When I launched Class Central back in November 2011, there were around 18 or so free online courses, and almost all of them were from Stanford.

Now there are close to 6,000 free online university courses from 600+ universities around the world. This can be daunting to the millions of learners around the world who have never done an online course before.

In providing a small but well-reviewed list of courses, our hope is that new learners will not be overwhelmed by the huge variety of options out there. Reviews will help new learners figure out if a course is right for them, so they can have a great first experience.

Our methodology for creating this list

Class Central has thousands of reviews written by our users, and we were able to sort these courses by the Bayesian average of their ratings.

Then we removed all the courses with less than ten reviews (the low threshold helps smaller providers to compete on quality) and courses for which we had doubts whether they would be offered again.

If a course has multiple parts, we only included the first part in the Top 50.

The best courses

There are a lot of usual suspects in the Top 50. Think of courses like Learning How To Learn, Harvard’s CS50x, ModPo, and Class Central’s best online course of 2015A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment. Courses from the founders/CEOs of edX, Coursera, and Udacity are also present.

But there are also a few surprises in the Top 50, such as a couple of language learning courses — FutureLearn’s Introduction to Dutch from the University of Groningen and Tsinghua Chinese: Start Talking with 1.3 Billion People on edX, for example.

Here is a quick summary of the Top 50 list:

  1. Coursera is the top provider with 26 courses in the Top 50, and edX is second with 10 courses.
  2. Stanford tops the list of universities present in the Top 50 with five of their courses making it in, and MIT comes in second with three courses.
  3. This list includes courses from 34 universities, of which 21 universities are in the US.
  4. UIUC’s Aric Rindfleisch has two courses in the top 50.

If you want to see all courses sorted by their rating, visit the Top 50 collection page. Alternatively, we have organized the courses into four major categories below.

Technology (20 courses)

An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python (Part 1)
Rice University, via Coursera
This course is designed to help students with very little or no computing background learn the basics of building simple interactive applications.
★★★★★ (2813 ratings)

Artificial Intelligence for Robotics
Stanford University, via Udacity
Learn how to program all the major systems of a robotic car from the leader of Google and Stanford’s autonomous driving teams. This class will teach you basic methods in Artificial Intelligence, including: probabilistic inference, planning and search, localization, tracking and control, all with a focus on robotics.
★★★★★ (17 ratings)

Introduction to Programming with MATLAB
Vanderbilt University, via Coursera
This course teaches computer programming to those with little to no previous experience. It uses the programming system and language called MATLAB to do so because it is easy to learn, versatile and very useful for engineers and other professionals.
★★★★★ (120 ratings)

Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python)
University of Michigan, via Coursera
This course aims to teach everyone the basics of programming computers using Python. We cover the basics of how one constructs a program from a series of simple instructions in Python. The course has no pre-requisites and avoids all but the simplest mathematics.
★★★★★ (29 ratings)

Machine Learning
Stanford University, via Coursera
This course provides a broad introduction to machine learning, datamining, and statistical pattern recognition.
★★★★★ (196 ratings)

Functional Programming Principles in Scala
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, via Coursera
In this course you will discover the elements of the functional programming style and learn how to apply them usefully in your daily programming tasks.
★★★★★ (38 ratings)

Algorithms: Design and Analysis, Part 1
Stanford University, via Coursera
Algorithms are the heart of computer science, and the subject has countless practical applications as well as intellectual depth. This course is an introduction to algorithms for learners with at least a little programming experience.
★★★★★ (49 ratings)

Algorithms, Part I
Princeton University, via Coursera
This course covers the essential information that every serious programmer needs to know about algorithms and data structures, with emphasis on applications and scientific performance analysis of Java implementations.
★★★★☆ (37 ratings)

The Analytics Edge
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via edX
Through inspiring examples and stories, discover the power of data and use analytics to provide an edge to your career and your life.
★★★★★ (55 ratings)

Artificial Intelligence
University of California, Berkeley, via edX
The course will introduce the basic ideas and techniques underlying the design of intelligent computer systems.
★★★★★ (26 ratings)

Data Mining with Weka
University of Waikato, via Independent
Everybody talks about Data Mining and Big Data nowadays. Weka is a powerful, yet easy to use tool for machine learning and data mining. This course introduces you to practical data mining.
★★★★★ (13 ratings)

CS50x: Introduction to Computer Science
Harvard University, via edX
This is CS50x, Harvard University’s introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming for majors and non-majors alike, with or without prior programming experience.
★★★★★ (49 ratings)

Learning From Data (Introductory Machine Learning)
California Institute of Technology, via edX
This introductory computer science course in machine learning will cover basic theory, algorithms, and applications. Machine learning is a key technology in Big Data, and in many financial, medical, commercial, and scientific applications.
★★★★☆ (15 ratings)

