This guide attempts to lay out a specific path to help you learn biology on your own. Structured is the key word here. Our learn biology online page introduces you to a ton of resources to learn biology online, but you’re left on your own to figure out on your own where to go. For people who have had some biology, they’ll be fine on their own. This page is for the true neophyte, for the person who wouldn’t know where to start and where to go next. As such, it’s a true guide for learning biology on your own. For the sake of a clean presentation, I’ve given the guide below as a bullet point with explanations at the bottom. I’ve linked to specific (and free) online courses that I think are the best for each category. (Once again, check out our learn biology online page for more options).
Our Guide to Learning Biology on Your Own
Foundational classes (the basics on which everything is built):
Core Classes (frequent topics that tie biology together)
- Biochemistry (note: Ochem I and Ochem II are pre-reqs, so maybe take them concurrently with Genetics and Evolution. UCI breaks I and II down into three classes, find them here: I, II, III)
Specialty/Interest classes (take as interested):
- Developmental biology
- Bioinformatics/computational biology (see DIY-bio’s learn bioinformatics page)
An Explanation on this Guide to Learn Biology on Your Own
The reason I built this resource is because for a while I tried to learn all of this on my own before finally just going back to school. I couldn’t find good resources and when I did, I’d find out (just a few videos in) that I didn’t have the foundation required to understand a given course. In essence I didn’t know what to learn in biology or in what order. To help you know what to learn in biology and in what order, I’ve simplified the process by picking the best options I could find for each topic, even though there were sometimes many good ones to choose from. When MIT’s courses included videos (many don’t), I used their courses, mainly because they also have quizzes and tests online. If you do not test yourself, you’ll find you will not actually have a good feel for how well you understand a topic. This is not a simple aside. Science shows that tests don’t just test learning, they solidify it and increase your ability to recall info later. Test yourself. Seriously, do it.
Foundational Courses Explanation
Pick any biology class at the 2xx level or above and you’ll find you pretty much can’t take it unless you have your first biology class and gen chem I and II. I included cell biology in this because the university I went to required cell biology as a pre-req as well. I’ve seen some universities that don’t. I numbered these ones because you should really take them in pairs in order to be efficient.
Core Courses Explanation
While you won’t really see any of these as pre-requisites for other classes (unless it’s like an advanced genetics class, advanced immunology class, etc), I’ve included these because most universities see these as core requirements for you to be broadly informed in biology before you graduate. Also, a lot of later biology courses will make more sense if you’ve got a good idea of biochemistry, genetics, and evolution. As such, while they’re not an absolute necessity if you are wanting to move on to other topics, they are considered by most
Honestly this list could go on for ages and there aren’t clear cut lines between something that would be an interest class vs something that would be a specialty of its own right. To get a better idea, check out a local university (or one you’re interested in) and search out their course catalog, which will give you all the courses they teach in a given discipline or even better, check out their sample four year study program.
The good news is that once you get to this level, you should have been exposed to a lot of material- enough that you can know what direction you want to go. I will say this, though, don’t leave it up to your professors and classes to help you learn where to go next. From the moment you start your journey down the biology track, you should be exploring on your own. Don’t be detached. Follow biology discovery blogs, read about new companies created in the world of biotechs and pharmas.
My last piece of advice is to treat these as actual courses. As I mentioned above. Test yourself. It’s easy to feel familiar with the content but the content will slip away easily if you don’t work to seriously cement material to memory, you won’t make any progress. Learning biology on your own takes concerted effort. Don’t be shy! Jump in!