The Most Popular Free Online Courses

From OpenCourseWare initiatives from schools like MIT to Berkeley, to the massive library of Khan Academy, a wide variety of educational materials are available free of charge to the learning-hungry public. All you need is access to the digital files and videos, and you can watch lectures on basic probability or study the course materials on the principles of medical imaging. There are literally thousands of courses and topics to choose from, but what is the public learning, exactly? Here’s a look at some of the most popular free online courses, based on page views and Web traffic:

Introduction to Computer Science and Programming: A consistent favorite from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this introductory course is currently the most-visited course at the school’s website based on site traffic. It doesn’t hurt that the course is geared toward students with little or no programming experience. Through the provided materials, including lecture videos, handouts, code files, and slides, students can gain an understanding of the role computation plays in solving problems.

General Human Anatomy: This is for all you pre-med candidates, or anyone who wants a basic understanding of the human body. The biology course is the most-watched lecture offered among the University of California, Berkeley’s hundreds of webcasts, with more than 690,000 views. In it, professor Marian Diamond covers the functional anatomy of the human body through microscopic examination.

Simple Equations: Khan Academy has more than 3,000 education videos vying for your attention. After its topical primer on the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act, which has garnered more than 1.4 million views since being posted in January, the organization’s lecture on simple equations has gotten the most views on its YouTube page, with more than 1.2 million viewers learning about basic algebraic equations in the form of Ax=B. In 11 minutes, you too can learn what that means.

Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams: Since 2002, Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania has offered a wide range of free online courses through its Open Learning Initiative, and while you won’t find its most popular online lecture there, it’s still worth noting. On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch gave his last lecture at the university before a packed audience. The month before, Pausch, who had pancreatic cancer, was given a terminal diagnosis of three to six months of good health left. In this last, upbeat lecture, he talks about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals. The hour-long lecture has been viewed nearly 15 million times.