are finite ones that are constantly under threat.
- SUNY – The University at Buffalo – ADHD: Everyday Strategies for Elementary Students – Professor Greg Fabiano – Aimed at parents and teachers who have young ones who show signs and symptoms of ADHD, this course examines some evidence-based diagnosis and coping techniques and skills that both you and your child can learn to help manage ADHD, and explain the current state of diagnosis and treatment options for it. By the end of the course, you’ll have the skills required to understand and examine the current medical science on the topic, and come up with strategies to cope at home and make sure you’re getting the best care for your child.
- The University of Pennsylvania – Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us – Professor Connie B. Scanga, Ph.D. – The basic signals the body has for telling us that it’s working properly—heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature, respiration, and pain—this course examines each of them in detail, the anatomy and physiology underlying them and through them you’ll gain a systemic understanding of how the body functions and how to tell if the body is functioning in a normal state. You’ll learn the mechanisms that cause changes in those vital signs, and how to objectively measure them in yourself and others.
- The University of California, Davis- Autism Spectrum Disorder – Professor Patricia Schetter – Anyone working or interacting with people on the Autism spectrum need a solid understanding of the characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and its implications for behavior, learning, and comprehension in individuals affected by it. This course will introduce you to the topic, give you a fundamental understanding of ASD and how it’s diagnosed, and why prevalence—and awareness—is increasing. The course is evidence and science-backed as well, so you’ll also study up to date literature and studies and treatments around the ASD system of care.
- The University of Michigan – Sampling People, Networks, and Records – Professor James Lepkowski – The hallmark of good statistics and data collection is in good sampling, and yet so many people have a poor understanding of how sampling works, how data is collected, how selective groups are chosen to represent larger populations, and how data is chosen to be exemplary of a larger whole. This course will show you how that process of selection takes place, whether it’s for people and studies, or records and historical data.
- Weizmann Institute of Science- Maths Puzzles: Cryptarithms, Sybologies, and Secret Codes – Professors Aviezri Fraenkel, Yossi Elran, Sabine Segre, and Michael Elran – If you like puzzles and brain teasers, this course is for you. The class studies three types of major puzzles in mathematics, including cryptaritms—or puzzles where digits have been replaced by letters and you’ll need your math skills to solve them, symbologies—a similar type of puzzle where the numbers are replaced by symbols, and operator puzzles, where the numbers are given but the actual operators and operations are hidden and you’ll have to sort them out. Start from easy, and work your way to hard—with the help of the people who created the puzzles, of course.
- Stanford University – Introduction to Logic – Professor Michael Genesereth – You would think that things like information and systematic reason would be things that everyone would understand on some level, but they absolutely require training, and this course from Sanford delivers it in spades. The course will show you how to formalize information in logical sentences, how to reason and drive to logical conclusions, and the applications of logical technologies in math, science, engineering, and more.
Social Sciences, Classics, and Humanities
- Harvard University – The Book: Book Sleuthing: What 19th-Century Books Can Tell us About the Rise of the Reading Public– Professor Leah Price– This course is actually one of a series on the rise of literature and reading in global societies, but this particular class stood out because it addresses a specifically interesting topic—what books can tell us about how the people who lived when they were published. You’ll look over those old books to get clues to the lives of the people who read them, and get a little historical perspective on the shift from print to digital media by studying how quickly people take to mass-produced media.
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill- Positive Psychology – Professor Dr. Barbara L Frederickson – We all like to believe in the power of positivity, but positivity has its limits. This course will examine the topic, study positive psychology with the help of a forerunner who studies it, and shares practical applications for your everyday life that you can put to good use on your own.
- The University of Edinburgh – Introduction to Philosophy – Professors Dr. Dave Ward, Duncan Pritchard, and Michela Massimi – This introduction to philosophy will walk you through major topics, like epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy or mind and science with the philosophers who studied and wrote about each. You’ll ponder the same questions they did, read their writings and thoughts on the topics, and try to reach the same—or at least your own—conclusions.
