100 Open Courses to Learn About the World Without Going Anywhere

Posted December 8, 2009

Our nomadic ancestors left quite a legacy, including an instinct to explore the world. But in today’s world, plane tickets, hotels, transportation and even food come with a hefty pricetag. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about the world as if you were visiting every corner of it. These open courses come from some of the best universities in the world, and they are designed to teach students and passionate learners about near and distant lands. From the geologic history to popular culture, find out everything you need to know about your dream destination, without spending a single penny!

Latin America

Latin America is a vast land that crosses oceans as well as invisible barriers. With Brazilian Portuguese in the mix, Latin and South doesn’t even share a completely uniform language. If your dreams are of visiting Costa Rica, Peru, or Panama, look no further than these amazing open courses.

  1. Introduction to Latin American Studies: This course uses films, literature, and research to introduce students to Latin American history, economy, and culture. [MIT]
  2. Latin America as a Living Museum: Check out this lecture to see how Latin America’s rich culture reflects its history. [MIT]
  3. Development and Underdevelopment in Latin America: Here’s another great MIT lecture regarding the under-development and potential development in Latin America. [MIT]
  4. The Breakdown of Chilean Democracy: Chile’s government is discussed at length in this course, and this lecture focuses on the 1973 political events that changed the country’s course. [MIT]
  5. Day of the Dead and Religion in Latin America: You probably already know how important religion is to Latin Americans; find out exactly how faith and the Church have shaped Latino culture. [MIT]
  6. The Rule of Law in Latin America: "Guilty Until Proven Rich:" Learn more about the underdeveloped views of justice and freedom in Latin America. [MIT]
  7. The Resolution of Brazilian Land Disputes: Learn the problems, causes, and potential resolutions of territorialism in Brazil. [MIT]
  8. U. S. Foreign Policy in Latin America: This PDF file discusses the history of U.S. relations with Latin America, from 1898 to the present. [MIT]
  9. Argentina: Read this overview of Argentinian history, from 1900 to the present. [MIT]
  10. Political Economy of Latin America: This course teaches both historical and current political reform in all of Latin America. [MIT]
  11. Introduction to Contemporary Hispanic Literature: This course will give you a comprehensive overview of Spanish and Hispanic American literature. [MIT]
  12. Advanced Spanish Conversation and Composition: Perspectives on Technology and Culture: This course is in Spanish and is designed for students who have a thorough understanding of the language and would like to learn more about the land. [MIT]
  13. Oral Communication in Spanish: Here’s an intermediate course on the Spanish language for those who know basic grammar and would like to transition into conversationalism. [MIT]
  14. Modern Latin America: 1808-Present: Revolution, Dictatorship, Democracy: Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of information this class seems to contain; it’s broken down into bite-size pieces today’s traveler can appreciate. [MIT]
  15. Independence and Change in 19th Century Latin America: See how the word "reform" works within the Latin American climate. [MIT]
  16. Democratization in Asia, Africa, and Latin America: If you’re mostly interested in Hispanic culture, go ahead and skip to the section on Latin America. [MIT]
  17. Indigenous Peoples: Images and Ideology: The indigenous tribes of Latin America comprise a clear minority of citizenry, but they are very much an important part of Hispanic lands. [MIT]
  18. Civil War: Although this course is not specifically geared toward Latin American war, students will see the significance of the ongoing civil wars of Colombia. [MIT]
  19. War on Drugs: This also was not created exclusively to discuss Colombian economy and culture, but the country’s involvement in the international drug trade put it high on the list of topic countries. [MIT]
  20. History and Culture of Ecuador: Ecuador has been rich in history from 1808 to present day, but this small country often goes unnoticed. Find out about this quiet country. [MIT]


If Europe hosts your fantasy vacation, follow these links to your ultimate learning experience.

