Online History Courses The best online courses and tools for learning history

expert contributor
Arvin Vohra Read bio

History students aren’t limited to textbooks and long lectures in a classroom. Online history courses offer a way of learning that’s almost as expansive and varied as the subject itself. These classes provide convenient—and often inexpensive—opportunities to gain in-depth knowledge about a wide variety of historic events, topics and figures. Students can use this guide to learn about the breadth of online history courses, how to find ones that suit their particular interests, and other online resources to aid in their studies.

Find the Right Online History Courses for You

Understanding history is important to making sense of the present and preparing for the future, but sorting through the multitude of courses available online can make it tough to get started. The following search tool allows students to find online history classes that match their area and level of interest, filtering by factors such as price, length, start date, and institution.

State
Degree Level
School Type
Environment

Side-by-Side: Types of Online History Classes

Online history classes come in a variety of formats to suit the needs of different types of students. Some are for informational purposes only, while others offer college credit or certificates of completion. The table below outlines the aims of each type.

Certificate For-credit Informational
Description
Some courses give students the option to purchase a certificate of completion if they’ve earned a minimum grade. While certificates generally don’t translate to professional credentialing or college credits, they do verify a student’s knowledge in specific areas of history and can be valuable additions to a resume. For-credit online history courses allow students to earn credits that can be applied at colleges and universities. These classes usually cost the same as regular college classes. Informational classes are great ways for students to gain extra knowledge at little to no cost. While students won’t earn credits or certificates, they can learn about specific topics in history without any obligations.
Who takes this type of course?
Professionals and students who want to prove they’ve continued or expanded their history studies. Students looking to earn college credit, either toward a history major or to fulfill general education or elective requirements. Anyone who is interested in getting further knowledge in various history subjects.

10 Best Online History Courses from Around the Web

Not all history classes are created equally. Just like a great teacher or professor at a traditional school can get their students interested in history, a great online course can make all the difference. From highly-focused art history courses to classes that examine the earliest civilizations, we’ve rounded up the top 10 online history courses.

Big History: Connecting Knowledge
  • Offered by: Macquarie University via Coursera
  • Price: Free to audit; $49 for verified certificate
  • Length: 6 weeks, 2-4 hours per week
  • Format: Videos, quizzes, projects
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This class starts at the very beginning—the Big Bang—and continues into the future, discussing the links between important events along the way. The course’s overarching framework is augmented with “zooming in” lectures from experts who offer different points of view on historic events.

Western Civilization: Ancient and Medieval Europe
  • Offered by: Arizona State University via edX
  • Price: Free to audit; $49 for verified certificate; $600 for college credit
  • Length: 8 weeks at 18 hours per week
  • Format: Videos, readings, exams
  • Eligible for college credit?: Yes

This course is a beginner-level overview of ancient European history through 1500 AD. Students learn about significant historic periods and cultures, as well as the social, political and religious changes that took place from ancient to Medieval times.

The Civil War and Reconstruction
  • Offered by: Columbia University via edX
  • Price: Free to audit; $50 per course for a verified certificate
  • Length: 8-10 weeks per course, with 6-8 hours per week
  • Format: Videos, quizzes, activities, discussion forums
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This series of three courses introduces students to the causes and events of the Civil War, as well as emancipation and post-war struggles. Students will gain an understanding of social and political impacts of the Civil War and its aftermath. Each course may be taken individually if desired.

Crash Course: World History
  • Offered by: Khan Academy
  • Price: Free
  • Length: 8 hours, varies
  • Format: Videos
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

In 42 episodes, author and vlogger John Green takes students on an amusing and informative crash course through world history. This series of videos is ideal for anyone who wants to get plenty of easy-to-swallow information on everything from the Neolithic Revolution to present-day globalization.

Art History—Renaissance to 20th Century
  • Offered by: Udemy
  • Price: $25
  • Length: 48 hours
  • Format: Videos, readings
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This introductory art history course, the first in a year-long series, provides a survey of European painting, sculpture and architecture from 1300 AD through the 20th century. It’s designed for those who have little prior knowledge on the subject.