- Michigan State University – Journalism, the Future, and You! – Professors Joanne Gerstner, Jeremy Steele, David Poulson, Eric Freedman, Joe Grimm, and Lucinda D. Davenport – A lot of people have strong feelings about journalism who also have no idea what good journalism looks like, or what it means to actually be a journalism. This course is designed to help you get a feel for the job, the types of careers where journalism skills are useful—or necessary—and the future of journalism on an international scale.
- Boston University – The Art of Poetry – Professors Robert Pinsky, Duy Doan, Laura Marris, Calvin Olsen, Tomas Unger, and Sarah Handley – From the epic poems of ancient history to Shakespeare’s sonnets to modern poetry slams and hip-hop, poetry takes many forms, and this course helps you fully understand the beauty of poetry beyond simply hearing or seeing it performed, and instead learning to hear it in your own mind, interpret it your own way, and examine how each poem makes you feel.
- The University of Nottingham – Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life – Professors Maiken Umbach, Ian Cooke, and Mathew Humphrey – This course examines how words and phrases come to take on their very specific meanings, whether they’re slogans, images, or symbols. The class examines how those messages pick up political connotations, what needs to exist for a message to be considered propraganda, and how we express our own convictions and ideals through propaganda, whether we know it or not.
- The University of Pennsylvania – Social Norms, Social Change – Professor Cristina Bicchieri – This course discusses social norms, or those spoken or unspoken rules that come to define a community, from which deviation is usually met by the group with punishment. You’ll study what makes norms different from other social constructs, how they’re created, and how harmful ones are sidelined, and how social change takes place to eliminate those old and potentially harmful norms—not to mention how you can play a role in that social change.
- The Smithsonian Institution – Smithsonian’s Objects That Define America – Professor Dr. Richard Kurin – The Smithsonian Institution has a wealth of artifacts and objects in its catalog that many would consider emblematic of American culture and society. In this course, you’ll study many of them, from the Star Spangled Banner to the Statue of Liberty, the Declaration of Independence to the Greensboro Lunch Counter, the Model T to the Mercury Capsule—all of them are in the Smithsonian, and you’ll get a unique perspective on each one, learning the stories behind them, and why each of them is essential to US History.
- Harvard University – Islam Through Its Scriptures– Professor Ali Asani – This course aims to build bridges of understanding and help educate people outside of the Islamic faith to what the religion is really about, using the Quran as the foundation of the lessons. You’ll learn about the challenges—seen in just about every religion—involved with interpreting the meanings behind an often-translated, millennium-old series of documents shrouded in history and myth. This course will introduce you to the place of the Quarn in muslim cultures, major themes of the text, the time and place contexts in which it was written, and the skills necessary to interpret it for modern times, along with the approaches muslims today take to engage with it.
- Yale University – A Law Student’s Toolkit – Professor Ian Ayres – You don’t have to be a law student to appreciate this course, but if you have an interest in it, or if you are, it certainly helps. This course will help you build the foundations you need to study law, and to succeed in law school. You’ll learn the basic terminology, concepts, and tools that lawyers use every day, and if you plan to put it to use yourself, you’ll get some invaluable knowledge. Otherwise, you’ll just be able to actually understand aspects of the legal system, and not just comment on them like you do.
- The University of Glasgow – Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime – Professor Donna Yates – When someone steals something extremely valuable, like a painting or sculpture that can be easily identified as stolen, how does it get around? Who buys that kind of thing? This course examines the grey market for antiquities and art, the shady—but often wealthy—buyers involved, and how authorities investigate those crimes and return those stolen antiquities to their rightful cultures, museums, and peoples.
- The Open University – Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation – Professor Graham Pike – This course won’t open for a few weeks, but it’s worth signing up for now if you’re interested. You’ll learn how your own mind works, watch videos of real witnesses and police investigations, and understand the psychology of eyewitness testimony, when it’s reliable and when it’s not, and you’ll even get the opportunity to try your hand at solving a crime using nothing but evidence from witnesses.
