Top 10 Most Useful Online Courses That Are Free

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6. Medical Neuroscience — Leonard White (Duke)

This course is the best one I’ve found on neuroscience. White gives a detailed walkthough of how the brain works. He even shows actual human brain tissue on camera, along with copious diagrams and slides.

The course is tough, especially if you want to pass the exams. I even made flashcards for it while I was studying it to keep all the anatomy straight. That said, if you just wanted to audit the class I think you’d still learn a lot about how the brain works.

7. Organic Chemistry — Michael McBride (Yale)

This was a course I just finished watching recently, after a reader suggested it for my effort to learn more biology.

I found the course really engaging, especially the first semester. While organic chemistry is often one of those feared courses for memorization and complexity, McBride manages to convey the fundamental ideas through the lens of scientific discovery.

Considerable time is spent showing how certain ideas in chemistry were discovered, starting with Lavoisier, to Wöhler and Kekulé. I enjoy science classes that show how we managed to figure things out, rather than encouraging you to simply accept it as true just because the teacher told you so.

8. Immunology — Alma Novotny (Rice)

four-part course series on the immune system, I coincidentally started taking this one shortly before the coronavirus pandemic began.

The immune system is much more interesting than I had realized, prior to taking this course. Just how can your body develop cells that can recognize and remove completely novel pathogens, without harming any of your own tissues? How do you defend against viruses that hijack your body’s cells or bacteria that replicate rapidly and evolve around your defenses? Why do we get allergies or suffer from autoimmune diseases?

This course builds a great foundation for these topics. The cute illustrations of various immune cells too are also a plus, as someone who likes to communicate ideas visually can appreciate.

9. World History — John Green (Crash Course)

Beautifully animated and tightly scripted, this is a course specifically developed for a YouTube audience. I enjoyed this course immensely when it first came out, giving a good overview of many different historical events.

Crash Course now has many courses on different topics, so they’re a great resource if you prefer this style to chalkboard or PowerPoint lectures.

10. Microeconomics — Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabbarock (MRU)

Economics is probably the subject I use most in my daily thinking. If you’re keen on learning mental models by which to see reality, economics is a really good place to start.

Cowen and Tabbarock write the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution and teach at George Mason University. Their foray into online education has produced some truly stellar video courses. Their micro and macro courses are quite good, and they manage to convey complicated ideas about the economy without veering into too much abstraction.

Honorable Mentions

I realized, after creating this list, how many good courses I’ve taken that couldn’t fit. So here’s a short list of some honorable mentions:

  • Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos by Steven Strogatz — The math behind the Butterfly Effect and why reality can be inherently unpredictable.
  • Systems Biology by Uri Alon — Fascinating machinery of human cells, from gene regulation to why we get Type II diabetes.
  • Programming Paradigms by Jerry Cain — One of my first-ever online courses. Part of the impetus to do the MIT Challenge.
  • Intro Biology by Eric Lander — Great lectures on biology, especially those taught by Lander. The only annoyance is that this course is stitched together from multiple segments rather than complete lectures. Nonetheless, the sections on genetics are really well done.
  • Poker Theory and Analytics by Kevin Desmond — Fun class on the math behind poker betting. I took this when working on a poker programming project.
  • Being and Time by Hubert Dreyfus — Dreyfus has a ton of audio-only courses on Contintental philosophers. His one on Heidegger is the best.

What are your favorite online courses you’ve taken? Are there any greats that I’ve missed? Share your suggestions in the comments!

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