The Holocaust – An Introduction (I): Nazi Germany: Ideology, The Jews and The World
  • Offered by: Tel Aviv University, Yad Vashem via Coursera
  • Price: Free to audit; $49 for verified certificate
  • Length: 3 weeks, 1-2 hours per week
  • Format: Videos, readings, discussion forums, quizzes
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course is the first of two parts on the history of the Holocaust. Students will look the development of Nazi ideology, particularly where Jewish citizens fit into it; broader contexts of the Holocaust and its role in World War II; and the different aspects of individual experience during the Holocaust.

China: Civilization and Empire
  • Offered by: Harvard University via edX
  • Price: Free to audit; $90 per course for a verified certificate
  • Length: 5 weeks per course, with 1.5-3.5 hours per week (5 courses total)
  • Format: Videos, readings, assessments, discussions
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This self-paced series of five courses gives students a comprehensive look at Chinese literature, culture, philosophy, and politics from the Neolithic era through the last dynasty. Students who want to focus on specific eras, dynasties or philosophies can opt to take individual courses instead of the entire series.

U.S. History: The Postwar Era
  • Offered by: Khan Academy
  • Price: Free
  • Length: 7.5 hours, varies
  • Format: Videos, articles
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

Students look at significant eras and movements that occurred after World War II. Students will learn about subjects including the Cold War, communism and anti-communism, the rise of suburbia, the Korean War, tensions in the atomic age, the Civil Rights movement, the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, and Watergate.

History of the Middle East – 600 AD to Today
  • Offered by: Udemy
  • Price: $25
  • Length: 13.5 hours
  • Format: Videos, quizzes
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course provides a comprehensive overview of Middle Eastern history, with a primary focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The goal of the course is to bring clarity to the conflict that continues today by examining the social, political, religious, and cultural factors of the preceding 2,000 years.

Prehistoric Art in Europe and West Asia
  • Offered by: Khan Academy
  • Price: Free
  • Length: 2 hours, varies
  • Format: Videos, articles, quizzes
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course gives a brief overview of prehistoric art in Europe and West Asia, focusing on the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. Students will explore specific examples of prehistoric art as they learn about the origins of art. The course also provides additional resources for those who want to continue their studies.

Why Take an Online Class in History?

Learning history for its own sake is a great reason to take online history classes, but the benefits of these courses aren’t limited to historical appreciation. Here are the top three reasons to take online courses in history:

1 Gain new perspectives

Taking history classes online gives students excellent opportunities to look at things from multiple perspectives, particularly ones they had not previously considered or examined thoroughly. Learning about the past sheds light on present situations that arise in personal, professional, and academic arenas. Students may find that a broader background in humanities and liberal arts is desirable not only for personal fulfillment, but also for professional advancement. Especially in a global economy, employers value workers who have a more understanding of other cultures and world events.

2 Deepen knowledge of other subjects

Because everything has a history, students can deepen their understanding of any topic by taking history courses specific to that subject. For instance, courses like art history, history of mathematics, women in history or Russian history can benefit students and professionals who are focused on other aspects of those disciplines.

3 Specialize or branch out

The sheer breadth and diversity of history makes it impossible for a single institution to cover everything. Online learning gives students access to a much wider array of resources and experts, opening up the possibility to delve deeply into a particular specialized subject, or to explore an entirely new area. Students can thus pick and choose from the available offerings to gain an education that best matches their goals and preferences.

Apps & Podcasts for History Buffs

Apps

After embarking on studies in history, it can be difficult to look at anything without considering its historical context. Whether the local art museum’s latest installation inspires further research, or the morning’s cup of coffee strikes a sudden interest in the history of Costa Rican agriculture, these apps can help history buffs sate their curiosity.

