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Free and Low-Cost Online Courses to Help You Build a Better Future

From economics to the environment, these classes are the perfect starting point for your social justice education.

by Jill Silos

They say that knowledge is power — but it's also true that for most of human history, it was often the powerful who had access to knowledge.

Today, however, hundreds of free and low-cost online courses are available to anyone with an interest in social justice.

In other words, you can now build your own store of knowledge for speaking truth to power.

The list below includes a selection of courses organized by subject that should be useful for students and new activists. Some courses offer certificates or can be used toward degree completion for an extra fee.

This list isn't comprehensive, nor is it an endorsement of any specific instructor, institution or school of thought. It's merely a starting point for anyone with internet access who wants to learn more about social justice and how to work toward a better future.


America's Poverty and Inequality is a good place to start learning about the links between social inequality and the lack of economic stability and opportunity. edX also offers more than 300 economics courses. (Stanford University through edX)

The Economics of Education and The Challenge of World Poverty both examine the intersection of economics and opportunity — or lack thereof. (MIT OpenCourseWare)

Macroeconomics for a Sustainable Planet provides a solid introduction to the relationship between economics and the environment. (SDG Academy through edX)

Effective Altruism may interest those who want to bring their activism to bear on all aspects of their personal lives. (Princeton University through Coursera)

Moral Markets examines "free markets, ethics and well-being," and includes TED Talks and courses on Marxist economics, capitalism, banking, business ethics and more.

Open Culture covers the basics of economics, including opportunities to learn about contemporary economic thinkers.

Sustainable Development: The Post-Capitalist Order examines the links between sustainability and prosperity. (SDG Academy through edX)

History, politics and law

General Government courses cover just about anything related to politics and government. (Harvard University through edX)

Riots, Rebellions, Revolutions explores past movements for change that can provide important lessons for success. (MIT OpenCourseWare)

Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law is a problem-based global examination of global approaches to ending discrimination. (Stanford University through edX)

Fighting for Equality: 1950-2018 provides an overview of the history of women's fight for equality in the United States. (Columbia University through edX)

Introduction to Human Rights Law and Human Rights: The Rights of Refugees explore the global movement to protect refugees from political violence and discrimination.(Université Catholique de Louvain and Amnesty International through edX)

Hundreds of free and low-cost online courses are available to anyone with an interest in social justice.  |  Credit: Adobe

Belonging/Appartenir: Community, Race and Space examines housing patterns, neighborhood dynamics and the processes of exclusion and belonging. (Davidson University through edX)

Race, Ethnicity, and American Politics examines how racial and ethnic identities play a role in American politics. (MIT OpenCourseWare)

Defending Dignity: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights explores what human rights are and how to defend them. (Amnesty International through FutureLearn)

Revolutionary Ideas: Utility, Justice, Equality, Freedom explores the philosophical underpinnings of modern politics. (Rutgers University through Coursera)

Police Brutality in America Teach-Out explores the history of police brutality and the ways communities have addressed it. (University of Michigan through Coursera)

Identity politics: Gender, sexuality, race, ability, ethnicity and class

Race and Cultural Diversity in American Life and History focuses on the development of society through a multicultural lens. (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne via Coursera)

Identity in Question examines how gender and race influence individual identity. (Open University through Open Learn)

Gender and Sexuality: Applications in Society investigates how gender and sexuality shape and intersect with other factors of identity, including age, race and disability. (University of British Columbia through edX)

Gender and Intersectionality explores how gender is represented in culture and how it interacts with other aspects of society and identity. (University of Iceland through edX)

Disability Awareness and Support helps you learn how to make your organization more accessible to people of diverse abilities. (University of Pittsburgh through Coursera)

#dothework is offered by Rachel Elizabeth Cargle for those who want to be allies to black women.

LGBTQ Pride: From Origins to Evolution Teach-Out explores the origins of the Pride movement. (University of Michigan Spectrum Center through Coursera)


Introduction to Human Geography provides a thorough introduction to population, migration, agriculture and other human interactions with the environment. (University of Texas, Austin through edX)

Citizen Science and Global Biodiversity can help you become a citizen scientist and contribute to scientific research. (Open University through Open Learn)

Introducing Environmental Decision-Making explores the systems approach to making decisions with environmental impact in mind. (Open University through Open Learn)

Sustainability: Political Economy, Science, and Policy investigates how to influence better efforts at environmental sustainability. (MIT OpenCourseWare)

Climate Change provides a survey of the basic science of climate change. (Open University through Open Learn)

Eating for the Environment explores the link between personal habits and sustainability. (Open University through Open Learn)

Tools and techniques for activists

The Science of Everyday Thinking considers ways to help you "learn how to think better, argue better and choose better." (University of Queensland through edX)

Introduction to Public Speaking provides tips and opportunities to practice your skills. (University of Washington through edX)

Ethical Leadership: Character, Civility, and Community looks at conceptual models of leadership, including a toolkit for leaders. (Boston University through edX)

Community Engagement: Collaborating for Change explores how to build partnerships with diverse community groups. (University of Michigan through edX)

Community Organizing for Social Justice explores successful organizing techniques. (University of Michigan through Coursera)

Grass Roots Community Organizing teaches you how to use your personal narrative to build a grassroots community for change. (Udemy)

Emotions and Politics equips students with an understanding of the psychological and emotional influences on political activity. (MIT OpenCourseWare)

Activism and Citizen Journalism Through Media explores the ethics and techniques that will help you advance your cause. (Wits University through edX)

How to Change the World teaches the basics of some of today's most pressing issues. (Wesleyan University through Coursera)

Jill Silos, Ph.D. is associate professor of history and political science at Massachusetts Bay Community College, where she specializes in political theory, civil rights and civil liberties, and Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
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