- Harvard University – JuryX: Deliberations for Social Change – Professor Charles Nesson – The jury is a unique and fairly recent invention. The idea that laypeople, or a group of people who are representative of a cross-section of society, can and should have the final say over a legal matter once it’s been presented to them by experts in the field, is unique to modern democracies. In this course, you’ll participate on a faux “jury” yourself, in both live and asynchronous discussions, on very real and important topics, like the decriminalization of marijuana use to the militarization of police—all couched in terms of real deliberations, designed to help you understand how the jury process works, why it works, and when it really doesn’t.
Cross-Disciplinary Courses and Seminars
- The University of Queensland – Question Everything: Scientific Thinking in Real Life – Professors Noel Chan, Scott Jones, Derek McDowall, and Anthony Mewing – Math and science are more than just tools to study the world around us and explain the natural phenomenon we see in the universe—they’re also excellent tools to use in your everyday life, from making smart decisions, learning the difference between logic and opinion, handling misconceptions, and learning the basics of measurement and estimation. This course will explain how you can apply scientific thinking to all aspects of your life.
- Soundfly – Demo Recording 101 – Fancy yourself a musician? Thinking about cutting your own demo tape, so the world can hear how skilled you are? Whether you’re recording an instrument or just getting your rhymes down on tape, you’ll need to know the basics of recording the best possible representation of your sound for others to hear, and this short course will walk you through it. You’ll learn how to use a DAW, why you need two microphones, and how to get your recording in sharable shape—don’t worry, all the gear isn’t required, and they’ll make suggestions.
- Soundfly – Getting Started with Chip Music –If you’re a fan of chiptune, or you’ve wanted to get into making it yourself, or maybe you’re just one of those people who loves the nostalgic sounds of video games from the 80s and 90s, this course is for you. You’ll study under a musician who loves and makes chiptune music himself, Chipocrite, and he’ll show you how he makes music, how you can too, and the tools you need to get started.
- University of California, Irvine – Interfacing with the Raspberry Pi – Professor Ian Harris – It’s no secret that we love the Raspberry Pi around here—but if you’re not familiar with the tiny, portable, affordable computer, all of those pins and sensors can be difficult to understand. This course will introduce you to the Pi, all of its input and output devices and ports, as well as the world of connectable devices like GPS sensors, motors, LCD screens, and so on that you can connect to it and make it do even more. By the end of the course, you’ll definitely have a use in mind for a Pi of your own.
- University of Leeds – WW1 Heroism: Through Art and Film – Professor Alison Fell – The centenary of World War I is a perfect time to look back at the events leading up to, the madness that was, and the aftermath of The Great War—the war that many thought would end all wars. You’ll explore posters and media of the time calling people to action and calling for support for the various war efforts, and you’ll look back through the lens of history, studying modern depictions of World War I in media and film.
- Berklee College of Music – Pro Tools Basics – Professor Chrissy Tignor-Fisher – If you’re looking for more of a direct primer to the basics of a DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation, than the previously mentioned demo recording class, try this one. Whether you’ve used a computer to create music before or you’re just curious how it would work for you if you decided to, you’ll get the basics of Pro Tools First and Avid Pro Tools through this class, and learn enough to help you decide if it’s right for you and your projects.
- California Institue of the Arts – History of Graphic Design – Professors Louise Sandhaus and Lorraine Wild – Everyone thinks they know good design when they see it, and even those who actually do and have studied design have a poor understanding of why people find certain types of design are good or bad. This course will help you understand the factors that influence and shape the way we see things, why certain elements are “timeless,” and you’ll have assignments to help you understand the major areas of design (typography, image-making, interactive media, and branding) and how they’ve changed over time.
- The University of California, San Diego – Social Computing – Professor Scott Klemmer – Technology has given us more ways than ever before to communicate and share ideas, thoughts, or nonsense across vast distances. It’s closed the distances between us, but it’s also presented its own world of challenges, and this course examines how computer technologies have embraced social aspects, and how future technologies will continue to do so.
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 are plenty to choose from, and they’re free, open to the public, and 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 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.