Skip to main content

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


Popular posts from this blog

Graph Databases (Neo4j) - a revolution in modeling the real world!

(UPDATED 9/2022) - I was "married" to Relational Databases for many years... and it was a good "relationship" full of love and productivity - but SOMETHING WAS MISSING! Let me backtrack.   In college, I got a hint of the "pre-relational database" days...  Mercifully, that was largely before my time, but  - primarily through a class - I got a taste of what the world was like before relational databases.  It's an understatement to say: YUCK! Gratitude for the power and convenience of Relational Databases and SQL - and relief at having narrowly averted life before it! - made me an instant mega-fan of that technology.  And for many years I held various jobs that, directly or indirectly, made use of MySQL and other relational databases - whether as a Database Administrator, Full-Stack Developer, Data Scientist, CTO or various other roles. But there were thorns in the otherwise happy relationship The root cause: THE REAL WORLD DOES NOT REALLY RESEMBLE THE

D3 Visualization with Vue.js : a powerful alliance (when done right!)

[UPDATED MAY 2022]  D3.js is a very powerful visualization tool, especially for specialized/custom needs...  On the flip side, it's rather hard to use - with a steep learning curve. Even worse if one also wants interactivity ! But why is D3 so hard/clunky to use?  And what can be done about it? Spoiler alert: Vue.js (or other modern front-end framework) to the rescue - if done right... All code in the examples is available in this GitHub repository . The Root of the Problem In a nutshell, what makes D3 awkward to use is that, for historical reasons, it tries to do too much : most painfully, it uses an old way to do direct DOM manipulation (i.e. restructuring the page layout) - an operation that nowadays is superbly handled in a far more friendly way by modern front-end frameworks, such as Vue.js Document Object Model ( DOM ) is a programming interface for web documents.  In simple terms, it's the structure of the elements on a web page (text, images, etc.) Let the front-e

A "Seismic Shift" in Longevity Science : Mainstream Acceptance + Large Funding

"You are incredibly prescient!"   I woke up to those words from a former colleague on Jan. 19, 2022: the bombshell announcement that the Chief Science Officer of pharma giant GSK, where I worked until recently, will become the CEO at the new, $3 BILLION longevity science company Altos (presumably also funded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos.) Big Pharma is at long last embracing Longevity Science. The corollary: longevity science is entering Mainstream (with capital "M") But let me backtrack... The Decade of Longevity Science When Harvard professor David Sinclair declared the 2020's to be the " decade of the paradigm shift about age reversal ", one could perhaps be dismissive of it as just an outburst of enthusiasm... But in the past couple of years, we're seeing strong evidence that his forecast is right on the mark! While I worked at GlaxoSmithKline - a giant, top-10, pharma company - I vigorously advocated forming a Longevity Science dept., and sp

Life123 : Quantitative Modeling of Biological Systems

(UPDATED 8/2022) - Are we ready to embark on a next-generation detailed quantitative modeling of complex biological systems , including whole-cell simulations?  An anticipated up-jump in computing power may be imminent from Photonics computers (which I discuss here ), and GPU's are rapidly gaining power as well...  Are we in ready state to put existing - and upcoming - power to good use? This is a manifest, and a call to action What's Life123? It's about detailed quantitative modeling of biological systems in 1-D, 2-D and full 3-D, as well as a multi-faceted software platform for doing so. What's (pseudo-)1D?  For now, let's say it's like the inside of a long, thin tube - with no interactions with the tube.  Likewise, (pseudo-)2D can be thought of as a Petri dish, with no interactions with the lid or the bottom. Website : A purposeful decision to also utilize 1D and 2D But why?  Yes, it's in part about "walk before you run&quo

Online Courses: (Often) Free and Just Awesome!

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” -Socrates.  [UPDATED Mar. 2021] Acquiring knowledge has been a hobby of mine since 4th grade, so it's no surprise that I'm the proverbial "kid in the candy store" when it comes to online courses!   As of writing, I have followed over 20 so far, and trying to decide what the next one will be... Utopia or Dystopia? You ever find yourself imagining the future, and wondering whether it'll turn out to be “utopian” or “dystopian”? Well, the state of higher education in the United States is decisively dystopian , with its absurdly ballooned costs and runaway student loans (a “bubble” that may burst sooner or later, mark my words!),  BUT there’s a counterpoint that is decisively utopian , namely the explosive rise of free online courses 😊 Here’s a brief 2012 Ted talk about the rise of free online courses , dated but still of interest. The gist of that TED talk is that online learning has com

