Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Plan Your Free Online Education at Lifehacker U: Summer Semester 2013

Originally posted on LifeHacker.com on May 15, 2013

Your education doesn't have to stop once you leave school—freedom from the classroom just means you have more control over what you learn and when you learn it. We've put together a curriculum of some of the best free online classes available on the web this fall for our third term of Lifehacker U, our regularly-updating guide to improving your life with free, online college-level classes. Let's get started.

Orientation: What Is Lifehacker U?

Whether school's out for the summer or you just graduated (congratulations!), there's no reason to stop learning and growing just because the temperature is going up. Take your laptop out on the patio with you, or your tablet down to the beach, and enjoy the incredible amount of free, university-level courses that become available on the web every school year. Anyone with a little time and a passion for self-growth can audit, read, and "enroll" in these courses for their own personal benefit. Schools like Yale University, MIT, Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, and many more are all offering free online classes that you can audit and participate in from the comfort of your office chair, couch, or computing chair-of-choice.

If you'll remember from our Spring 2013 semester, some of these classes are available year-round, but many of them are only available during the a specific term or semester, and because we're all about helping you improve your life at Lifehacker, we put together a list of courses available this summer that will inspire you, challenge you, open the door to something new, and give you the tools to improve your life. Grab your pen and paper and make sure your battery is charged—class is in session!

Science and Medicine

University of British Columbia - Useful Genetics - Professor Rosemary Redfield - Perhaps you've read Angelina Jolie's decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy, partially based on the genetic test she took that returned an 87 percent risk for developing breast cancer. How can genetics weigh so heavily on someone? How can that test lead her to make such a significant personal decision? This course will help you understand what genes are, how they function, and what can be learned from personal genomics, and the mechanics of inheritance, both in risk factor and in other characteristics. The course examines tons of topics, including GMOs, inherited risk for illnesses, the trustworthiness of genetic tests, and more.

TED - Neuroscience - A collection of lectures and TED talks about the quest to map the brain, understand its processes, and quantify the way the human mind works. We understand remarkably little about the human brain, and while renewed efforts have picked up in recent years to really study it, chart it, and perhaps change it for the better (in terms of treating mental illness). These talks will help you get up to speed on that current research, and give you the opportunity to hear from experts in the field on where we are today and what the future holds.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology - The Science of Gastronomy - Professors Lam Lung Yeung and King L. Chow - Cooking is chemistry, and chemistry is science, and in this course you'll dive into all three. The Science of Gastronomy examines the science behind food preparation and eating. You'll study the senses of smell and taste, the concept of energy transfer, the biology of hunger, and then move on to study things like the Maillard Reaction, learn to cook the perfect steak (even if you think you already know), learn how to cook vegetables so they retain their taste and nutritional value, and more. Best of all, you'll learn it all from a scientific perspective, not just a culinary one.

Johns Hopkins University - Critical Analysis of Popular Diets and Dietary Supplements - Professor Lawrence J. Cheskin - Every few months there's another fad diet that promises you'll lose weight, feel better, and live longer if only you stop eating that, or eat more of this, or cut that out of your diet, or eat like these people who live here or lived at that point in time. This course will help you cut through the fog of the self-help and money-driven diet market and help you think critically about the fad diets you've heard about before you invest time, energy, and money doing something that's at best harmless but not effective and at worst grossly unhealthy for you. The course helps you understand the difference between actual clinical data and studies versus anecdotal data and people who pass off that data as real science, and ultimately help build a nutrition plan for yourself that's based on research and knoweldge, not some guy's book or blog.

Extra Credit: How To Find Your Own Online Classes

The cirriculum 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 aren't many, but the ones offered are free, open to the public, and they rotate often.
Coursera has a broad selection of courses in-session or beginning shortly that you can take for academic credit (if you're enrolled) or just 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.
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.
Education-Portal.com has a list of universities offering free and for-credit online classes to students and the public at large.
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 couses 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.

The beautiful thing about taking classes online is that you can pick and choose the classes you want to attend, skip lectures and come back to them later(in some cases - some classes require your regular attendance and participation!), and do examinations and quizzes on your own time. You can load up with as many classes as you choose, or take a light course load and come back to some of the classes you meant to take at another time that's more convenient for you.

With Lifehacker U, you're free to take as many or as few of these classes as you like, and we'll update this course guide every term with a fresh list of courses on new and interesting topics, some of which are only available during that academic term.