9 fascinating Columbia University courses you can take online for free, from machine learning to inclusive teaching

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  • Columbia University ranks as one of the best colleges in the world. But prestigious colleges are often harder to access due to tuition costs and academic requirements.
  • Luckily, you can take over 30 of Columbia’s online courses for free through edX, or earn certificates in subjects from Artificial Intelligence to Business Analytics for under $1,000.

As with many top colleges, you often need relatively deep pockets and stellar test scores to attend an Ivy League school like Columbia University. But, like most of the world’s top universities, Columbia also offers a handful of its courses online entirely for free.

You can audit over 30 of Columbia’s online courses at no cost on edX, a non-profit founded by Harvard and MIT to lower education barriers such as cost and location. Courses range in subjects from Civil War history and Buddhism to data analysis and public health.

You can also pay to earn a certificate in one of these courses, or sign up for multi-course programs designed for building deep knowledge or valuable skill sets — like machine learning. While Columbia’s professional programs cost between $99-$996 on edX, they provide students with certification they can add to their resume or LinkedIn — or, in some cases, even exchange for college credit at eligible universities.

9 of the most popular online Columbia University courses you can take for free:

Introduction to Corporate Finance

Length: 4 weeks

Cost: Free to audit; $225 for verified certificate

In this introductory course, which is required for all first-year MBA students at Columbia Business School, students learn the key financial concepts and rules that can be used for evaluating and valuing investment opportunities. This course is also part of a professional certificate program on Corporate Finance.

It’s recommended that students be familiar with basic accounting concepts and Microsoft Excel or an equivalent.

*Note: This course began on February 9, 2021, but enrollment is currently open.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Length: 12 weeks

Cost: Free to audit; $249 for verified certificate

Here’s where you learn the history and fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence (AI) — and how to apply both of them. Students learn how to build intelligent agents and machine learning algorithms as well as solve real AI problems through Python.

It’s recommended that students have a working knowledge of Python programming and probability as well as linear algebra and calculus. 

This course is part of a MicroMaster on Artificial Intelligence. Find an explainer on edX MicroMasters here.

*Note: This course began on January 31, 2021, but enrollment is currently open.

Machine Learning

Length: 12 weeks

Cost: Free to audit; $249 for verified certificate

Students learn the essentials of machine learning and the algorithms that strengthen data analysis without human intervention. The course’s main perspectives are probabilistic versus non-probabilistic modeling and supervised versus unsupervised learning.

It’s recommended that students have a working knowledge of calculus, linear algebra, statistical concepts, and coding, as well as a comfort with manipulating data. 

This course is part of a MicroMaster on Artificial Intelligence. Find an explainer on edX MicroMasters here.

*Note: This course began on January 31, 2021, but enrollment is currently open.

Marketing Analytics

Length: 12 weeks

Cost: Free to audit; $249 for verified certificate

Students learn how to develop quantitative models that leverage business data, statistical computation, and machine learning to forecast sales and support important marketing decisions. 

It’s recommended that students have an undergraduate familiarity with probability, statistics, and calculus, as well a familiarity with R or a similar programming language. 

This course is part of a MicroMaster on Business Analytics. Find an explainer on edX MicroMasters here.

*Note: This course began on January 31, 2021, but enrollment is currently open.

Fighting for Equality: 1950–2018

Length: 10 weeks 

Cost: Free to audit; $50 for verified certificate

Students examine the fight for women’s equality between 1950-2018, beginning with how the Cold War’s reinforcement of suburban family ideals impacted women’s trajectory and ending with grassroots activism such as the Me Too movement and the 2018 midterm election. 

This is the final part of a four-course XSeries, Women Have Always Worked. (XSeries are programs designed to impart deep knowledge on a popular topic.) 

*Note: This course began on February 9, 2021, but enrollment is currently open.

Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom

Length: 6 weeks

Cost: Free to audit; $49 for verified certificate

This introductory course guides educators through the principles of inclusive teaching — from instructors’ assumptions about students to designing for accessibility — and how they can apply them in the classroom. 

*Note: This course began on February 9, 2021, but enrollment is currently open.

Indigenous Peoples' Rights

Length: 10 weeks 

Cost: Free to audit; $50 for verified certificate

Students learn about the role Indigenous Peoples have reshaped international norms and institutions through their global movement and contributed to important global debates — including human rights, development, and climate change. Particular attention is paid to the right to self-determination; cultural rights; and the right to land, territories, and resources. 

The course instructors are political science professor Andrew J. Nathan and Elsa Stamatopoulou, director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program (ISHR) who joined Columbia after 30+ years at the United Nations. 

*Note: This course began on February 9, 2021, but enrollment is currently open.

Data, Models and Decisions in Business Analytics

Length: 12 weeks

Cost: Free to audit; $249 for verified certificate

Students learn the fundamentals of using data-driven models and analysis to make practical business decisions — especially in times of uncertainty — through practical business examples.

Topics include probability; statistics; regression; stochastic modeling; and linear, nonlinear, and discrete optimization. 

Students should have an undergraduate familiarity with probability, statistics, and linear algebra — as well as a working knowledge of Python and basic programming concepts in a procedural programming language. 

This course is part of a Business Analytics MicroMasters program. Find an explainer on edX MicroMasters here.

*Note: This course began on January 31, 2021, but enrollment is currently open.

Animation and CGI Motion

Length: 12 weeks

Cost: Free to audit; $249 for verified certificate

The Director of Columbia’s Computer Graphics Group teaches you the science behind movie animation through seven themes: mass-spring systems, collision handling, rigid bodies, elastica, fluids, and a final project. 

It’s recommended that students have programming knowledge in C or C++ as well as in multivariable calculus (partial derivatives) and linear algebra. 

This course is part of an Artificial Intelligence MicroMasters. Find an explainer on edX MicroMasters here.

*Note: This course began on January 31, 2021, but enrollment is currently open.

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