Top Online Biology Courses

ASO Staff Writers
Updated August 2, 2023
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Find Courses and Get Expert Advice For Studying Biology Online

Biology is the study of life, from how it works to why it works. Biological studies vary from the molecular level all the way up to communities and large populations. Knowledge of biology can create vast career opportunities in fields such as agriculture, medicine, and research. The following guide highlights top online courses in biology and the benefits of studying biology online.

Three Ways to Study Biology Online

Prospective learners can take online biology courses for many reasons. People who want to prove their knowledge to employers can pursue certificates. Others may simply want to learn more about biology or begin a career in the field. Below you’ll find reasons why students might choose to take a particular path.

Ways to Study Biology Online
Points of InterestCertificateFor-creditInformational
DescriptionCertificate classes are unique because they verify one has passed a given course. Many online biology classes offer verified certificates for a fee.Some online biology courses award college credit to successful learners. Most traditional colleges and universities offer for-credit classes. Informational classes enhance knowledge, but do not award certificates or college credit. Some colleges allow students to audit online biology courses at no cost.
Who takes this type of course?A certificate course is ideal for professionals who want to learn more about a given area of biology, but would like a way to verify their studies to employers.Students enrolled in for-credit online biology courses usually do so over the course of earning a degree.Informational biology classes suit students with a natural curiosity. They also benefit those who work in a field where additional knowledge is helpful but not required.

Under the Microscope: Top Nine Online Biology Courses

Many universities and MOOC websites offer online biology courses covering topics from cell structure to ecology. Below we list high-quality biology classes and details to consider before enrolling.

Molecular Evolution

  • Offered by: UC San Diego via Coursera
  • Price: $49
  • Length: Six weeks
  • Format: Video lectures, reading assignments, and quizzes
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

Students learn how to create evolutionary trees. They also learn how scientists can determine the genetic similarities among extinct and living animals. For example, students will be able to explain how scientists know that modern-day birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Network Analysis in Systems Biology

  • Offered by: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai via Coursera
  • Price: Free (audit) or $49 (verified certificate)
  • Length: 6-8 weeks
  • Format: Video lectures and quizzes
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course teaches statistical and mathematical methods commonly used in the study of systems biology. Students learn how to analyze genetic data for future research endeavors. A background in cellular biology, calculus, and statistics is recommended.

Genome Sequencing

  • Offered by: UC San Diego via Coursera
  • Price: $79
  • Length: Five weeks
  • Format: Video lectures, reading assignments, quizzes, and peer review assignment
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This intermediate course teaches the mathematical principles behind the human genome. Part one addresses how science helps us interpret small sections of human DNA. Part two studies antibiotics and how they can be created using techniques similar to those used to read human DNA.

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Introduction to Systems Biology

  • Offered by: IEEEx via edX
  • Price: Free (audit) or $49 (verified certificate)
  • Length: Four weeks
  • Format: Video lecture
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

Systems biology examines the role of biological organisms within an entire ecosystem. Students use basic mathematical principles to model biological behavior. A high school-level understanding of math is adequate.

The Chemistry of Life

  • Offered by: Kyoto University via edX
  • Price: Free (audit) or $49 (verified certificate)
  • Length: 13 weeks
  • Format: Video lecture
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

The chemistry of life combines biology and chemistry. The course teaches students how to develop innovative research ideas. No prior biology or chemistry knowledge is required.

An Introduction to Basic Biology

  • Offered by: Udemy
  • Price: $20
  • Length: 30 lectures over approximately eight weeks
  • Format: Video and audio lectures, exams, PowerPoint, quizzes, and an online textbook
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This basic course covers high school and first-year college material. Students explore basic biological concepts like cellular respiration and genetics. No prior biology knowledge is required.

A Mathematical Way to Think About Biology

  • Offered by: Udemy
  • Price: Free
  • Length: 134 lectures spanning 15.5 hours
  • Format: Video lectures
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This intermediate course looks at biology from a physical sciences perspective and provides a foundation for quantitative biology. Incoming students should be familiar with algebraic, calculus, and statistical concepts.