  1. Political Economy of Western Europe: This thorough course highlights the political history of Western Europe, especially times marked by war and post-war growth. [MIT]
  2. The Emergence of Europe: This course examines the social, political, and cultural environments between 500 and 1350 that led to the creation of Europe. [MIT]
  3. The Age of Reason: Europe in the 18th and 19th Centuries: Discover the magic of the Renaissance and its impact on European history. [MIT]
  4. The Making of Russia in the Worlds of Byzantium, Mongolia, and Europe: Take a deep look at the developments and influences that shaped the face of modern Russia. [MIT]
  5. European Imperialism in the 19th and 20th Centuries: This course surveys the "Age of Imperialism" that took place throughout Europe from the 1840s to the 1960s. [MIT]
  6. Plotting Terror in European Culture: Explore the culture of radicalism that has led to some of the most haunting terror attacks in Europe. [MIT]
  7. European Thought and Culture: It may seem like a vast, unconquerable subject, but anyone who desires an extensive knowledge of Europe should take this free course. [MIT]
  8. Nazi Germany and the Holocaust: By far one of the darkest periods of time in both European and world history, the Holocaust is a topic that deserves careful attention and deep study. [MIT]
  9. Topics in the Avant-Garde in Literature and Cinema: Research the role of the avant-garde and Kulturindustrie in French and Germany during the early 1900s. [MIT]
  10. The Economic History of Work and Family: From pre-industrial times to the rise of industrialism, this course explores gender and familial roles throughout economic history. [MIT]
  11. Major European Novels: Get your fill of reading with this course that covers the biggest and best European literature. [MIT]
  12. Germany and its European Context: This informative class focuses on contemporary Germanic culture within the European setting. [MIT]
  13. Classical Literature: The Golden Age of Augustan Rome: Here’s another dose of literature for students interested in Caesar, Virgil and Horace. [MIT]
  14. The New Spain: 1977-Present: Because of its separation from the rest of Latin America, this country finds itself in our Europe category; learn how its geographic context influences its people, culture and economy. [MIT]
  15. France 1660-1815: Enlightenment, Revolution, Napoleon: Whether it’s the language, the food or the history, France claims a piece of every student’s heart. This course outlines the history of the beloved nation from the late 17th to the early 19th century. [MIT]
  16. Magic, Witchcraft, and the Spirit World: Medieval and early modern Europe had a lot to do with the creation of this intriguing topic. Find out how the occult made its way through history and what place it possesses now. [MIT]
  17. Foundations of Western Culture II: Modernism: Learn how war, industrialism, and other pheomena created the current Western design. [MIT]
  18. The Ancient World: Greece: In this course, the hopeful traveler can explore Ancient Greece from the Bronze Age to the death of Alexander the Great. [MIT]
  19. Arthurian Literature and Celtic Colonization: Before open courseware was established, few people knew about the close, historical and ongoing relationship between the Catholic Church and King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. Don’t be left in the dark. Start this course today! [MIT]
  20. Religious Architecture and Islamic Cultures: Professor Nasser Rabbat surveys many lands for signs of Islamic culture and architecture. [MIT]


Asian countries possess some of the most fascinating pieces and events in world history. Learn about the culture, the economy, and the populations of Asia, from Vietnam to Japan.

