Chemistry and biology are the two foundations for a number of fields of study including medical practice, pharmacology, biological engineering, and synthetic biology to name just a few. Check out the resources below that will help you learn biology online, most of which are video courses, but some of which are free biology textbooks. (If you’re needing something more structured than a list of resources, check out our Guide to Learning Biology on Your Own).
Learn Biology Online via MIT OpenCourseWare (Free):
MIT Opencourseware has 88 undergraduate classes and 16 graduate level classes available for free to help you learn biology. That’s the good news. The bad news is that very few of them have videos of class lectures and lots of the reading material that you would need to read for the class is behind a paywall that you can’t get past without being enrolled in a university or ponying up some money for an issue. However, that’s not true of all cases. For example, if you want to learn basic biology (essentially college biology 101), the Introduction to Biology course is great and comes with videos, lecture notes, etc. The only caveat I’ll add here is it was recorded in 2004. While the fundamentals of biology have stayed the same, don’t expect the lectures to mention newer things like CRISPR or recent discoveries with cancer or alzheimers for example.
Keep digging through their list for anything you’re interested in and you’ll be able to essentially learn biology for free. Also, if you’re like me and want to know more about engineering biology, jump straight to the audio/video lectures for bioengineering and biology. It’s a great resource.
Khan Academy (Free):
Back to the Khan Academy. I hope they expand their selection here, because as of right now they only have two biology course. I’m including it because, it’s Khan Academy and Sal Khan’s video’s are awesome, clear, and conversational- exactly what you’re looking for when you’re trying to learn biology, especially when you’re trying to learn it online. This course covers exactly what you’d expect a biology 101 class to cover from DNA replication in the heart of the cell all the way up to the activities of the cell membrane.
Coursera (Free and Paid Options to Learn Biology and Microbiology Online):
Coursera’s options to learn biology and microbiology online aren’t quite as impressive, but then again, biology covers a lot of ground, from viruses to systems biology, to the microbiome. The only discouraging thing here is that there wasn’t actually a good introductory biology course. They definitely did have very in-depth stuff, like Virology I or Programmed Cell Death, but these are small slivers of biology and microbioloby and probably would require microbiology as a pre-requisite (though I haven’t checked, so don’t take my word for it).
- Gut Check: Exploring Your Microbiome
- Drug Discovery, Development & Commercialization (wth Williams S. Ettouati & Joseph D. Ma)
- Nanotechnology and Nanosensors (with Hossam Haick)
- Epidemics – The Dynamics of Infectious diseases (with lots of contributing professors)
- Virology I: How Viruses Work (from Columbia University)
- Useful Genetics Part 1
- Programmed Cell Death (with Barbara Conradt)
- Bioinformatics: Introduction and Methods (from Peking University)
- Bioinformatics: Life Sciences on Your computer (with Bob Lessick)
- Bioinformatics Methods I (from University of Toronto)
- Mathematical Biostatistics Boot Camp 1 (from Johns Hopkins University)
Many don’t know this, but the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in conjunction with the National Institute of Health (NIH), have made available a lot of college level textbooks for free. All of these books can be accessed and read over the internet. If you’re going to go it alone and try to learn biology online, there’s no substitute for a good textbook. The best lectures in the world will only cover so much. The details and decent illustrations are between the front sleeve and back jacket of a good textbook. My recommendation would be to find a video/lecture series you like and pair it with a textbook.
While the internal search on the NCBI’s website is not great, I was able to find a lot of books related to biology, microbiology, molecular biology, etc. There is a similar section on our Learn Chemistry page, so be sure to check that out too. Also, a big caveat- you’ll notice that many of these textbooks are ten years old or older. I think this is okay for intro texts, though it surely wouldn’t cut it for more advanced texts. Just something to keep in mind.
- Molecular Biology of the Cell on NCBI’s site
- Molecular Biology of the Cell, 2002, 4th ed. by Alberts, Johnson, Lewis, Raff, Roberts, Walter
- Molecular Cell Biology, 2000, 4th ed. by Lodish, Berk, Zipursky, Matsudaira, Baltimore, Darnell
- This website also has several books in each category: Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Computational Biology, Genetics, Life Sciences, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, and Viruses, among others, so be sure to do some searching yourself.
Here are a few more books that aren’t really in either category. At some point, when I make a genetics page, I’ll shuffle them over there.
Learn Biology Online, Here, on This Website
I’m happy to announce that I’ll be building out some of the resources from this website. The first of which is a detailed explanation (with gifs) of the fluid mosaic model of the plasma membrane. We get things kicked off with an introductory overview of what you’d learn in college biology. This introduces the topics you would find in a college level biology course.