Intro to Computer Science
University of Virginia, via Udacity
In this introduction to computer programming course, you’ll learn and practice key computer science concepts by building your own versions of popular web applications.
★★★★★ (59 ratings)

Cryptography I
Stanford University, via Coursera
In this course you will learn the inner workings of cryptographic systems and how to correctly use them in real-world applications.
★★★★★ (37 ratings)

Algorithms for DNA Sequencing
Johns Hopkins University, via Coursera
Learn computational methods — algorithms and data structures — for analyzing DNA sequencing data. All learn a little about DNA, genomics, and how DNA sequencing is used.
★★★★★ (16 ratings)

Introduction to Big Data with Apache Spark
University of California, Berkeley, via edX
This course will attempt to articulate the expected output of Data Scientists and then teach students how to use PySpark (part of Apache Spark) to deliver against these expectations.
★★★★☆ (39 ratings)

Finding Hidden Messages in DNA (Bioinformatics I)
University of California, San Diego, via Coursera
This course begins a series of classes illustrating the power of computing in modern biology. Be on the frontier of bioinformatics to look for hidden messages in DNA without ever needing to put on a lab coat.
★★★★★ (15 ratings)

Learn to Program: The Fundamentals
University of Toronto, via Coursera
Behind every mouse click and touch-screen tap, there is a computer program that makes things happen. This course introduces the fundamental building blocks of programming and teaches you how to write fun and useful programs using the Python language.
★★★★★ (81 ratings)

Coding in your Classroom, Now!
University of Urbino, via EMMA
Questo corso è ambizioso e semplicissimo. Ha l’obiettivo di aiutarti ad introdurre il pensiero computazionale in classe attraverso il coding, usando solo attività intuitive e divertenti da proporre direttamente agli alunni.
★★★★★ (11 ratings)

Business (5 courses)

Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects
University of California, San Diego, via Coursera
This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. We’ll learn about the how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information.
★★★★★ (586 ratings)

Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World
University of Groningen, via FutureLearn
This course will teach you the first principles of complexity, uncertainty and how to make decisions in a complex world.
★★★★★ (14 ratings)

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, via Coursera
¿Quieres conocer tus recursos y niveles de desempeño relacionadas con tu proceso de aprender? ¿Te interesa desarrollar habilidades para aprender más y mejor?
★★★★★ (18 ratings)

Marketing in a Digital World
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, via Coursera
This course examines how digital tools, such as the Internet, smartphones, and 3D printing, are revolutionizing the world of marketing by shifting the balance of power from firms to consumers.
★★★★★ (141 ratings)

Preparing to Manage Human Resources
University of Minnesota, via Coursera
This course provides a foundation for developing your own approach to skillfully managing employees by illustrating alternative human resource management (HRM) strategies, introducing the importance of the legal context, and thinking about what motivates employees.
★★★★★ (20 ratings)

Sciences (13 courses)

The Science of the Solar System
California Institute of Technology, via Coursera
Learn about the science behind the current exploration of the solar system. Use principles from physics, chemistry, biology, and geology to understand the latest from Mars, comprehend the outer solar system, ponder planets outside our solar system, and search for habitability in our neighborhood and beyond.
★★★★★ (34 ratings)

Introduction to Mathematical Thinking
Stanford University, via Coursera
Learn how to think the way mathematicians do — a powerful cognitive process developed over thousands of years.
★★★★☆ (25 ratings)

Introduction to Complexity
Santa Fe Institute, via Complexity Explorer
Learn about the tools used by scientists to understand complex systems. The topics you’ll learn about include dynamics, chaos, fractals, information theory, self-organization, agent-based modeling, and networks.
★★★★★ (22 ratings)

Medical Neuroscience
Duke University, via Coursera
This online course is designed to include all of the core concepts in neurophysiology and clinical neuroanatomy that would be presented in most first-year neuroscience courses in schools of medicine.
★★★★★ (14 ratings)

Introduction to Biology — The Secret of Life
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via edX
Explore the secret of life through the basics of biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, recombinant DNA, genomics and rational medicine.
★★★★★ (14 ratings)

The Science of Everyday Thinking
University of Queensland, via edX
Learn how to think better, argue better, and choose better.
★★★★★ (22 ratings)

The 3D Printing Revolution
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, via Coursera
This course will demonstrate how 3D printers work, show what people make with them, and examine the 3D printing ecosystem.
★★★★★ (13 ratings)

Circuits and Electronics 1: Basic Circuit Analysis
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via edX
Learn techniques that are foundational to the design of microchips used in smartphones, computers, and the Internet.
★★★★★ (5 ratings)

