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Online Courses I Took - and Recommend!

Love of learning!

When friends ask me what online courses I've taken, I say, "You'd better sit down!"  Yes, it's a long list – and in 2020 it has experienced an above-average burst of growth : my goal was to have at least some good things to remember that evil year by... such as an exciting new batch of online courses.

So, which of the courses I took would I recommend as good ones?  Virtually ALL OF THEM!  Think about it : why would I take, and complete, an online course that I don't think is good?  If I have a false start and don't like it, I don't finish it – and it won't be on this list!

The following are 27 courses (at various levels) I took in their entirety, and I recommend as good ones to take – provided, of course, that they fit your background and interest.

NOT included:  documentaries, short tutorials and the like.  Nor am I including courses I took in college or grad school, nor any classes I took in person, such as sailing, photography or foreign languages.  Also not included are textbooks that I've used as self-taught courses, such as the excellent A Course in Modern Mathematical Physics, by Peter Szekeres (2004), which I'll soon review in this blog, or the great classic Kandel et al., Principles of Neural Science (5th edn, 2012)

For more information about online courses in general, as well as the organizations offering them, please see my other blog entry.  A wide variety of good online courses give me the proverbial feel of a kid in the candy store 

Check out the trailers, or the first few minutes, in some of the links below – and maybe something will catch your fancy, even just for fun and Love of Knowledge.  All the courses below are either free, or available with a very modest monthly fee.

 (UPDATED June 2021)


Intro to Systems Biology Coursera (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Systems Biology Center New York) 2013 Ravi Iyengar Systems biology done right! Taught by an active researcher in the field.
Recommended if you have at least some background in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Calculus.
In-progress: I'll say more later
Understanding the BrainThe Great Courses2007Jeanette Norden little dated. Its strength is anatomy and systems. Not as much on the sub-neuronal level
Introduction to Solid State ChemistryMIT2010Donald Sadoway, very engaging professor. Excellent material coverage.

Freshman Chem at an advanced level.

Even though I had already taken at least 7 courses in Chemistry and Physical Chemistry in college and grad school – and I already knew most of the material in this course – I found myself watching it just because the professor is so charismatic and funny! 

Chemistry is something I disliked in high school, but re-discovered in college



Oceanography: Exploring Earth's Final WildernessThe Great Courses2011Harold J. Tobin professor and subject matter. Excellent in both breadth and (ahem) depth of materials.
The World's Greatest Geological WondersThe Great Courses2013Michael E. Wysession course by a very engaging professor! Only shortcoming is the annoying over-fast editing.


An Introduction to Formal LogicThe Great Courses2016Steven Gimbel both Mathematical Logic and the Philosophy of Logic, by a very entertaining, immensely funny professor. I review it in this blog entry.



How Music and Mathematics RelateThe Great Courses2014David Kung engaging and personable professor.
The earlier part of the course (about sounds, pitch, scales, etc.) is by far the most interesting one.
The later part gets progressively more contrived and less interesting.


The Science of Information: From Language to Black HolesThe Great Courses2015Benjamin Schumacher fascinating course in Information Theory - taught by a physicist! The Computer Science part was largely familiar to me, but still interesting, and the Physics part was very intriguing - great insights into Entropy and subtle aspects of the Maxwell Demon, among other things.

Hot new topics, such as the information on the surface of black holes and the holographic principle, were unfortunately only briefly covered.

The #1 shortcoming is that when things were getting super-interesting, in the "It from Bit" lecture, the course quickly wrapped up and ended :(( I was hoping for more about Quantum Computers, especially from the point of view of the Foundations of Physics


Introduction to AstronomyCoursera (Duke U.)Appr. 2014Ronen Plesser Class was deleted from Coursera :( I complained with Coursera about the disappeared course, and got zero help; I elaborate in this blog entry why I have mixed feelings about Coursera.
Excellent course with a large breath, by a very engaging professor. The part on Special Relativity was especially superb.
I tried to contact the professor to get a copy of the course, but didn't hear back...

As of Jan. 2021, there's no trace of it on Coursera nor on the Duke U. website.  Several Internet searches all failed.
It seems it was re-offered in 2017, but the link to the course doesn't work
Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the UniverseThe Great Courses2007Sean Carroll engaging course by a charismatic Cal Tech professor - but the materials are a little dated.
The Early UniverseMIT2013Alan Guth Ultimate Science Hubris: trying to understand the Whole Universe!  Excellent advanced undergraduate course, taught by a, ahem, star of the field, Alan Guth.

