Online Biology Courses Find courses and get expert advice for studying biology online

expert contributor
Arvin Vohra Read bio

Biology is simply the study of life—from how it works to why it works. Studies range from the molecular level all the way up to communities and large populations. In addition to being fascinating subject matter, biology is a hard science that can generate vast career opportunities in fields such as agriculture, medical, research and technology. The following guide highlights some of the top online courses in biology and key benefits to studying biology in this format.

Search for Online Courses in Biology

Biology is a massive discipline: thousands of courses and programs vie for the attention of potential students. Narrowing down the many worthy options can be tough. That’s where this search tool comes into play. Users can search based on various parameters such as course subject matter, institution, the cost of attendance and program length.

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Three Ways to Study Biology Online

There is a biology program for every situation, from students who want to prove their knowledge via certificate or pursue lifelong careers in the field to those who simply want to learn more. Here are some of the reasons why students might choose to take a particular path.

Certificate For-credit Informational
Description
Certificate 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 for-credit classes are available through traditional colleges and universities. 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 are usually do so over the course of a formal degree program. Informational biology classes suit students who have a natural curiosity, or work in a field where additional knowledge is helpful, but not required.

Under the Microscope: Top 10 Online Biology Courses

Many universities and MOOC websites offer online biology courses covering topics from cell structure to ecology. Here are some of the highest-quality biology classes from around the web along with details one might consider before enrollment.

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 will learn how to create evolutionary trees and 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: Six to eight 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 will 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 synthetically created using techniques similar to those used to read human DNA.

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 enrolled in this course use basic mathematical principles to model biological behavior, so a high school-level understanding of math is adequate.

Sharks! Global Diversity, Biology, and Conservation
  • Offered by: Cornell University & University of Queensland via edX
  • Price: Free (audit) or $49 (verified certificate)
  • Length: Four weeks
  • Format: Video lectures
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course examines the movement, habits and history of sharks to teach students how life changes and adapts over time.

The Chemistry of Life
  • Offered by: Kyoto University via edX
  • Price: Free (audit) or $49 (verified certificate)
  • Length: 15 weeks
  • Format: Video lecture
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

The Chemistry of Life combines the two sciences of biology and chemistry, which are usually taught separately, to teach students how to develop innovative research ideas No prior biology or chemistry knowledge 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

As its title indicates, this basic course covers high school and first-year college material. Students will 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, such as vision (color and pattern) and 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. Here are some of the most compelling

1 Efficient method of learning a biological specialization

Medical and biology professionals explore various issues, problems and situations with which they might be unfamiliar. An online class is ideal for situations where browsing a textbook is insufficient, yet enrolling in a full program is overkill. Online courses allow students to gain much-needed knowledge in a practical, manageable learning medium.

2 Students don’t have to choose between education and work

oOnline degrees are growing in popularity as students realize just how valuable and flexible they can be. Online learning is a boon to working professionals for whom classroom attendance is difficult, including working professionals who want to gain additional knowledge without sacrificing work and research experience.

3 Wide selection of subjects within the biology field

Biology has many sub-disciplines that often interact. An environmental scientist might need to know a great deal about microbiology, for instance. How can that scientist gain the in-depth knowledge necessary on microbiology without having to earn another degree? Stand-alone online biology courses can help scientists expand their knowledge base and enhance their work.

Must-Have Apps & Podcasts for Learning Biology

Apps

Biology is not an easy science to learn; some of the smartest minds in the world are still trying to figure out how certain biological processes work. This means students and professionals within the biology field will probably appreciate all the help they can get. The following list of apps can make learning about biology a little easier.

Science Dictionary

Free
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Science Dictionary

This app is an excellent resource for anyone studying or working in science, including biology. It defines key scientific terms alongside audio pronunciations and images.

Complete Biology

Free
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Complete Biology

Complete Biology is a comprehensive app aimed at high school and college students. Features include practice test questions, tutorials and common formulas. This app is an excellent study tool for biology coursework.

Gene Screen

Free
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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 Statistic

Free
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Basic Statistic

Basic Statistics is not a true biology app, but it’s very useful for those in the academic or professional biology realm, thanks to the prevalence and importance of statistics in the study of biology. Much of the app consists of explanations and notes of fundamental statistical concepts.

Podcasts

We may know a great deal about biology, but much of the natural world is still a big mystery. One of the interesting points about podcasts is that the hosts and guests often explore these mysteries, expound upon the most recent discoveries, and offer innovative ideas and solutions to today’s issues. Here are some podcasts sure to pique scientists’ and biology enthusiasts’ interest.

biobytes Ben Short Recent Episode to Try: May 23, 2016 Episode: Tubulin Isotypes

A weekly podcast published by the Journal of Cell Biology that explores various biological processes and how they work. Much of the material is fairly advanced with a lot of jargon and technical discussions.

This podcast focuses on biology at the microscopic level, unseen by most humans. Most shows include a special guest or two who discuss a particular subject.

Naked Genetics Dr. Kat Arney Recent Episode to Try: June 14, 2016 Episode: Genes for All

Naked Genetics is a podcast based in the United Kingdom that looks into all things genetics, but with a lighthearted tone and a bit of humor. Special guests are the norm with great new topics explored every few months.

The ACS Synthetic Biology podcast highlights articles recently published in the ACS Synthetic Biology journal. Topics evolve around synthetic biology, or human-engineered biological components..

Expert Advice for Taking Online Biology Courses

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

The biggest mistake people make in creating online biology courses: they try to mimic the classroom setting. In other words, they take the most boring, least effective method of education on earth, 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.

What about lab work?
Arvin_Vohra Arvin Vohra

Depending on your goals, you can get the benefits (if any exist) 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.

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

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 have had any number of in-class hours. It just measures what you know, not how much time you've squandered in a traditional classroom.

Anything else you want to say about online biology programs?
Arvin_Vohra Arvin Vohra

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 instead of on their school classes. Subjects that are both information-dense and concept-heavy, like biology, particularly benefit from the online approach.