Sensory Systems

  • Offered by: MIT Open CourseWare
  • Price: Free
  • Length: Self-paced, but originally offered over approximately 13 weeks
  • Format: Video lecture, lecture notes in PDF format, written reports, and online reading materials.
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course examines the physiological basis of human and animal senses. Specifically, coursework examines the neurological workings of the senses. Examples include vision, (color and pattern), hearing (responses and sound localization), and the relationship between senses and behavior.

Principles of Human Disease

  • Offered by: MIT OpenCourseWare
  • Price: Free
  • Length: Self-paced, but originally offered over 12 weeks
  • Format: Online reading materials, problem sets, and writing assignment prompts in PDF format
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course explains the modern approach to human disease from both biological and treatment perspectives. It focuses on the genetic component of diseases, especially cancer, and their cellular and molecular foundations.

Why Take an Online Class in Biology?

From professional marketing or personal enrichment to advancing their degrees, there are many reasons students might take biology courses online. Below, we list a few reasons.

  1. 1

    Efficient Method of Learning a Biological Specialization

    Medical and biology professionals explore various issues, problems, and situations where they might need more knowledge. Online courses allow students to gain knowledge through a practical, manageable learning format.

  2. 2

    Students Do Not Need to Choose Between Education and Work

    Online learning’s flexibility and convenience appeal to working professionals. They can complete course materials on their schedule. Busy professionals can gain additional knowledge without sacrificing work and research experience.

  3. 3

    Wide Selection of Subjects Within the Biology Field

    Biology has many sub-disciplines that often interact. An environmental scientist might need to know about microbiology, for instance. Stand-alone online biology courses can help scientists expand their knowledge base and enhance their work.

Must-Have Apps for Learning Biology


Biology is not an easy science to learn. The following list of apps can make learning about biology a little easier.

  • Science Dictionary

    This app defines key scientific terms and features audio pronunciations and images.
  • Complete Biology


    Complete Biology is a comprehensive app aimed at high school and college students. Features include practice test questions, tutorials, and common formulas.

  • Gene Screen

    In addition to teaching about genetics and heredity, the Gene Screen app offers calculators for determining the prevalence and inheritability of certain diseases and genetic traits.
  • Basic Statistics

    The biology field often requires a knowledge of statistics. Basic Statistics may help people in the academic or professional biology arenas. Much of the app consists of explanations and notes of fundamental statistical concepts.

Expert Advice for Taking Online Biology Courses

Portrait of Arvin Vohra

Arvin Vohra

Q. You’ve created many online biology courses. What are your key considerations when building them?

The biggest mistake people make in creating online biology courses is that they try to mimic the classroom setting. In other words, they take the most boring, least effective method of education, and then digitize it. Instead, use tutoring as your starting point. Our Vohra Method courses, for example, are based on rigorous, Socratic style tutoring. Khan Academy courses are inspired by the more familiar didactic style of tutoring.

Q. What about lab work?

Depending on your goals, you can get the benefits of the lab parts of a non-online biology course either by watching videos of labs or by interning at a research lab. Watching a few demonstration videos can help solidify your understanding of abstract concepts. Working at a lab can show you how tedious working at a lab can be, and help you decide if you actually want to do that.

Q. What are some of the best online biology certifications or courses for professionals who want to advance their careers?

College graduates and those that opted out of college should consider the GRE Biology Test. Like the AP, this is a knowledge and understanding test. You don’t need to have a bachelor’s degree or any number of in-class hours. The test just measures what you know.

Q. Anything else you want to say about online biology programs?

Online education is the future. It is already doing to non-online education what Netflix did to Blockbuster. Even students in traditional schools rely on online videos by world-class teachers. Subjects that are both information-dense and concept-heavy, like biology, particularly benefit from the online approach.

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