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50 Free CourseWare Collections from Top Universities for Self-Learners

open courseware

As for me, I often have my head in the clouds. I have too little discipline for any consistent learning without supervision. I need instructors and structure. I tried to learn German with a teach-yourself book back in high school. Then, years after, I had a go at Gaelic in Duolingo. Both times, I failed miserably because no one was there to push me, threaten me with tests, and ask whether I had time to write my paper about Irish traditional sports.

However, that's me – I'm a rare vanishing species. Young people these days (and believe me, I say this annoying phrase admiringly, in the most beautiful meaning) appreciate freedom of self-directed learning and bite-sized content – on which they binge, ironically. This is the general direction in which education has been moving for the past two decades, resulting in the worldwide OpenCourseWare movement and numerous MOOC initiatives. What are those?

Dick K.P. Yue, Professor at MIT School of Engineering, succinctly answers this question: "The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone."

To elaborate, OpenCourseWare is a high-quality course collection created at renowned universities and available free for everyone online. First projects of this nature started popping up across Europe and USA back in the 1990s, and in its present form, the movement began in 1999 when the University of Tübingen in Germany published videos of lectures.

In the US, OpenCourseWare was pioneered by MIT when they made all of the educational materials from their undergrad and grad level courses freely and openly available to anyone online. Soon, other prestigious universities and colleges followed, opening their class materials to the public.

MOOC is a similar model that developed on the basis of the OCW a decade later. It stands for "Massive Open Online Courses" and refers to classes offered by universities via platforms like edX, Udacity, and Coursera. In contrast, OpenCourseWare refers to course materials provided directly from a school. Another difference is that MOOCs are interactive. They aim to build an online learning community by fostering social media and forum discussions among students and professors, encouraging peer learning, and providing quizzes and assessments. The first MOOC platform – edX – was jointly created by MIT and Harvard.

Now you have a whole OCW banquet from colleges and universities all over the world. To help you find just what you need, I've created this curated list of top course collections, so tuck in!

OpenCourseWare Collections from US Universities

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

It's only fair to give MIT first place on this list. Not only have they led the way. They also have a whopping 2,500 courses on their website and YouTube channel, including Quantum Physics, Blockchain, Programming in Python, Microeconomics, and my personal favorite: Cosmic Origin of the Chemical Elements. Because we are all made of stardust.

Stanford University

If you are interested in Robotics, Machine Learning, or Programming Paradigms, you can go straight to Stanford Online, where full course materials to those are hosted. They also offer free classes in Logic, Science Writing, Quantum Mechanics, Finance, Statistics in Medicine, and even Fitness. They also provide courses through Coursera, with equally broad coverage: everything from Cryptography to Game Theory to Child Nutrition (what I call a New Parent Starter Pack).

Yale University

Open Yale Courses give free and open access to a selection of introductory courses in Biological Sciences, Humanities, and Social Sciences taught by Yale faculty. The classes are also available through Coursera, on YouTube, and iTunes, including such bangers as Modern Poetry, Roman Architecture, Classical Music, and the Philosophy of Death. Recommended for all the Goth kids out there.

University of Michigan

The University of Michigan has its own OCW initiative, Open Michigan, where they host course materials, videos, tutorials, and lectures from its 19 colleges under a Creative Commons license. They also foster an open exchange of ideas within the community: sharing journal articles, datasets, and educational resources created by the members. For MOOC enthusiasts, there are free courses from Michigan on edX as well, on anything from Household Politics in Early Modern England to Cyberscience – for the all-rounders among us.

Carnegie Mellon University

Open Learning Initiative from Carnegie Mellon is a mix of reasonably priced paid textbook-replacement materials and free courses. The free ones are offered in Media Programming, Argument Programming, Statistical Reasoning, Visual Design, Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Logic & Proofs, Foreign Language, and other 80+ exciting subjects.

University of California, Irvine

UC Irvine's Open Courseware platform UCI Open offers free courses in Biology, Business and Management, Education, Library Science, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, etc. They also have a presence on YouTube and Coursera with 200+ courses. Among others, Conflict Management, Law, Microeconomics, Blockchain, Programming, and the Internet of Things. For ESL students, they offer the IELTS Preparation course, Learn English: Advanced Academic Speaking and Listening, and Grammar and Punctuation on various proficiency levels.

