10 Creative Online Courses You Can Take for Free Online

Michelle Santiago Cortés
Feb 1, 2019 8:21PM

Creativity serves everyone, from artists and scientists to entrepreneurs. And now, along with the wide range of free art classes accessible through the internet, you can also take a creative online course that aim to boost cognitive functions and hone problem-solving and thinking skills. Here, we share 10 such classes—tackling topics from biohacking the brain to the importance of play—to help you embrace and enhance your creativity.

Biohacking Your Brain’s Health

Time commitment: 4 weeks, 2–3 hours a week (self-paced)

The human brain consumes more energy than any other organ in the human body. It’s the powerhouse of ideas, and we count on it to be constantly up and running, so it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that in order to function properly and perform creative tasks, brains require care.

In this course, Emory University professor Dr. Karima Benameur shares her four-pronged approach to caring for your brain, taking into consideration how it’s affected by nutrition, exercise, medication, and sleep. Dr. Benameur teaches students practical ways to improve brain function, based on evidence found in recent research studies, and debunks popular myths to show how the human brain really works.

You can audit this course for free, and you’ll have access to all of the materials (except for tests and quizzes). At the end of each lesson, Dr. Benameur gives out a “prescription” of tips to help you improve your brain’s health.

Psychology of Art and Creativity

Time commitment: 8 weeks, 4 hours a week (self-paced)

This creative online course explores creativity at the intersection between art and psychology and seeks to answer a multitude of questions, like: What is creativity? Can we create under pressure? Are certain personalities drawn to certain artworks? Professor Shannon Whitten discusses everything from what an artwork tells us about the artist’s creative process to the problem with linking creativity to mental illness.

Professor Whitten also delves into the transformative power of art in terms of both human health and societal well-being. This course will introduce the latest research in art therapy and creativity—like studies that have shown that looking at art can help improve observation skills and reduce anxiety—and concludes with an exploration into the mutually influential relationship between society and art.

Creative Problem Solving

Time commitment: 4–6 hours a week (self-paced)

In the first lesson of this course, students are taught that creative problem-solving is a skill that can be learned. Through a series of simple-yet-transformative prompts, it aims to challenge our old patterns and ways of thinking. For example, by asking us to eat something different, it encourages us to push the limits of our own ways of thinking and step out onto newer more fertile territory. With a focus on divergent thinking—the ability to come up with as many ideas and solutions as possible—the course emphasizes the importance of stepping outside of our usual habits and behavior.

Exploring Play: The Importance of Play in Everyday Life

Time commitment: 7 weeks, 3 hours a week, starting February 18th

Play offers valuable benefits at every age, from helping children hone their imagination to aiding adults in thinking outside of the box—in other words, to think more creatively. This creative online course will introduce students to various forms of play that people experience throughout life. Virtual tours of institutions that investigate play, like the V&A Museum of Childhood in London and the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield, will introduce the history of play. Students will also learn practical methods for promoting and enabling productive play in their own environments, and the course promises to explain “why the future is playful.”

Creative Thinking: Techniques and Tools for Success

Time commitment: 7 weeks, 2–4 hours a week (self-paced)

Course instructors from Imperial College London make a very important distinction in introducing this course: “The greatest innovators aren’t necessarily the people who have the most original idea.” Instead, it’s often those who use their creativity to look at things differently and communicate effectively who are the most effective innovators.

This course is a virtual buffet of creativity skills for you to add to your “toolbox.” The instructors encourage students to pick and choose the techniques and lessons that best serve their needs. You can learn about the “SCAMPER” method of innovation and the “TRIZ” theory for more confidence and inventive problem-solving, as well as a host of brainstorming techniques. You’ll walk away with your own system for generating ideas.

Design Thinking and Creativity for Innovation

Time commitment: 10 weeks, 8–10 hours a week (self-paced)

This course offers an introduction to design thinking, a problem-solving methodology that involves setting aside assumptions in order to develop solutions. The approach involves considering every possible solution to a problem, and then testing out each one.

The lessons begin with a meditation on creativity, while dispelling common misconceptions about it that may hinder innovation. Its lessons aim to help students hone problem-solving skills through exercises involving real-world scenarios. Its focus is geared towards creativity in an entrepreneurial context, with lessons on building creative and innovative organizations.

Visual Perception and the Brain

Time commitment: 4 weeks, 3–4 hours a week (self-paced)

Visual artists stand to gain a great deal from learning about how the brain processes what we see. That topic is at the core of this course presented by Duke University, which combines neuroscience, history, philosophy, and psychology.

Dr. Dale Purves starts off by explaining the basics of the anatomy of the eye and the visual cortex of the brain. Then, he explains how our eyes and brains process light and color, and addresses questions such as: How do our eyes and brain work together to perceive depth? How do we perceive speed? It may sound rather technical, but it is geared towards novices. “We see the physical world in a strange way,” the course description reads, “and our goal is to understand why.”

Healing with the Arts

Time commitment: 6 weeks, 3–5 hours a week (self-paced)

Painting, drawing, dancing, writing, and music are all part of this creative online course, employed as tools for students to restore their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The lessons encourage students to make the time and space to let art into their lives, and to ignore the inner critic that often turns a pleasant artistic endeavor into a stressful storm of self-criticism. Students keep a journal throughout, and are given the tools to make art a restorative part of their lives.

Defining the Concept of Culture

Time commitment: 2 weeks, 5 hours a week, starting January 28th

Recent studies have found that dating someone from another culture and living abroad can benefit your creativity. This course opens up discussions of what culture is, how cultures interact, and how it all affects our way of thinking. Lessons will help you understand your own biases and give you the tools you need to get the most out of your next intercultural experience. So when you do decide to travel to a country that is entirely new to you, you are prepared to be immersed.

Ignite Your Everyday Creativity

Time commitment: 6 weeks, 3 hours a week

Consider creativity to be an essential 21st-century skill. It’s increasingly considered to be essential to a well-rounded employee and at the core of a sector in our economy. Each lesson in this course explores a different facet of what it means to be creative and introduces a new skill into your creative thinking repertoire.

Instructors Dr. Cyndi Burnett and Dr. John F. Cabra, both professors of creative studies from the State University of New York Buffalo State, argue that creativity is a universal and innate ability. Drawing on psychological and creativity research, they bring you a series of exercises that will impart a new skill for developing your creativity.

For example, students are prompted to do a visualization exercise that engages all of their senses and imagination. When thinking of a flower, for example, the professors ask you to think of the feel of its petals and the sounds they evoke. The goal of the creative online course, they say, “is to help you recognize, develop, and act upon the creativity that you already possess.”

Michelle Santiago Cortés