Ultimate Guide to MOOCs: Take Free Courses From Elite Universities
The world’s elite Universities are now offering some of their best courses online for free. In just the last year, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have taken off with a mission to provide free and open higher education to anyone in the world with access to the Internet. The majority of the world’s top 100 elite Universities are now offering MOOCs through the different course platforms that are detailed in this guide.
While you won’t get official accreditation for these free University courses (that’s coming soon) you should seize this golden opportunity to learn from the world’s leading professors. If you’re thinking of going back to school, these free courses can help you get back in the habit of regular studying. They can also help you learn new knowledge and skills that will give your career a boost and make you a more well-rounded and intelligent person.
There are literally thousands of Universities worldwide that are now providing free courses online. For this ultimate guide to MOOCs, I’ve done a little research to provide you with a brief description of each course platform and the most popular courses they are offering.
A Guide To MOOCs:
Each of these MOOC platforms deliver free course content from some of the world’s best elite Universities. Each course provider takes a slightly different approach to online learning but nearly all of the courses provide a rich digital classroom that is structured with regular assignments, tests, deadlines and massive communities of fellow learners for discussion and collaboration.
Typically, a course will take 4-7 hours a week of your time. If you don’t want to commit to doing all the required assignments then in most cases you are welcome to audit the courses and watch all the video lectures.
1. Coursera is largest course platform for free MOOCs. The company was founded in 2012 by two former Stanford University professors. They have the most diverse course selection of all the MOOC providers and currently have over 4 million students and 410 courses from 83 partner institutions. Partners include the University of California, University of British Columbia, Oxford University and Princeton.
Popular Courses on Coursera:
- Computer Science 101 (Stanford University)
- Machine Learning (Stanford University)
- An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python (Rice University)
- Cryptography I (Stanford University)
- Model Thinking (University of Michigan)
- Gamification (University of Pennsylvania)
- Startup Engineering (Stanford University)
- A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior (Duke University)
- Functional Programming Principles in Scala (École Polytechnique de Lausanne)
- Statistics One (Princeton University)
2. Udacity was founded by Sebastian Thrun, who is a former professor of computer science at Stanford University and the creator of the artificial intelligence system behind Google’s self-driving cars. He left Stanford to spearhead this new venture soon after the huge success of his online artificial intelligence course in 2011, which attracted over 160,000 students from more than 190 countries. Udacity’s focus is on college-level courses for building and applying your knowledge of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines.
Popular Courses on Udacity:
- Intro to Computer Science (CS101)
- How To Build A Startup: The Lean Launchpad
- Artificial Intelligence: How To Build A Robot
- Intro to Artificial Intelligence
- Introduction to Statistics
- Learn HTML5 – Game Development Course
- Intro to Physics Fundamentals Course (Physics 101)
- Web Development: How To Build A Blog
- Programming Languages: Building A Web Browser
- Interactive 3D Graphics Course With Three.js & WebGL
3. EdX is a free MOOC platform developed through a partnership between Harvard, MIT and Berkeley. edX is new but expanding quite rapidly. They recently announced a partnership with Google that will allow any teacher to create their own interactive online courses at MOOC.org (it launches in early 2014). Recently added educational institutions include the University of Texas, Georgetown University, Boston University and the University of Washington.
Popular Courses on edX:
- Justice: An Introduction to Moral and Political Philosophy (Harvard)
- The Ancient Greek Hero (Harvard)
- Human Health and Global Environmental Change (Harvard)
- Introduction to Computer Science and Programming (MIT)
- Copyright Law and the Reform Debate (Harvard)
- Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life (MIT)
- Innovation and Commercialization (MIT)
- Mechanics ReView (MIT)
- Elements of Structures (MIT)
- Classical Mechanics (MIT)
4. Open2Study is a MOOC platform based out of Australia that has been adding a lot of online courses lately. Partners include Macquarie University, Griffith University and the Sydney Institute. Open to students anywhere in the world that can understand an Aussie accent!
Popular Courses on Open2Study:
- Astronomy: Discovering the Universe
- User Experience for the Web
- Becoming Human: Anthropology
- Introduction to Enterprise Architecture
- Food, Nutrition & Your Health
- Writing for the Web
- Big Data for Better Performance
- Financial Literacy
- Teaching Adult Learners
- Financial Planning
5. Canvas Network is a MOOC platform launched by educational software company Instructure on top of their open source learning management system. The courses tend to be shorter and require less of your time than their competitors. Unfortunately, unlike most of the MOOC platforms they limit enrolment so popular courses can fill up fast. Partners include Utah State University, American College of Education and Michigan State University.
Popular Courses on Canvas Network:
- Introduction to Openness in Education
- Learning Analytics and Knowledge
- Art Appreciation
- English Composition I
- History of Ancient Civilization
- Game Design Concepts
- U.S. History 2
- Understanding Cheating in Online Courses
- Online Pedagogy
6. NovoEd was previously known as Stanford Venture Labs. Of all the MOOC platforms, I find that NovoEd provides the best digital experience because of their focus on online collaboration and teamwork. Many of the courses are innovation and entrepreneurship-focused. Unfortunately, most of the popular courses are not currently being offered but this should be changing soon.
Popular Courses on NovoEd:
- Design Thinking Action Lab
- A Crash Course On Creativity
- Technology Entrepreneurship
- Hippocrates Challenge
- Mobile Health Without Borders
- Sustainable Product Development
- Designing a New Learning Environment
- Startup Boards: Advanced Entrepreneurship
- The Finance of Retirement & Pensions
7. iVersity is a German startup based in Berlin that is dedicated to getting MOOCs online from Universities across Continental Europe. They are in the early stages so there aren’t many courses available but their platform looks promising overall.
Popular Courses on iVersity:
- Design 101 (or Design Basics)
- The Future of Storytelling
- Changemaker MOOC: Social Entrepreneurship
- Monte Carlo Methods in Finance
- The Fascination of Crystals and Symmetry
- The European Union in Global Governance
- DNA – From Structure to Therapy
- Dark Matter in Galaxies: The Last Mystery
- Contemporary Architecture
- Political Philosophy: An Introduction
8. FutureLearn is based of the United Kingdom and was created by the people behind early online course innovator The Open University. They have partnered with 21 of the UK’s elite Universities and they will also be working with renowned institutions such as the British Council, the British Library and the British Museum. Notably absent are Cambridge University and Oxford University who have already partnered with Coursera.
Popular Courses on FutureLearn:
- Web Science: How The Web Is Changing The World
- Introduction To Ecosystems
- Sustainability, Society and You
- The Secret Power of Brands
- Exploring Our Oceans
- Innovation and Enterprise
- Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game
- Introduction To Forensic Science
- Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions
- A Beginners’ Guide to Writing in English For University Study
A Digital Education Revolution?
The MOOC phenomenon is still in its early stages. Many of the course platforms aren’t particularly innovative in their approach to using interactive technology to engage students or promote new forms of collaboration and none of them offer a particularly good experience on mobile devices. This is beginning to change as University endowment dollars and venture capital funding pours into these platforms.
I believe that the mission to provide a free (or significantly cheaper) University education to everyone in the world is a noble one. The cost of higher education has skyrocketed in the last decade and student loan debt now exceeds a trillion dollars in the United States alone. At the same time, the Internet and mobile devices now make it easier than ever before to provide everyone with an affordable education. MOOCs could be the disruptive technology that allows innovative minds to challenge the status quo in education today and reinvents higher education for the 21st century.
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