Understanding Dementia
University of Tasmania
This is a course about dementia looking at a broad range of topics including, basic brain anatomy, pathology, dementia research, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, medical management, living with dementia, progression and staging, palliation, behaviors and therapeutic approaches.
★★★★★ (12 ratings)

Medicine and the Arts: Humanising Healthcare
University of Cape Town, via FutureLearn
Explore the field of medical humanities — the intersection of the arts, humanities and healthcare.
★★★★★ (13 ratings)

Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance
Monash University, via FutureLearn
Learn mindfulness techniques to reduce stress and improve your wellbeing and work/study performance.
★★★★☆ (23 ratings)

Calculus One
Ohio State University, via Coursera
This course is a first and friendly introduction to calculus, suitable for someone who has never seen the subject before, or for someone who has seen some calculus but wants to review the concepts and practice applying those concepts to solve problems.
★★★★★ (33 ratings)

Fractals and Scaling
Santa Fe Institute, via Complexity Explorer
We will begin by viewing fractals as self-similar geometric objects such as trees, ferns, clouds, mountain ranges, and river basins. Fractals are scale-free, in the sense that there is not a typical length or time scale that captures their features.
★★★★★ (15 ratings)

Humanities (12 courses)

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (“ModPo”)
University of Pennsylvania, via Coursera
ModPo is a fast-paced introduction to modern and contemporary U.S. poetry, with an emphasis on experimental verse, from Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman to the present. Participants (who need no prior experience with poetry) will learn how to read poems that are supposedly “difficult.”
★★★★★ (126 ratings)

A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment
Indian School of Business, via Coursera
This course, based on the award-winning class offered both at the Indian School of Business and at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, developed by Prof. Raj Raghunathan (aka “Dr. Happy-smarts”) draws content from a variety of fields, including psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral decision theory to offer a tested and practical recipe for leading a life of happiness and fulfillment.
★★★★★ (221 ratings)

The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future
Emory University, via Coursera
Working through colorful biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts, and drawing on an array of comparative examples, the course illustrates the thoroughgoing manner with which biblical authors responded to defeat by advancing a demotic agenda that places the community at the center.
★★★★★ (29 ratings)

The Great Poem Series: Unbinding Prometheus
via OpenLearning
Over 8 weeks, students will encounter and discuss one long poem, Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound.
★★★★★ (18 ratings)

Tsinghua Chinese: Start Talking with 1.3 Billion People
Tsinghua University, via edX
This introductory Chinese language course will emphasize basic language skills for everyday life in Mandarin speaking countries.
★★★★★ (13 ratings)

Moralities of Everyday Life
Yale University, via Coursera
How can we explain kindness and cruelty? Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? Why do people so often disagree about moral issues? This course explores the psychological foundations of our moral lives.
★★★★★ (19 ratings)

The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 1)
Wesleyan University, via Coursera
This course examines how the idea of “the modern” develops at the end of the 18th century in European philosophy and literature, and how being modern (or progressive, or hip) became one of the crucial criteria for understanding and evaluating cultural change.
★★★★★ (17 ratings)

Shakespeare and his World
The University of Warwick, via FutureLearn
The course will open with an introduction to Shakespeare and his living and working environment, moving onto broader cultural themes and issues examined in his plays and ending with an exploration of his legacy.
★★★★★ (12 ratings)

Introduction to Dutch
University of Groningen, via FutureLearn
Are you planning to visit, or work or study in the Netherlands soon? This free online course is perfect if you have little or no prior knowledge of Dutch, but would like to master the fundamentals in order to survive life in the Low Countries.
★★★★★ (19 ratings)

What Is a Mind?
University of Cape Town, via FutureLearn
This free online course will bring together learners and practitioners interested in how the mind works. It aims to build bridges between traditionally antagonistic approaches to understanding the mind.
★★★★★ (65 ratings)

Harvard University, via edX
Justice, one of the most famous courses taught at Harvard College, is an introduction to moral and political philosophy, offering an opportunity to discuss contemporary dilemmas and controversies.
★★★★★ (23 ratings)

Model Thinking
University of Michigan, via Coursera
We live in a complex world with diverse people, firms, and governments whose behaviors aggregate to produce novel, unexpected phenomena. We see political uprisings, market crashes, and a never ending array of social trends. How do we make sense of it? Models.
★★★★★ (46 ratings)

Note: A few of the Coursera courses in the list have a paywall for graded assignments. You can read more about it here.

If you enjoyed reading this, check out some of Class Central’s other pieces:

P.S. If you want to see how Class Central looked in November 2011, you can see it here on the Internet Archive.

Dhawal Shah is the founder and CEO of Class Central - class-central.com/@dhawal.