MIT's 7 Best Free Online Courses: Quantum Physics and Making Video Games

You don't need to go to Cambridge to enjoy all the fun of a wildly expensive education.

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There isn’t much that you can’t learn for free on the internet, but it’s not just YouTube tutorials — if you know where to look you can actually get something approximating a world-class education without leaving your bedroom.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a global leader on open-access education. The school has posted material online from 2,260 different courses, which means that a motivated learner with laptop and a good internet connection could become an expert in just about anything, and skip the $44,720 in annual tuition. As a bonus, exams and assignments are optional.

Of course, with so many subjects to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. We’re here to help. Here are some introductory-level courses, including video lectures, that you’ll probably want to get started on today.

Creating Video Games

This new course guides students through the process of designing, building, and testing an actual video game. The online resources are extensive, and include video lectures and access to presentations and games from actual students. It’s not so much about building the next Angry Birds as using a simple and engaging interface to demonstrate complex processes. Example projects from former students include games on disaster preparedness, cholera outbreak control, and team brainstorming. All in good, nerdy fun.

Speak Italian With Your Mouth Full

How’s this for a dream course: Learn conversational Italian while cooking and eating delicious and healthy Mediterranean recipes. Obviously this one would be a lot more fun in person, but with an enrollment cap of 12 students, the rest of us will have to settle for watching the video lectures so we can speak and cook along at home.

Introduction to Psychology

The human mind is a fascinating place, and you can dive into its nooks and crannies with this course. You’ll learn about learning, cognition, memory, and emotion, and how to apply that knowledge to questions of nature versus nurture, and free will. The great thing about this course is that it’s designed to be entirely self-supported — all of the materials you will need to fully engage in the subject are online, so you can elevate your understanding beyond the realm of pop-psychology.

Asia in the Modern World: Images & Representations

History buffs and anyone interested in Chinese and Japanese culture will want to get into this course, which investigates how visual production — including cartoons, film, propaganda, and art — reflects 19th and 20th century Asia. It’s among the best that MIT offers, according to site editors. Sit back and watch the video lectures, and feel yourself getting smarter by the minute.

Quantum Physics I

This course is among the most popular of MIT’s online offerings. Here’s why: the professor, Allan Adams, is obviously obsessed with the subject matter and his excitement is infectious. Even if the mathematical calculations are way over your head, watching the video lectures will give you a basic fluency and intuition on a subject matter that most wouldn’t dare engage with. Imagine going to your next dinner party and explaining to your friends what you’re learning in your MIT quantum physics course. If you’re not the smartest person in the room, you’ll still sound like it.

Understanding Television

If you really, really love television — not just watching it but thinking about it and talking about it - this course is for you. It’s a mini-history of American TV and television culture, and it will give you all the tools you need to smartly interpret Game of Thrones, Jessica Jones, or whatever your current bag happens to be. Take this course, and as a side benefit you can consider all of your Netflix binging as an extracurricular academic activity.

DV Lab: Documenting Science Through Video and New Media

If you like the idea of watching Planet Earth, Grizzly Man, and Gasland as homework assignments, this is the course for you. It’s about science, and how we tell stories about science through documentary film. You’ll learn a thing or two about making your own documentaries, too.

The Early Universe

Every person on this planet is in awe of the vast and wondrous universe, but few have the knowledge to engage in the fascinating and ever-evolving current debates in the field of cosmology. This is your introduction. The course will guide you through classic cosmological theory and how modern particle physics is challenging what we thought we knew. Guaranteed to expand your brain and what you think about when you look up at the stars.

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