Don't judge online learning from the ad hoc courses your college has to throw together in a matter of days or weeks in order to complete this term.
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Mairead Kelly
Noodle Expert Member

April 10, 2020

From information technology and public health to art history and electrical engineering, these online courses provide college students the opportunity to engage in a wide range of intellectual pursuits while stuck at home. And best of all, they cost nothing.

Over the past several weeks, thousands of U.S. colleges and universities have been impacted by COVID-19, the respiratory illness associated with the new coronavirus. In response to the outbreak, many have canceled in-person classes in favor of continuing courses exclusively online for the remainder of the school year.

As the number of cases and fatalities rise and people around the world are forced into isolation, the coming weeks and months bring uncertainty for everyone—especially as government guidelines continue to urge Americans to avoid nonessential travel, going to work, eating at bars and restaurants, or gathering in groups of more than ten until at least until the end of April and perhaps even until June.

Meanwhile, instructors are facing new technologies and ways of teaching that may leave them uncomfortable. In a statement to EdSource, Mia McIver, a professor at the University of California - Los Angeles, noted that—in at least some instances—the resulting online courses will suffer.

"I know that I will not be the teacher I want to be, and my students won't get the education I want them to have if these discussions go online rather than face-to-face," she said. "There's no such thing as a class that can be picked up and plunked online without thought and care. It usually takes months to convert an in-person class to online."

Don't judge online learning from the ad hoc courses your college has to throw together in a matter of days or weeks in order to complete this term. To understand the potential of online instruction, consider courses that were developed prior to the coronavirus outbreak, courses that feature well-considered instructional design and carefully planned teaching techniques. Fortunately, some top schools offer a number of such online courses at no cost to students. We've listed some of our favorites below.

Art and Music

_ART of the MOOC: Public Art and Pedagogy_

Designed by artist and Duke University professor Pedro Lasch and co-taught by Creative Time artistic director Nato Thompson, this course touches on several controversial yet iconic works of public art, including Maya Lin's Vietnam memorial and Richard Serra's Tilted Arc. Additionally, it explores the way artists use everyday social institutions—such as corporations, churches, and banks—as media for public works.

_Berklee Online_

Berklee College of Music allows students to test-drive its online learning platform with a sample course containing 12 real lessons from the school's most popular courses. Each lesson offers content pulled straight from its course, including video and audio clips, discussion topics, and weekly assignments.

_Psychology of Art and Creativity_

What is creativity? And can it be measured? This course, which is hosted by the University of Central Florida, poses these questions by focusing on the intersection between art and psychology.

_Yale Music Theory Course_

Hosted on YouTube, this lecture series is given by Craig Wright, a Moses Professor of Music at Yale University, who stresses the importance of active listening.

Math, Data Science, and Engineering

_Cognitive Class_

Created to address the skills shortage in emerging technologies, including data science, AI, big data, cloud computing, and blockchain, IBM's Cognitive Class offers learning paths in data science 101, methodology, hands-on applications, programming in R, and open source tools.


There is no subject too big or too small for OpenLearn to tackle. In the realm of math, specifically, its free courses pick apart the broad subjects like math in science and technology. The platform also focuses on more specialized courses such as the kinematics of fluids, medical statistics, and even Egyptian mathematics.

_Stanford Engineering Everywhere_

Also known as SEE, this platform includes a course portfolio that includes the three-course Introduction to Computer Science, taken by the majority of undergraduates at Stanford University. Advanced courses in artificial intelligence, linear systems and optimization, and electrical engineering are also available.

Design and Web Development

_Canva Design School_

This platform offers lessons, tutorials, resources, and articles on a variety of topics that will be especially helpful to new graphic designers.


Codecademy offers a series of self-guided tutorials for beginners to learn the basics of web development programming. Its learning process focuses on an in-browser, self-contained development, allowing students to learn the basic structures of front-end code like HTML and CSS before moving on to back-end languages such as Ruby on Rails and Python.

_Envato Tuts+_

Envato has created a dense tutorial archive to support illustrators and designers with almost any type of software and design process. Courses cover topics in Illustrator, Photoshop, Cinema 4D, Rhino, and many more.

_Ideas from the History of Graphic Design_

From the first 19th-century mass-marketing campaigns to the radical, psychedelic imagery of the 1960s and '70s, this California Institute of the Arts course traces the development of graphic design over the past hundred years.

_Mozilla Developer Network_

The team behind the popular Firefox web browser has created an incredible resource for developers of all skill levels and expertise. Its collection of articles, tutorials, and other resources covers a wide range of topics, from basic web introductions and front-end languages to common vocabulary and optimization and performance.

Business and Finance

_All About Financial Management in Business_

Offered by the Free Management Library, this course includes topics in planning and cash management, financial statements, cost-cutting, and financial analysis. While it does not offer assignments or tests, the course does serve as a source of related resources that students can use to deepen their learning experience.

_Finance Foundations by LinkedIn Learning_

Taught by two professors from Brigham Young University - Provo, this video series covers the fundamentals of finance, paying special attention to topics like risk and return, capital budgeting, and investing basics. Students receive a free month-long trial with signup.

_Global Business in Practice_

This course provides students with an overall view of the increasingly complex challenges of global business. Students walk away with the foundational knowledge of what it takes to be a "Global Ready Leader" and learn to exploig the workings of globalization to make more informed business decisions.


_Centers for Disease Control and Prevention_

The CDC offers courses in environmental public health that allow students to learn a variety of topics ranging from general environmental health and food protection to air quality and environmental noise.

_Health Informatics Technology in Population Healthcare Analytics_

Doane University - Arts & Sciences also offers a course in public health. This one focuses on health informatics technology. Students explore health informatics solutions that answer population health challenges, focusing on how to operationalize informatics to address important public health challenges impacting individuals, families, communities, and the environment in which they live.

_The Global Health Learning Center_

This organization offers healthcare courses in every subject from cancer prevention to antimicrobial resistance to family planning. Students can also pursue certification programs and "Mini-Courses," which consist of study questions associated with popular articles from the Global Health: Science and Practice Journal as well as other resources.


_American Education Reform: History, Policy, Practice_

This course helps students explore the history of U.S. education reform to discover the factors that shape how we talk about education and schools today. They'll also learn about how the critical tensions embedded in U.S. education policy and practice apply to schools nationally, globally—and where they live.

_Introduction to Data Wise: A Collaborative Process to Improve Learning & Teaching_

Facilitated by the Open Learning Initiative from the Extension School at Harvard University, this course outlines an eight-step process for using a wide range of data sources to improve instruction. Students will see what this disciplined way of working with future colleagues can look and feel like in a school setting and have the opportunity to share insights and experiences about school improvement with students from around the world.

_Multilingual Learning for a Globalised World_

This course is one of the free options available from FutureLearn. In it, students explore multilingual education and how it can impact and improve education and our wider society.

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