11 Celebrity Professors You Can Take a Free Online Course From


What does the future of education look like? Some believe that instead of famed institutions, we’ll see more attention paid to the fame of individual professors. Thanks to online education, students from around the world, massing in the thousands, can take classes from a singular professor, giving rise to a new era of rock star professors. Just who are these celebrity profs? Read on to find out, and to discover which courses you can take from them right now.

  1. Walter Lewin:

    MIT professor Walter Lewin is famous for his spirited physics lectures, and he is a gem of the free online learning world. Lewin’s lectures have reached more than 4 million people, and he’s dedicated to helping his viewers, personally responding to hundreds of email requests each year. You can enjoy Lewin’s engaging lecture style through MIT OpenCourseWare in courses including Classical Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism.

  2. Sebastian Thrun/Peter Norvig:

    Google fellow and Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, along with Google research director Peter Norvig have teamed up to bring students around the world an exceptional education in artificial intelligence. Offering a free course online, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, these two attracted more than 160,000 students. This course was incredibly popular, not just because of its content, but because of the celebrity status of Thrun and Norvig. Since the completion of this course, Thrun has gone on to co-found Udacity, a great resource for a free university-level education online.

  3. David Evans:

    Another professor teaming up with Sebastian Thrun, David Evans is the VP of education for Udacity. Evans is a prominent computer scientist and enjoys a celebrity status in the online education world, thanks to his Udacity course CS 101: Building a Search Engine that features Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

  4. Brian Caffo:

    A public health professor at Johns Hopkins University, Brian Caffo offers an online “mathematical biostatistics boot camp” that has become wildly popular. Although he’s not drawing in Thrun/Norvig numbers of 160,000+, his 15,000 students are still quite impressive. Caffo’s engaging and popular course has helped him to become an academic celebrity online, and he’s just one of many in public health, health care, nursing, and similar fields who offer courses on Coursera.

  5. Khan Academy:

    No discussion on free online education is complete without a mention of professor Salman Khan. The founder of Khan Academy is well known for his contributions to online education. Khan Academy features more than 200 million lessons, many of which have been created by Khan himself. Khan has attracted quite a following with 400,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, and a spot on Time‘s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

  6. Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok:

    Professors Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok already have one of the world’s most popular economics blogs, Marginal Revolution, drawing more than 200,000 visitors each day. But they’ve taken things a step further, creating an online education platform for readers and students to learn from: Marginal Revolution University. In partnership with George Mason University, where both professors teach, they’re able to deliver a Development Economics course discussing the economic growth of developing nations.

  7. Howard Rheingold:

    Another professor with a huge online following, Howard Rheingold is noted as a critic, writer and teacher in modern communication media. Through Rheingold U, students can learn about the professor’s take on modern communication media. Although not all courses from Rheingold U are free, mini-courses including Infotention and Network Literacy are available at no charge.

  8. Stephen Hawking:

    Noted cosmologist, professor and author Stephen Hawking is well known in academia and beyond. Although there are no complete Hawking courses available online to our knowledge, there exists a wealth of lectures to choose from. Find lecture series collections on Hawking’s site, or in this collection of the greatest Hawking videos.

  9. David Malan:

    David Malan has already been pointed out by Harvard as a “faculty hot shot,” these days, he’s famous for a different reason: his CS50x course on edX. Malan’s lectures are broadcast to more than 100,000 people around the world, and he’s been launched into the level of superstar online professor as students worldwide thank him for offering the course.

  10. Aswath Damodaran:

    Professor Aswath Damodaran has been a popular draw at NYU-Stern. But an MBA from NYU-Stern featuring Damodaran’s courses costs over $100K. Perhaps that’s why Damodaran’s Coursekit sessions have been so popular: students know a good deal when they see it. The NYU professor’s Corporate Finance and Valuation have attracted students in the thousands.

  11. Michael Sandel:

    Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s course, Justice, has been one of the most highly attended in the school’s history, with more than 15,000 students taking the course on campus over two decades. The university has capitalized on this course’s popularity, offering recordings through the Harvard Extension School, as a 12-episode TV series, book, and small 30-minute segments on BBC. Additionally, the course is now available through its very own website, JusticeHarvard.com, which shares episodes, news, and resources relating to the course.

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