  1. East Asia in the World: Examine the different ties between East Asia and the world, as well as the relationships between each Asian country and the other. [MIT]
  2. Cultural Performances of Asia: See how both traditional and contemporary artistic expressions impact modern Asia. [MIT]
  3. International Relations of East Asia: Hear expert lectures about the four great powers of East Asia and their conflicts and compromises with the rest of the world. [MIT]
  4. East Asian Cultures: From Zen to Pop: Like Latin America and Europe, the idea of a unified Asia is simply impossible. The course description promises that it will dive into the "literature, art, performance, cuisine to contemporary pop culture" of East Asian nations. [MIT]
  5. Women in South Asia from 1800 to Present: Whether you want to learn about or visit India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, men and women alike should know and understand the role and treatment of women within South Asian culture. [MIT]
  6. Japan and East Asian Security: Anyone interested in international politics, national security, or the economic climate of Japan should look into this great course. [MIT]
  7. Japan in the Age of the Samurai: The 12th to 19th centuries marked the great age of the powerful samurai. [MIT]
  8. Topics in South Asian Literature and Culture : Professor Arundhati Banerjee gives a comprehensive overview of South Asian texts and cultural works. [MIT]
  9. Introduction to Asian American Studies: Literature, Culture, and Historical Experience: Discover the literature, anthropology, history and film that define Asian America today. [MIT]
  10. Race and Gender in Asian America: Survey gender and race issues Asian Americans face, specifically in the United States. [MIT]
  11. From the Silk Road to the Great Game: China, Russia, and Central Eurasia: Have you ever wondered exactly what countries and cultures comprise Eurasia? This course will teach you that, as well as the relationship between the various countries that impact international affairs. [MIT]
  12. A Passage to India: Introduction to Modern Indian Culture and Society: Vast, populous, heirarchical, and religious, India is thought of by many to be one of the most complex and controversial countries on the planet. [MIT]
  13. Godzilla and the Bullet Train: Technology and Culture in Modern Japan: Dr. Takashi Nishiyama teaches an astounding course you’ll never forget that explores and explains the Japan we all want to know. [MIT]
  14. Smashing the Iron Rice Bowl: Chinese East Asia: Get to know and understand the Chinese laborers of the 1800s and 1900s. [MIT]
  15. Chinese I: Although it’s considered to be one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, don’t be discouraged to follow your dream. This MIT course isn’t designed to get you fluent, just comfortable. [MIT]
  16. Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Planning in Developing Countries: As large as Asia is, it has its share of both developed and severely underdeveloped countries, and this course will explain the current sanitization difficulties such countries face. [MIT]
  17. Politics and Policy in Contemporary Japan: Home to some of the most populous cities in the world, Japan is sure to have some intriguing government and cultural politics. Find out what they are by enrolling in this great online course today. [MIT]
  18. Japanese Literature and Cinema: Check out the literary works and film that highlight both the history and current state of Japan. [MIT]
  19. Japanese Popular Culture: From anime to manga, Japan houses creative geniuses and some of the most trendy pop culture in the world. [MIT]
  20. Political Economy of Chinese Reform: See the transition of Chinese economic strategies as the government and the people watch current refom and legislation as it is implemented into society. [MIT]

Africa and the Middle East

Although Africa and the Middle east are two territories marked by poverty, hunger, and civil war, they still contain some of the most beautiful geography and landscape. Whether your heritage resides in one of these lands, or you’d just like to know more about world history, dive into these free classes for all the information you can handle.

  1. Medicine, Religion and Politics in Africa and the African Diaspora: This course will analyze the place of the Western world and Western medicine in Africa. [MIT]
  2. AIDS and Poverty in Africa: Because poverty and AIDS go hand in hand, Africa is one of the poorest and hungriest contients in the world. [MIT]
  3. Information and Communication Technology in Africa: Learn about the development of technology and communication possibilities in Africa that could potentially empower citizens. [MIT]
  4. Creole Languages and Caribbean Identities: The Creole dialects of the Caribbean were brought about by the European colonization and slave trade in Africa; find out both how and why it happened and what these different languages mean historically. [MIT]
  5. Islam, the Middle East, and the West: This course will teach how the rise of Islam in Southwest Asia and North Africa took place and how the the interaction affects the lands today. [MIT]
  6. Anthropology of the Middle East: The documentary featured in this course will reveal the truth about the Middle East and the Orient, and dispel some of the myths the West has created about the regions. [MIT]
  7. The Geologic History of Africa: Guest lecturer William Otis Crosby will explain the geologic and anthropologic creation of Africa. [MIT]
  8. Islamic Societies of the Middle East and North Africa: Religion, History and Culture: This class will provide vast information regarding the role of Islam in the cultural erection of the Middle East and North Africa. [Notre Dame]
  9. Environmental Struggles: This course covers global world problems, including the widespread poverty and disease found in Africa. [MIT]
  10. Designing and Sustaining Technology Innovation for Global Health Practice: Non-profit organization spokespersons will drive this course as they explain what their foundations are doing in various corners of the world to promote sustainable living practices. [MIT]
  11. The Architecture of Cairo: MIT professor Nasser Rabbat calls Cairo the "quintessential Islamic city." Find out why by enrolling in his course. [MIT]
  12. Legal Aspects of Property and Land Use: Much of Africa’s history has been dominated by land control of foreign entities. This course will take a look at the legal issues of such land use and exploitation. [MIT]
  13. Hip Hop: This class will examine the foundations of hip-hop music and cultural and explore its cultural roots in Africa. [MIT]
  14. Gender, Power, and International Development: Follow this link to hear scholarly theories about worldwide inequality, a travesty rural Africans know too much about. [MIT]


Because of Australia’s relatively recent colonization, there aren’t as many resources available to would-be travelers. Here are six open courses for people who love the Outback.