Utah State University

USU's OpenCourseWare is hosted on the Digital Commons website. It has dozens of high-quality free classes in Anthropology, History, Education, Psychology, Speech Communication, Theater Arts, and Human Development. They also have a robust engineering section with Biological and Irrigational Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, among other things. For left-brain and right-brain people alike!

Berklee College of Music

BerkleeOnline shares free music resources, including downloadable handbooks, lessons, podcasts, and relevant tips, on the school's official website. Although freely available lessons are only samples, and one has to subscribe to get full access to the course (discounted if taken non-credit), there are plenty of free digital handbooks for those who prefer autonomy and self-directed learning. Moreover, Berklee offers free lessons in Music Theory, Music Business, Vocal Recording Technology, Music for Wellness, and many others on edX and Coursera.

Johns Hopkins University

The JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health considers sharing knowledge freely and openly part of its mission. That is why it offers its educational materials on three OCW and MOOC platforms. Short, flexible, and free online classes in Public Health Promotion, Social Entrepreneurship in EdTech, Collecting and Using Data for Disease Control and Global Health Decision-Making, Building Alliances in Global Health, Planning and Managing Global Health, and COVID-19: Effective Nursing in Times of Crisis are available on their FutureLearn page. Over 170 free online courses with a heavy focus on Data Science from JHU are available on Coursera and LeanPub.

University of Iowa

The University of Iowa, one of the top 50 public universities in the US, offers magnificent MOOCs and free resources for aspiring writers through the Virtual Writing University. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, playwriting, short stories, reading and writing methods, grammar and emerging technologies in the field, and many, many more.

Brown University

This renowned Ivy doesn't have an independent OCW platform but offers its MOOCs on edX. Namely: Engineering and Design, Ethics of Memory, Artful Medicine: Art's Power to Enrich Patient Care, and Fantastic Places, Unhuman Humans: Exploring Humanity Through Literature.

University of Massachusetts, Boston

UMass Boston regularly makes all sorts of courses and materials available for free through their OCW program. Currently available over 50 courses in Environmental, Earth and Ocean Sciences, Biology, Nursing, Psychology, Communication, Special Education, Performing Arts, Critical Reading and Writing, Chemistry, Mathematics, History, Political Science, and others. Moreover, there are courses and programs UMass offers through edX.

University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame offers free courses in various subjects through their edX platform. If you are more of a STEM person, there are gems like Learning to Love Statistics, Math in Sports, Data Science Readiness Assessment, and Understanding Wireless: Technology, Economics, and Policy. If you are into Liberal Arts, check out their courses on The Meaning of Rome: The Renaissance and Baroque City, Introduction to Quran, and Jesus in Scripture and Tradition.

Duke University

Duke University offers dozens of MOOCs and specializations through Coursera. Decentralized Finance Opportunities and Risks, Image and Video Processing, Dog Emotion and Cognition, Advertising and Society, and How to Avoid Fallacies are just some examples. Of course, there is a robust Data Science and Programming cluster as well.

University of Washington

One of the best national universities in the USA, UW shares free classes through Coursera and edX. Cybersecurity, Networking, Portfolio Management, Creating Digital Content for the World, Internationalization and Localization, Leadership and Management, Public Speaking, Sustainability, Resilience and Society, Global Markets and Personal Impacts are just some of the offerings.

New York University

NYU currently offers free courses through edX with the possibility of receiving a verified certificate for a small fee. Computing and Programming, Testing for Vulnerabilities, Computer Hardware and Operating Systems, Information and Network Security, Data Structures, Information Security, Database Administration, Open Justice, and other advanced courses are currently available.

Columbia University

One of the leaders in higher education in the nation and around the world, CU offers free classes through Coursera and edX. With a particular focus on Finances, Construction, and Social Policy, they target practical builders of the ideal tomorrow. Of course, high-tech disciplines are also present, for example, 3D Reconstruction, Visual Perception, Camera and Imaging, and others.

Cornell University

This prestigious Ivy school collaborates with edX to share its amazing MOOCs. Some of the notable ones are Engineering, History of American Capitalism, The Science and Politics of GMO, Civic Ecology, Privacy and Surveillance in the Age of Interconnectivity, Evidence-Based STEM Teaching, Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom, and dozens more.