Multimedia Knowledge Representation and Management : "Brain Annex"

 (Updated Feb. 2022) Wouldn't it be fantastic to have a "butler" to help us as we constantly face drowning in information? That need was crushingly pressing for me , as a polymath with a thirst for knowledge in several fields, not to mention numerous very technical jobs over the years, several complex research projects, old notes from college and grad school, an endless stream of online courses I take , a tech startup I founded and used to run, the many conferences I attend, life in general, and even hobbies that tend to generate abundant information (such as flying airplanes and studying multiple foreign languages!)   I was immensely eager for some sort of powerful assistance, something so helpful that I could poetically describe as an " annex " to my brain.. In this blog entry, I'll describe how deep frustration with existing software tools led to the start of the open-source project, a web-based knowledge representation and manageme

Anti-Aging Research: Science, not Hype

Last updated November 2021 Q: "How is aging a disease?" A: "It's a dynamic system that veers away from its homeostasis (normal equilibrium point): hence a form of slow-progressing illness. Labeling it as 'natural' is a surrender to our traditional state of ignorance and powerlessness, which fortunately is beginning to be changed!" The above is my standard answer to an oft-asked question. The science of aging is by all evidence very misunderstood by the general public.  Hype, misinformation and unquestioned assumptions often prevail, unfortunately. Aging as a systemic breakdown of the body, rather than a series of isolated events and conditions. This 2013 diagram from NIH is a good way to jump-start contemplating the big picture: The diagram originates from the Cell journal: The Hallmarks of Aging   Telomere shortening is perhaps the one most talked about - but just one of several processes.  As stated in the above paper: Each

Interactomics + Super (or Quantum) Computers + Machine Learning : the Future of Medicine?

[Updated Mar. 2021] Interactomics today bears a certain resemblance to genomics in the  1990s...  Big gaps in knowledge, but an explosively-growing field of great promise. If you're unfamiliar with the terms, genomics is about deciphering the gene sequence of an organism, while interactomics is about describing all the relevant bio-molecules and their web of interactions. A Detective Story Think of a good police-detective story; typically there is a multitude of characters, and an impossible-to-remember number of relationships: A hates B, who loves C, who had a crush on D, who always steers clear of E, who was best friends with A until D arrived... Yes, just like those detective stories, things get very complex with our biological story!  Examples of webs of interactions, familiar to many who took intro biology, are the Krebs cycle for metabolism or the Calvin cycle to fix carbon into sugars in plant photosynthesis. Now, imagine vastly expanding those cycles of rea

Brain Microarchitecture : Feedback from Higher-order areas to Lower-order areas

Some questions that arise in Machine Learning involve the prospect of using feedback from Higher-order areas (downstream) to Lower-order areas (upstream), and using Global Knowledge for Local Processing.  A desire to gain insight into those issues from Neuroscience ("how does the brain do it?") led me to some fascinating investigations into the Microcircuits of the Cerebral Cortex.  This blog entry is a broad review of the field, in the context of the original motivating questions from Machine Learning.   Starting out with a quote from the “bible of Neuroscience”: From Principles of Neural Science, 5th edn  (Online book location 1435.3 / 5867).  Emphasis and note added by me: Sensory pathways are not exclusively serial; in each functional pathway higher-order areas project back to the lower-order areas from which they receive input. In this way neurons in higher-order areas, sensitive to the global pattern of sensory input, can modulate the activity of neurons in lowe

Photonic Computer - a "supercharged GPU" with very low energy consumption

Yes, we all wish for Quantum Computers... but in the meantime we need something here and now!  Could Photonic Computers fit that role? Just about everyone has heard of fiber optics – using light for data transmission – but did you know that light can also be used for computing? There's a new commercial product expected for early next year (2022) . I contacted the CEO, Nicholas Harris, of a 4-y.o. startup, Lightmatter , interviewed in April 2021 here . Photonic computers, at least in their first commercial appearance, are essentially accelerator cards for Linear Algebra - and so of special interest for Machine Learning and some types of simulations.    Their claims are remarkable: 10X faster than some of the best GPUs using 90% less energy can be used with existing software stacks, such as TensorFlow commercially available early next year (2022) a lot of future growth, as additional wavelengths of light get used in parallel My own interest is pr