So far this year, MOOCs have just about stolen the spotlight from all other forms of online education. And face it: the thought of giving away top-quality courses over the Internet, sometimes from brand-name colleges like Harvard and MIT, is pretty exciting. Who wouldn’t want to be able to tell their friends, “Yeah, I aced my Advanced Artificial Intelligence class at Stanford”?

Hence the droves, the millions of people who have registered for MOOCs.

But that doesn’t mean that you don’t, in wading into the smorgasbord of online course options, run into a few head-scratchers. If you’ve gone looking to see what free online are available out there, you know what we’re talking about, course titles that are so thick with jargon that you’re not even sure if they’re written in English. Others are just plain vague. All of them, of course, are fun.

To celebrate the new frontier of MOOCs, we did our own search for the 10 most baffling, confounding titles of MOOCs out there. So sit down, take an aspirin, and join us as we try to decipher them one by one:

1. “Everything I Know”

Instructor: Buckminster Fuller
YouTube, Online Archive

Definitely in the vague category, unless you know the professor personally, you have absolutely no idea what you’re getting with this course. If this guy’s like your Uncle Ted, this could be a very short course. If you know the name Buckminster Fuller, however, you know that the guy is all over the place in the world of design. When he talks about everything he knows, you better get ready to have your mind fully blown.

Among other things, Fuller was the holder of 28 U.S. Patents and the author of 30 books. Fuller has since passed, but this course consists of a series of video lectures he gave waay back in 1975 (they had video back then?!). As you go through the course, you’ll be treated to a personal history of the man, an explanation of how he came up with his world-changing ideas, and his inventions and discoveries, all from the man’s own mouth.

2. “Great Big Ideas”

Instructor: Various
The Floating University

Another entry in the vague category. If this one sounds broad, that’s because it is… in a really good way. Practically every lecture of this course presents a new expert in a new field, covering the most thought-provoking questions in subjects from linguistics to finance to biomedical research and art. Sounds like the crash course for anyone wishing to be able to talk about any subject at their next cocktail party.

It also might be the course for you if you prefer a buffet-style education.

3. “Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit”

Instructor: Richard Dien Winfield
University of Georgia

We’re going to be completely transparent and admit that we have no idea what ‘phenomenology’ means, but, after some quick cyber-sleuthing, we’re pretty sure it’s philosophical talk. Sparknotes gives this summary of a book by the same name authored by one Georg Wilheim Friedrich Hegel:

“Hegel demonstrates that though concepts do in fact mediate matter, as Kant maintains, Hegel’s own understanding of the way concepts come into being implies a certain instability or insecurity in knowledge, which Kant overlooks.”

Um, yeah. So you can color us still confused, but it at least sounds like pretty heady stuff. At any rate, this MOOC surely belongs on this list.

4. “Discrete Stochastic Processes”

Instructor: Robert Gallagher
MIT, YouTube, iTunes

Yep, we were drawing blanks on the word ‘stochastic’ so we had to look it up. From our friends at Wikipedia, we learned that stochastic systems are “non-deterministic” and “determined both by the system’s predictable actions and by a random element.” We finally ended up at the course description which explains:

“This course aims to help students acquire both the mathematical principles and the intuition necessary to create, analyze, and understand insightful models for a broad range of these processes.”

We’re not even going to attempt to explain that, but we’re certain that someone must really know what they’re talking about to throw around a word like ‘stochastic’.

5. “Android Development”

Instructor: David Fisher
UC Berkeley, iTunes

free online course android development

Now this one we feel somewhat comfortable guessing on, having consumed our fill of Terminator and Star Trek. This course clearly gets students ready to build their own free-thinking army of robots, who will, in turn, decide that mankind is a danger and must be eradicated from the earth. That’s the way these things go.

And this free online course is putting that power in the hands of anyone with an Internet connection. A comforting thought…

6. “The Fourier Transform and its Applications”

Instructor: Brad Osgood
Stanford, YouTube, iTunes

What the hooey is a “Fourier Transform”? Once again, we have no idea… but Wikipedia sure does. The Fourier Transform, they say, is a “mathematical transform” that typically “transforms a mathematical function of time into a new function… whose argument is frequency with units of cycles/s (hertz) or radians per second.” And moving on…

7. “Søren Kierkegaard – Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity”

Instructor: Jon Stewart
University of Copenhagen, Coursera

Thanks to the handy course description in friendly layman’s terms we kind of get this one. Kierkegaard was apparently a philosopher who thought about the impacts of the modern world and relativism on people’s beliefs and sense of meaning. For more than that, you’ll have to take this free online course yourself.

8. “Programmed Cell Death”

Instructor: Barbara Conradt
Ludwig-Maximillians-Universitat-Munchen, Coursera

This one gets the prize for “most foreboding title,” but the subject matter is far from threatening. It turns out our cells are dying all the time. This course seeks to unlock the mysteries of why and delves into related topics like cancer, aging, etc.

9. “Heterogeneous Parallel Programming”

Instructor: Wen-mei W. Hwu
University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign, Coursera

It has something to do with computer programming and you need to have some experience in C/C++ for any of this to make sense to you. And that’s all we’re willing to guess at at this time.

10. “Death”

Instructor: Shelly Kagan
Yale, YouTube, iTunes

Yes, we’ve saved the best for last. And it’s not the best because we don’t know what death is but because it purports to tackle perhaps the biggest questions of human existence, as evidenced in the course description:

“The possibility that death may not actually be the end is considered. Are we, in some sense, immortal? Would immortality be desirable? Also a clearer notion of what it is to die is examined. What does it mean to say that a person has died? What kind of fact is that? And, finally, different attitudes to death are evaluated. Is death an evil? How? Why? Is suicide morally permissible? Is it rational? How should the knowledge that I am going to die affect the way I live my life?”

If the purpose of a philosophy course is to leave you with more questions than answers, surely this one takes the cake. Surely, if you’re looking to have your mind blown, this free online course will do the trick.

When it comes to browsing the unprecedented number of MOOCs that are just dangling out there for your consumption, don’t let titles scare you. Because they’re free, you can feel free to just start trying stuff out. Good luck!

Ready to start earning credit in online courses? Get started today.


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