The professor at times plods along a little slowly, and could be a little more rigorous with the math, but in most respects it's an excellent professor at the helm of a fascinating course.
The Great Questions of Philosophy and PhysicsThe Great Courses2020Steven Gimbel engaging, funny, professor. Deep and insightful on the philosophy of physics. It would have
been nice if he had talked more about "Weak measurements" in quantum mechanics.
The Higgs Boson and BeyondThe Great Courses2015Sean Carroll Carroll is always wonderful! The accompanying booklet was very helpful after watching the course
Impossible: Physics Beyond the EdgeThe Great Courses2010Benjamin Schumacher professor. Gets especially interesting in the later part. Quantum physics, relativity and thermodynamics are featured prominently.
Laser FundamentalsMIT2012
Shaoul Ezekiel video quality isn't so great (especially for the lab demos), but this short course is informative and well-presented.
Mysteries of Modern Physics: TimeThe Great Courses2012Sean Carroll What is Time? And why does it seem to "flow" in just one direction ("arrow of time")? I wrote a detailed review about it elsewhere in a separate blog entry
Radio Astronomy: Observing the Invisible UniverseThe Great Courses2017Felix J. Lockman engaging. Good amount of detail. Interesting personal stories.


Anthropology and the Study of HumanityThe Great Courses2017Scott M. Lacy review it in this post
Intro to Psychology 9.00SCMIT2011John Gabrieli PERSONABLE, funny, engaging professor! Excellent course that covers a wide range of materials.

General Psychology was a subject I never got to study in college or grad school, though I had a good amount of background in Neurobiology…  and I’ve known and loved my more-than-fair share of mentally ill people!

Course materials:

The "Monkey Business Illusion":
The Science of Happiness UC Berkeley / edX 2020-2021 Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas Quite worthwhile! Something for everyone: to different people, different parts may come across as obvious, while other parts will be insightful and thought-provoking. I applaud the effort at backing up claims with scientific experiments (within the usual, typical limitations of social-psychology experiments.) The instructors are very personable and warm. Leisurely-paced course compared to most other ones on this list!
The Science of FlightThe Great Courses2017James W. Gregory professor, though the "handwaving" behind the engineering equations is a tad tiresome. It inspired me to pursue the ground-school portion of a pilot school!


The Art of Investing: Lessons from History's Greatest TradersThe Great Courses2016John M. Longo
Good amount of detail. Dynamic, personable professor who explains all concepts clearly, and also manages to bring out the human element of the pioneers of the various financial strategies.
Quite interesting, both for intellectual curiosity, as well as as for financial literacy - especially for anyone considering investing.


Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of HumanityThe Great Courses2008David Christian professor. Very thoughtful, broad perspective - with its sight set on "the rise of complexity". Excellent coverage of the transition between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic.


Understanding Greek and Roman TechnologyThe Great Courses2013Stephen Ressler course by a very engaging, extremely well-prepared professor. He also goes through great lengths to make scale models and computer simulations.

It drives the point that "technology race", far from being just a modern phenomenon, was an important part of the ancient world - albeit at a slower pace.

It's also fascinating to discover why some architectural structures (such as Greek temples) had their distinctive looks: it's not just because of varying aesthetic sensibilities, but also because of the engineering reality of the construction techniques available to them!
Understanding the Inventions That Changed the WorldThe Great Courses2013W. Bernard Carlson human element and the socio/political/historical/cultural context of inventions throughout history

HISTORY (general):

1900 - present: The recent pastKhan Academy and well-presented history course, especially the part about WW I.
I hated history in grade school, but re-discovered it on my own in recent years.  (WW II “steals the show” because of its magnitude and proximity in time, but it can’t really be understood without grasping WW I.)
The Celtic WorldThe Great Courses2018Jennifer Paxton to complete.  All the many bits and pieces I've heard about the Celts all my life are finally coming together...  In particular, the connection between continental-Europe Celts and those in the British isles.
No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of LifeThe Great Courses2000Robert Solomon
In my opinion, the course gets better in the later part; the best part, by far, are the lectures about Nietzsche.

I found the early part could be tedious and confusing; in particular, the Camus part at the beginning is very drawn out, with no clear purpose as to why.
The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient WorldThe Great Courses2012Robert Garland engaging course by a charismatic professor.

That’s how history OUGHT to be taught, instead of endless sequences of kings and battles!  Very engaging course by a charismatic professor. History “done right” – about People, Ideas, Society, Lifestyle… Main focus is ancient societies.
Writing and Civilization The Great Courses 2013 Marc Zender (Tulane University) Fascinating! Excellent way to go beyond bits and pieces and misconceptions - and starting to understand the Big Picture

In-progress: I'll say more later


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