Dartmouth College

The Evergreen member of the Ivy League consistently ranks among the world's leaders. Through edX, they share exciting MOOCs in Programming, Engineering, Environmental Science, and other goodies for STEM lovers. For culture buffs, there are classes on German and Italian Opera, Classic American Literature, and John Milton's Paradise Lost. For those who want to wed the two hemispheres, there are courses on the intersection of science and philosophy, such as Libertarian Free Will: Neuroscientific Evidence, and Question Reality! Science, Philosophy, and the Search for Meaning.

Harvard University

Although Harvard used to offer free courses through its Open Learning Initiative, this has now been discontinued. You can still access select MOOCs from the United States' oldest institution of higher education on edX. There are dozens of free courses in STEM subjects like Computer Science, Programming, Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Game Development, Applied Calculus, and Architecture Imagination. There is a robust cluster of natural sciences as well, such as Neuroscience, Human Anatomy, Principles of Biochemistry, Health Effects of Climate Change, etc. Excellent courses in Humanities are also available: Rhetoric, Leadership, Managing Happiness, Religion, Conflict and Peace, and Shakespeare's Life and Work, to name a few.

University of Pennsylvania

UPenn offers 1500+ MOOCs through Coursera and 25+ free courses on the edX platform. They range across various disciplines and spheres of knowledge. Anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, to Classroom Interaction, to Ancient Manuscripts. Of course, Programming, Robotics, and Data Science are well represented – it seems it's a must for any decent MOOC collection.

Princeton University

One of the oldest among the Ivy League schools, Princeton is somewhat hesitant to fully embrace OpenCourseWare. On their Coursera and edX platforms, they offer a handful of courses. That said, they definitely compensate for the modest quantity with supreme quality! Global Systemic Risk, Effective Altruism, Bats, Ducks, and Pandemics, Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency, Paradoxes of War, and Imagining Other Earth – I can't make up my mind about what I want to sign up for first!

University of Chicago

A similar party is going on at UChicago, which is offering a few select courses through their Coursera and edX pages. Among the most interesting ones are Modeling Climate Change, Critical Issues in Urban Education, Neurobiology of Everyday Life, and a comprehensive program on Quantum Computing. Count me in!

California Institute of Technology

Although Caltech doesn't have the posh title of university, this world-renowned science and engineering research institution from Pasadena tops ratings of the best US schools. Among the courses they offer on Coursera and edX platforms are such gems as Quantum Cryptography, Getting Started in Cryo-EM, The Science of Solar System, and The Evolving Universe.

Northwestern University

This leading research university and home to 90 school-based centers is only dipping its toes into the waters of OpenCourseWare. Nearly 50 NU MOOCs are currently available on Coursera, including Modern Robotics, Organizational Leadership, Social Media Marketing, Content Strategy for Professionals, and Law in the Time of COVID-19. Arts and Humanities are also present: Teaching the Violin and Viola, Methodological Introduction to Talmud, and Luther and the West.

Vanderbilt University

This private research university from Nashville, Tennessee, has dozens of MOOCs on Coursera, including Android App Development, MATLAB Programming for Engineers and Scientists, Data Management for Clinical Research, Case Studies in Personalized Medicine, Hot Topics in Criminal Justice, and Building Cloud Services. Humanities are represented with Understanding the Music Business and Leading Innovation in Arts and Culture.

Rice University

Rice University consistently takes place among the nation's top 20 universities. Although its green campus is hidden in the forest, the school is open to the world, which is evident from the impressive collection of MOOCs Rice offers on Coursera and edX. Organizational Leadership, Mindfulness and Wellbeing, Investment and Portfolio, Immunology, Computing, Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, America Through Foreign Eyes, English and Academic Preparation – they have it all!

University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley proudly supports the global distribution of online education and offers its MOOCs on edX. Since joining the program in 2012, they have provided over 100 classes to 4 million students from all over the world. Currently, there are three comprehensive programs: Blockchain Fundamental, The Science of Happiness at Work, and Mastering Agile Development of Software as a Service. Among stand-alone courses, there are many great ones on specialized writing (business, social justice, social media, etc.), journalism, video content creation, and mindfulness.

University of California, San Diego

An academic powerhouse recognized as one of the top 10 public universities in the USA, US San Diego has befitting MOOC collections on Coursera and edX. Being student-centered and service-oriented, it wants you to be as excited about the subject as it most certainly is. Just look at the course titles: Analyze your Genome!, So You Want to Be a Biomedical Engineer, Hacking COVID-19, How Virtual Reality Works, The Science of Parenting, Minecraft, Coding and Teaching. I'm signing up already!

