List of Free Online Earth Science Courses and Classes
See our list of the top online Earth science courses. Learn about what courses are available, what topics they cover and whether you can use them to get college credit.
Online Earth Science Courses for Credit
Many free online Earth science courses don't require registration or tuition, but the majority of them also don't result in college credit. Students interested in options that do prepare them to earn alternative forms of credit can consider courses that charge a fee in exchange for access to online resources.
Education Portal offers this form of distance learning via short, engaging video lessons and self-assessment quizzes available to registered members. There are also free transcripts, both of which can lead to real college credit. Students interested in exploring the Science 101: Introduction to Natural Sciences course can find lessons on these topics and more:
- Fundamentals of Thermodynamics - Discover the first and second laws of thermodynamics and the characteristics of different energy types with the lessons included in this chapter.
- Geology - Examine theories of continental drift and plate tectonics alongside forces shaping the Earth's surface.
- Introduction to Plant Biology - Identify the structure and function of plant anatomy as well as methods of plant reproduction.
- Ecology - Explore the relationships between an ecosystem's energy flow, its species populations and its carrying capacity.
- Human and Social Biology - Survey the differences between learned, social and innate behaviors and study theories of demographic transition.
Free Online Non-Credited Earth Science Courses
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Ecology I: The Earth System
- Structure of Earth Materials
- Essentials of Geophysics
- Special Topics in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences: The Environment of the Earth's Surface
- General Circulation of the Earth's Atmosphere
- Turbulence in the Ocean and Atmosphere
Students can download lecture notes in PDF form for all these courses, although some only offer notes from selected lectures. Textbooks and recommended readings may be required to fully learn from the courses, but are not available for free.
Ecology I examines the Earth as one complex system. It's recommended that students have a background in biology prior to starting this course. Students examine how the geosphere, atmosphere, oceans and biosphere function together and support ecosystems. Assignments and exams with solutions are available, as well as examples of student papers. Geobiology is an undergraduate course that teaches students how the Earth's environment was created and how life developed. Topics include the history of the universe and solar system, molecular evolution, photosynthesis, biomineralization, climate change and genomics.
In Structure of Earth Materials, students explore the chemical bonds and crystalline structures that comprise various types of rocks. They also learn how structure influences rock properties. Students can view image galleries to help them identify different types of rocks. Essentials of Geophysics can be taken by both undergraduate and graduate students. Topics of study include gravity, geodynamics, the Earth's magnetic field and seismology.
Special Topics in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences is a multidisciplinary undergraduate course that explores the forces that impact the Earth's surface, such as erosion, glaciers and precipitation. Charts and graphics are provided in the lecture notes. Exam questions, but not solutions, are available. General Circulation of the Earth's Atmosphere is a graduate-level course that covers topics like spectral analysis, kinetic energy budgets and numerical models. Turbulence in the Ocean and Atmosphere is also a graduate course. Students need a background in physics and math to understand the material taught in this course. Topics covered include convection, QG turbulence, 2D and 3D turbulence, wind-driven turbulence and topographic waves.
The Open University
These courses include transcripts of lessons along with activities and informative graphics. All information is presented within the lessons, and no textbooks or additional readings are required.
In Global Warming, an introductory course, students look at temperature patterns and the causes of global warming. They can read lessons on global warming, examine charts that depict data and review additional documents that discuss global warming. Climate Change, an intermediate-level course, teaches students about natural and manmade reasons for global warming and climate change. Study questions at the end of the course give students a chance to further explore the topics.
The Frozen Planet looks at the Earth's polar regions, teaching how the Sun's energy reaches these areas and what the average temperatures are like throughout the year. The course discusses the habitats that characterize the Antarctic and the Arctic zones. Volcanic Hazards explores types of eruptions. Students can learn about the various hazards, like pyroclastic flows and volcanic ash clouds, that result from different types of eruptions. Images and text referring to real eruptions helps convey this information.
San Diego State University
This 47-minute video lecture is available through the geological sciences department's weekly seminar series. The instructor discusses a 7.3 earthquake in Mexico and explores whether a similar quake could happen along San Diego's Rose Canyon fault and, if so, when? There is no additional material provided with this lecture.
University of California - Irvine
This is an approximately 40-minute video of a lecture delivered by Professor Soroosh Sorooshian, who directs the Center for Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing at the university. He discusses the planet's climate throughout its history and what is predicted for the future, based on past circumstances. No other course materials are provided.
Students learn about the forces that dictate the weather and ocean currents. Topics include El Niño, global warming, air pollution and storms. They can download videos of 35 classroom lectures, along with four exams and the exam answers. Users can purchase the recommended textbook if they would like to fully benefit from the course.