  1. [Australian] Communication, Technology and Policy: Learn about the digitization and communication developments of Australia. [USQ]
  2. Technology and Society: This course surveys the advancement of technology and engineering in the Land Down Under. [USQ]
  3. Exploring Teaching and Learning: The University of Queensland in Australia brings you a great course about the continent’s higher education system. [USQ]
  4. Introduction to Tourism: See how foreign visitors affect the Australian economy, its market and its future. [USQ]
  5. CSU Guide to Australia: This open material is designed for students planning to study abroad in Australia, but anyone who’d like to learn more about the country will relish in these facts and photos. [CSU]
  6. Australian Wildlife: It’s no secret that Australia is rich in wildlife, but cameras from the Melbourne Wildlife Sanctuary stream a first-row view of the secret lives of these beloved creatures. [Gould]

North America

These links encompass all of North America, from the mouth of Suchiate River (Mexico’s southernmost point) to the tip of Canada’s Ellesmere Island (its northernmost location). If it’s North America you’d love to learn, here are your resources.

  1. American History to 1865: This course provides on the history of American economic, social, and political changes from the colonial period through the Civil War. [MIT]
  2. The Emergence of Modern America 1865-Present: Follow up with your first U.S. History course with this one, which discusses the politics and economics of America from 1865 to today. [MIT]
  3. Riots, Strikes, and Conspiracies in American History: Learn about the political events that lead to resistance among citizens as well as the movements themselves. [MIT]
  4. U.S. Social Policy: This course explains the contemporary politics of the United States of America. [MIT]
  5. American Political Thought: This course examines American political motivation and movement from the country’s birth to the present. [MIT]
  6. The American Revolution: You don’t have to travel to Philidephia to learn about the biggest event in colonial history; find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about The American Revolution. [MIT]
  7. The Civil War and Reconstruction: This course covers the causes of the civil war, battle techniques of both sides, as well as reasons for the North’s big win. [MIT]
  8. American Consumer Culture: The topic of this course is The American Dream, and how it has developed over time. [MIT]
  9. American Urban History I: If you’re visiting a large U.S. metropolis, you might be interested to find out how the country’s cities were first formed and the economy that thrives within them today. [MIT]
  10. The Places of Migration in United States History: This course looks at the melting-pot society of U.S. America and deals heavily with U.S.-Mexico border relations. [MIT]
  11. Abating the Mobility and Air Quality Crisis in Mexico City: Mexico City is a great cultural and historical destination for Latin America lovers, but travelers should be prepared for high amounts of pollution. After all, it is the third largest city in the world! [MIT]
  12. Political Transition in Mexico: Both the political history and the current governmental system are very important to Mexico and its citizens. Be informed before you go, so you can understand some of the movements and protests you might see. [MIT]
  13. Planning Mexico City: Pushing the Limits: Unlike other cities of the world, you might notice the lack of infrastructure within Mexico City limits. Find out why, and get a tip or two for navigating with this helpful lecture. [MIT]
  14. The World Since 1492: The Iberian Conquest of Mexico: In your travels to Mexico, you’ll see Aztec landmarks and historical markers everywhere you turn. Let this course teach you about the conquest and its influence on current Mexican culture. [MIT]
  15. Index to the Art and Architecture of Mexico: Access 23 of the architectural wonders of Mexico, from Chiapas to the Yucatan and several places in between. [Bluffton]
  16. The Canadian Healthcare System: Find out how Canada put socialized healthcare into place and the pros and cons of the system. This will be especially important for travelers who plan on an extended stay in a Canadian province. [MIT]
  17. National Canadian Transportation Policy: This MIT assignment teaches about the Canadian government’s role in public and private transporation. [MIT]
  18. The Interconnection of Energy Policy in the Western Hemisphere: This PDF offers the history, current trends, and future of oil and energy relations between the United States, Candada and Mexico. [MIT]
  19. Canada: A Nation of Regions: Discover the economy, culture, and urbanization of Canada. [Capilano]
  20. Canadian Art and Technology: This Canadian course discusses the history of and current movements in Canadian art and technological advances. [Capilano]

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