Learn Online: From the Secret to Happiness to Why Mountains Matter

Take a course from a top university from the comfort of your home
Take a course from a top university from the comfort of your home | © Westend61 GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Commissioning Editor

The best free online courses from the world’s top colleges can teach you the secret to happiness, why mountains matter and how to write a pilot episode for your own TV series.

Being safely stuck at home is a privilege – and can be a joy – especially when there are so many things we are lucky enough to be able to access from the comfort of our homes. If you’re looking to kill some time, try one of these online courses from the world’s top colleges. Learn the scientific ways to boost happiness; the importance of mountain environments and cultures; how to write your own TV or web series; and, if you’re up for it, the basics of machine learning and AI. The best part? These courses are free and can be completed at your own pace.

The science of wellbeing

According to Yale, 600,000 people have signed up for its science of wellbeing course in the past month alone. First conceptualised by psychology professor Laurie Santos in the summer of 2018, this “happiness” course went on to become the most popular one in Yale’s history. You can access an online version of the 10-week course (taught by Santos) on Coursera for free. Santos uses psychology, science and studies on human behaviour to help us understand concepts like miswanting (making mistakes about how much we will like something in the future) and hedonic adaptation (how we get accustomed to things both good and bad) – then gives us the tools to overcome our biases and live a more fulfilled life.

Learning how to learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects

The human brain is complex, which is what makes learning more about it so interesting. Taught by Dr Barbara Oakley and Dr Terrence Sejnowski, this four-week course teaches the fundamentals of learning – including modes of thinking, how to break learning into chunks which our minds can easily access, and other techniques that enhance our ability to learn.

Offered in partnership with the University of California San Diego and McMaster University, the course takes about 15 hours to complete and teaches the learning techniques used by people in a multitude of different fields, including art, science and sport.

Mountains 101

Offered by the University of Alberta, this 12-lesson course gives an overview of the importance of mountains in our ecosystem, in relation to global issues like climate change. Taught by Zac Robinson and David Hik, you’ll learn why mountain environments matter, how they affect the weather and how we can preserve mountain cultures and economies.

Missing the outdoors? Learn about mountains on the Mountains 101 course instead

If you love the outdoors, this course also offers tips on how to make the most of your next mountain adventure, including how to pick the best pair of hiking boots. Mountains 101 is perfect for anyone interested in environmental science and sustainability, and Coursera is also offering a free completion certificate for a limited time. (Every course on this list is free to do, but Coursera charges for certification.)

Machine learning

Do you love Alex Garland’s sci-fi film Ex Machina (2014)? Do you keep up with all the latest developments in self-driving cars? If so, Stanford’s machine learning course might just be the class for you. Taught by Andrew Ng, this flexible 11-week programme focusses on the science behind getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. The difficulty level allows students to delve into topics like how to optimise machine learning algorithms and how to apply machine learning in practice, without overwhelming beginners.

Many of the topics covered require an understanding of linear algebra, but if you’re rusty like we are, there’s a two-hour-long optional module to help you brush up on the basics.

Scriptwriting: Write a pilot episode for a TV or web series

If you’re like us, you’ve been watching a lot of Netflix recently, which might just have inspired you to write your own TV series. Have a great concept but don’t know where to start? This five-week scriptwriting course from Michigan State University taught by David Wheeler explains how to put your ideas into scriptwriting software, such as Celtx or Final Draft, then complete a pitch-ready pilot episode. This is one of Coursera’s project-based courses, which means it requires less studying and more active work to create a real-world project.

Seeing through photographs

In this day and age, we can all take photos – all we need is a smartphone to capture our memories or unleash our creativity. However, taking, sharing and viewing photos doesn’t automatically make one visually literate. This six-week course from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), taught by Sarah Meister, aims to help us understand the difference between just seeing and really understanding photographs. It takes approximately 15 hours to finish and teaches photography’s roots in art, science and exploration – the perfect way to spend some time if you’re interested in art history and photography.

Looking for a way to spend some time? Try a photo course that can make you more visually literate

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