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15 free online classes from Harvard to learn something new

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When we spend so much of our time online, we’re bound to learn something while clicking and scrolling. Discover something new with Mashable’s series I learned it on the internet.


While a year’s tuition at Harvard University will set you back nearly $50,000 (and that’s before room, board, and fees tack on another $20K), there’s a much cheaper option that doesn’t involve braving Massachusetts winters, or having to be admitted to the prestigious university at all. All you need is an internet connection to take certain Harvard courses for free in the comfort of your own home, thanks to the university’s fabulous online learning portal.

You have options. There are free courses as well as courses that are free to audit, which means you can take the course for free but there is a cost to upgrade for additional content and/or to receive a verified certificate from HarvardX.

We’ve handpicked a selection of some of the best free Harvard courses currently available, from the study of Shakespeare to a class that will help you better understand urban life. Our varied selection is like a wish list of courses we’re hoping to find the time to take in the near future.

Just think: Your Harvard learning journey could begin today for absolutely nada.

Attention true crime news fans: Take a free class to learn more about justice.
Credit: Harvard University

We’re starting our list with Justice, one of the most famous courses taught at Harvard, which includes the oldest continuously operating law school in the United States. This 12-week-long course taught by lauded professor Michael Sandel explores classical and contemporary theories of justice, including discussion of contemporary dilemmas and controversies and present-day applications.

image of an old map

This free online class from Harvard requires a time commitment, but what else are you doing right now?
Credit: Harvard University

This class invites you to “embark on a global journey to explore the past, present, and future of world literature.” This 12-week course requires a time commitment of up to seven hours a week. During those hours, you’ll study how great writers refract their world, looking at works from Goethe, Voltaire, and Rushdie, among others.

image of a suffragette march

Important history to brush up on in this free online course.
Credit: Harvard University

This course, taught by two female professors, takes the interesting approach of studying how American women created, confronted, and embraced change in the 20th century by considering “10 iconic objects” from the Harvard Schlesinger Library collection. This is a shorter, six-week course that requires a commitment of around three hours a week.

image of lines of code on multiple computer screens

Even if you don’t know what TinyML is, this free Harvard class will help you learn.
Credit: Harvard University

Tiny machine learning is one of the fastest-growing areas of deep learning, and it’s rapidly becoming more accessible to all. This free course provides a foundation for you to understand this emerging field and how it allows for the creation of more affordable smartphones, for example. You’ll get the basics of machine learning, deep learning, and embedded devices and systems, such as smartphones and other tiny devices. It’s taught by Harvard’s Vijay Janapa Reddi and Laurence Moroney, Lead AI Advocate at Google.

image of lightning strike

Your weather small talk with go up a level with this online class from Harvard.
Credit: Harvard University

Harvard’s backyard meteorology course makes the epic promise that by taking it you’ll learn to forecast the weather just by looking out your window. This course could possibly save your life as well, as there’s a component that informs you how to avoid being struck by lightning. Other elements include cloud identification and how to estimate wind speed.

Related Video: 5 racial justice documentaries to further your education

drawing/etching of William Shakespeare

If you fell asleep learning about Shakespeare in high school there’s still time to learn with this online Harvard class.
Credit: Harvard University

If you want to learn more about the Bard, this short, intensive course is the way to go. It’s a four-week course that you’ll study for up to seven hours per week. During that time you’ll learn about the cultural significance of Shakespeare’s plays and how to analyze them both on the page and in performance. This course includes videos and readings filmed on location in Stratford-upon-Avon and London.

image of molecular gastronomy plate of food

Chemistry class has never been so delicious.
Credit: Harvard University

Anyone who’s dreamed of studying mayonnaise should be in for a delicious treat with this scientific look at food. This 16-week course will have you carrying out experiments in your own kitchen, looking at how cooking changes food texture, understanding phase changes in cooking, and making emulsions and foams. If you enjoy this kind of physics-based study, you may want to continue your learning with the Science & Cooking course that focuses on chemistry.

artwork of famous buildings arranged into a skyline

For city-dwellers who want to make an impact.
Credit: Harvard University

This course offers an expert look at the past, present, and future of cities, with the aim of teaching you how to better understand, appreciate, and improve urban areas. As part of the course, you’ll look at case studies from around the world, such as London, Rio de Janiero, New York City, Shanghai, and Mumbai. This 11-week course includes interviews and insights from academics, policymakers, urban leaders, and city residents.

drawing of zodiac sky

We developed these belief systems for a reason. Learn why.
Credit: Harvard University

This mini-module is a good option for anyone wary of committing to a longer-term learning journey. It’s an introductory-level, one-week-long immersive course that examines “pre-scientific” prediction systems that range from ancient Chinese bone-burning to the Oracle of Delphi to modern astrology and tarot.

image of Albert Einstein

Is there anything that sounds smarter than taking a Harvard course about Albert Einstein?
Credit: Harvard University

This course will, through the life and work of Albert Einstein, teach you all about the changing role of physics in the 20th and 21st centuries. There’s no science knowledge required for this history course, which considers Einstein’s engagement with relativity, quantum mechanics, Nazism, nuclear weapons, philosophy, the arts, and technology. This is a 17-lesson course that will require a commitment of up to three hours a week.

Paper cutout rendition of family in a city park with a skyline in the background

This course is described as “not just an elegy for the planet, but a call to action.”
Credit: Harvard University

You know about climate change’s impact on the environment, but what about its impact on your health? Created with support from the Harvard Global Health Institute, this seven-week course will explain climate change’s role in nutrition, infectious diseases, and human migration. By studying research methods and recommendations from scientists in the field, you’ll learn what you can do to help the cause.

Microscopic image of cell being injected with something

For people who like dissecting complex issues with no easy answers.
Credit: Harvard University

Rapid advancements in biotechnology has made genetics and reproduction a murky ethical territory. This self-paced 10-week course taught by Harvard Law School will examine these issues from a legal standpoint. You’ll learn about the industries, laws, cases, and legal/ethical dilemmas related to reproductive and genetic technology. No legal or medical knowledge is needed to enroll.

Cartoon image of man studying next to a tall pile of books

Learn from ancient Chinese philosophers about happiness from the comfort of your home.
Credit: Harvard University

One of Harvard’s most popular classes has been adapted to an online seven-week course. Professor Michael Puett applies ancient Chinese philosophy to the challenges of modern day society. Through lectures, discussions, and “reflection diaries,” you’ll study ideologies from Confucius as well as Mozi, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Xunzi, and Han Feizi.

Cartoon image of a Vote sticker or button

Understand the power of your vote and civic engagement.
Credit: Harvard University

If you’re interested in understanding the pivotal 2016 U.S. presidential election, this course is for you. Taught by the Harvard Kennedy School, this four-week course will teach you about the powerful, yet nebulous impact of public opinion. By studying the two-party system, campaigns, special interest groups, and media, you’ll learn about the intricate machinery of American politics.

Cartoon image of a speech bubble

Learning how to win an argument is a powerful tool.
Credit: Harvard University

Learning how to engage in civil discourse has never been more important. We’re living through a deeply polarizing time that conjures strong and passionate beliefs. This eight-week course teaches you how to form an argument and successfully communicate those beliefs. You’ll study the rhetoric from famous public speakers, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Margaret Chase Smith, Ronald Reagan, and more.

This article was originally published in January 2021 and was updated in January 2022.

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