Emory University

One of the world's leading research universities, Emory sees its mission in creating, preserving, teaching, and applying knowledge in the service of humanity. Their MOOCs on Coursera include Health in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, Weight Management, Finance for Non-Financial Managers, Understanding Violence, Conflict Transformation, Extinction, Biohacking Your Brain's Health, and many other exciting courses. Some are paid and offer academic credits upon completion, while others are free for everyone.

Georgetown University

The oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the USA and one of the world's leaders in research, GU offers free online courses on edX. Some of the highlights: Terrorism and Counterterrorism, Foundations of Ethical Decision-Making, Sign Language Science, Urban Health in Crisis, Introduction to Bioethics, Quantum Mechanics for Everyone, and The Divine Comedy: Dante's Journey to Freedom.

University of Virginia

Founded by Thomas Jefferson, this school in Charlottesville is known for its inspiring, supportive environment and ranks among the 25 top universities in the USA. Their free MOOCs available on Coursera include specializations and courses on Agile Development, Business Strategy, Coding for Designers, Managers, and Entrepreneurs, Cost and Economics, The Modern World, Personal Branding, Marketing Analytics, The Economics of AI, and other excellent hands-on disciplines.

University of Florida

One of the top 10 public universities and recognized internationally for its academic excellence, UF offers many of its enlightening MOOCs on Coursera. Among those that caught my eye were Healing with the Arts, Personality Types at Work, Sustainable Agricultural Land Management, The Meat We Eat, The Horse Course: Introduction to Basic Care and Management, and COVID-19 – A Clinical Update.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The nation's first public university, UNC, is regularly ranked for its academic quality. Free MOOCs on Coursera include Reasoning Across the Disciplines, Positive Psychology, Copyright for Multimedia, Nanotechnology, Epidemiology, The American South: Its Stories, Music, and Art, Fundamentals of Rehearsing Music Ensembles, and many more.

Boston University

One of the world's leading research universities and the fourth-largest private university in the US, BU is currently conducting 340 research, service, and educational programs. BU MOOCs on edX include Product Management, Digital Transformation, Inclusive STEM teaching, The Postdoc Academy: Building Skills for a Successful Career, Ethical Leadership, Faith and Finance, and Spanish Language and Culture.

University of California, Santa Cruz

An outstanding public research university, UC Santa Cruz is committed to connecting people and programs in unexpected ways. One of them is through Coursera. Some UCSC MOOCs include Coding for Everyone, Bayesian Statistics, Conspiracy Planet, Feminism and Social Justice, AI, Empathy & Ethics, and Children Acquiring Literacy Naturally.

University of Rochester

One of the nation's leading private universities, Rochester provides opportunities for interdisciplinary study in a unique cluster-based curriculum. Some of the programs available on Coursera include Self-Determination Theory, Translation Science, History of Rock, The Power of Markets, Technology Commercialization, and Highlights of Moderns Astronomy.

Wesleyan University

WU is a diverse and energetic liberal arts community eager to explore new ideas and change the world. Staying loyal to the spirit of practical idealism, Wesleyans shares knowledge openly through Coursera. Some interesting ones that caught my attention are Creative Writing, Take Action: From Protest to Policy, The Modern and the Postmodern, Career Decisions, History of Mental Illness, and Suicide Prevention.

International OpenCourseWare Collections

Open University (United Kingdom)

The Open University, with its OpenLearn platform, takes "open" to the next level by offering free certificates of completion in their 800+ free courses to enlighten you on vital issues, such as "Microbes – friend or foe?", "A brief introduction to nursing," Information security," and "Intercultural competence in the workplace." In a nutshell, things you need to know as a responsible adult. Besides the formal courses, their catalog of open educational resources also includes articles, podcasts, videos, etc.

National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (India)

NPTEL is a resource created collectively by seven Institutes of Technology and Science based in major Indian cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras, Guwahati, Bangalore, and Roorkee. Their joint collection of freely available materials in engineering, sciences, medicine, and select humanities is impressive: over 2,100 courses! You can also access this content on their YouTube channel.

Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)

TU Delft OpenCourseWare offers a whole range of Bachelor's and Master's degree programs and some postgraduate courses to boot, totaling above 100. Many studies have an environmental focus, for example, Solar Energy, Electrical Power Drives, Electric Cars: Introduction, Water Management in Urban Areas, Bed, Bank and Shoreline Protection, and others – for those who want to preserve our planet for future generations.

Middle East Technical University (Turkey)

METU is a public technical university in Ankara. Their OpenCourseWare platform offers hundreds of freely accessible courses in Economic and Administrative Sciences, Arts, Architecture, Education, Engineering, Foreign Languages, Informatics, Applied Mathematics, and others. Most of the courses are available in English, yet some are offered only in Turkish. METU's free content is also present on YouTube.

University of Hong Kong

One of the highest-ranking schools globally, the University of Hong Kong hosts many interactive MOOCs taught by the faculty, self-paced video lectures, online discussion groups, and assessment exercises on its website, Coursera, and edX platforms. The range is impressive: from Dinosaur Ecosystems to Hong Kong Cinema Through Global Lens. To help e-learners along, they also offer tips on their blog and Facebook page.

Kyoto University (Japan)

Kyoto University is actively adding new videos, public lectures, courses, and syllabi to its OpenCourseWare portal. The materials are available in English and Japanese. You can search this wealth of knowledge by keyword, category, or faculty, which include Liberal Arts and Sciences, Design, Integrated Human Studies, Science, Theoretical Physics, Informatics, Computing and Media Studies, Engineering, Advanced Energy, Disaster Prevention, Radiation and Nuclear Science, Biostudies, Integrated Cell-Material Sciences, Medicine, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Agriculture, Economics, School of Letters, Education, Human and Environmental Studies, Environmental Preservation, etc.

University of Tsukuba (Japan)

One of the prestigious national universities in Japan, Tsukuba boasts a great OCW collection. They offer lectures in Data Science, Empowerment Informatics, Reactor Engineering, Biology, Cytology, Art Therapy, Law and Constitution, and many others. There are also individual lectures on a variety of subjects in video and article formats. Most of these materials are available in Japanese, but some are offered in English.

University of Tokyo (Japan)

UTokyo is a public research university from Japan with a fascinating collection of 140+ free courses on their OCW platform and YouTube channel. The subjects include Philosophy, Ethics, and Religion, History, Social Sciences, Natural Science, Technology, Art, Language and Literature. Among the recently added lectures are Environmental Ethics, Philosophy and Cybernetics, Coexistence with Indigenous Peoples, Literary Studies and Postcriticism. The catch is they are only available in Japanese. However, they usually publish lectures in text format, and automated translation, although imperfect, gives you access to this treasure trove of ideas.

Hanyang University (South Korea)

Hanyang University is a private research institution with an impressive OCW collection of 140 courses in Engineering, Advanced Physics, Medicine, Natural Science, Humanities and Society. Classes are available in Korean and English. Alternatively, you can access them on Hanyang University's YouTube channel.

National Taiwan University (Taiwan)

NTU is one of the most prestigious universities in Taiwan. No wonder they have a robust OCW program with nearly 250 courses in Chinese and English. These include Introduction to Philosophy, Multiculturalism and Media Representation, Human Behavior from the Perspective of Modern Biology, Traditional East Asian Culture, Pacific Island World, Traditional Chinese Etiquette, Jewish Culture, and many other fascinating subjects.

National Tsing Hua University (Taiwan)

NTHU is another research university from Taiwan based in Hsinchu City. They host 170+ courses and actively create and upload new content. Most of these rich offerings are only available in Chinese. Yet some select courses are offered in English, such as Fundamental Concepts in Operating Systems for Computers, so make sure to check this one out.

National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (Taiwan)

NYCU offers over 220 classes on their OCW platform and YouTube. They are primarily available in Chinese, but English is also present, including technical disciplines such as Accounting, Algorithms, Electronics, Robotics, Design and Simulation of Control systems. There is a place for humanities as well, such as Introduction to Islamic Civilization, The Art of Articulation, and Love, Sex, and Law.

Knowledge is power. Now it is freely shared with anyone who wants to harness and apply it to make the world a better place. Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive. I've simply scratched the surface of free educational opportunities to let you know how many treasures are waiting for a determined, self-motivated learner like you. Follow your curiosity, discover free courses, and become a part of this great transformation.

Elissa Smart Elissa Smart
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