Virtual History – Roma; Virtual History – Firenze

$8.99 each
See Description
Virtual History – Roma; Virtual History – Firenze

These Virtual History apps were the first to allow 3D explorations of history. With Virtual History – Roma, users can tilt their iPads through 3D reconstructions of ancient Rome, getting informative text to supplement. Virtual History – Firenze gives users a look into Renaissance-era Florence.

Timeline History Series

$24.99 (bundled), or $9.99-$12.00 each
See Description
Timeline History Series

These interactive timelines give day-by-day histories supported by photos, written entries, audio commentaries by experts, and first-hand accounts of events.

World History

$1.90
See Description
World History

This app pulls information from Wikipedia to create detailed timelines that reach from the earliest civilizations to the present. The free trial version is slightly smaller and may be a better choice for those who don’t have a lot of free space on their devices. Those who are interested in geographical as well as chronological representations of history should check out World History Atlas.

SPQR Latin

$6.99 (iOS); $5.49 (Android)
See Description
SPQR Latin

This Latin parser app is an excellent tool for those reading historical texts, learning Latin, or simply interested in linguistic origins. Users can get text translations, see multiple definitions for Latin words, and read Latin texts with English parallels.

Podcasts

As a supplement to online courses, podcasts offer quick overviews of familiar or unfamiliar topics as well as in-depth looks at historic figures, events and ideas. The ones below offer interesting takes on a number of topics.

Hardcore History Dan Carlin Recent Episode to Try: King of Kings

Dan Carlin brings his journalism and broadcasting skills to create this unusual longform history podcast. The blend of storytelling, speculation and historical information is designed to appeal to history buffs and newbies alike.

The History Chicks Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider Recent Episode to Try: Four Inventors

The History Chicks, hosted by two women, is a podcast devoted to both real and fictional women in history. New episodes—roughly an hour apiece—are released twice a month, and come with accompanying show notes.

The Black History Podcast Nashad Carrington Recent Episode to Try: Esther Jones – “Boop-Oop-A-Doop”

Nashad Carrington’s podcast aims to provide information about the African diaspora and fill the gaps in black history. Each week, a new person or topic in black history is discussed, giving listeners the opportunity to learn about aspects of black history that aren’t fully explored in history classes.

Nerds on History Bryan Moriarty, Eric Bricmont and Sarah Ashley Recent Episode to Try: Figs and Cake: The Isaac Newton Story

A trio of history nerds addresses both familiar and unfamiliar historical topics in this lighthearted podcast. At approximately an hour per episode, it’s a good alternative to Hardcore History, for those who enjoy learning historical tidbits but prefer a shorter podcast. .

State of the Arts Tina Rivers Ryan and Sarah Schaefer Recent Episode to Try: Dismaland: Art as Politics

Two experts in art history aim to make art more meaningful to listeners through thoughtful discussions and explanations of various topics in art history. They deliver art concepts in ways that are accessible to laymen, so even casual listeners can take away something..

From the Expert: Benefits of Online History Courses

Why would somebody consider taking history courses online rather than in-person?
Arvin_Vohra Arvin Vohra

When done right, online history courses can be more easily individualized than a live course. That allows for deeper exploration, and greater rigor. It also eliminates some of the nonsense that comes from in-person classes. For example, in an online course, you don't have to waste time listening to someone ask an idiotic question just to earn "class participation" points or curry favor.

Could you speak on any benefits of online history courses for adult learners?
Arvin_Vohra Arvin Vohra

Adults benefit more than anyone from a rigorous history course, since adults can vote. An informed understanding of history gives adults a better perspective from which to make intelligent political decisions.

There are so many history classes available online, covering a huge range of topics. How can students be sure they are enrolling in an accurate, high-quality history course?
Arvin_Vohra Arvin Vohra

Look closely at the material. A strong history course will use a combination of close reading of entire primary sources and rigorous, comparatively unbiased textbooks. That means that the textbooks should not be the ones chosen by school boards. The primary sources studied should be studied in their entirety. In other words, a course that includes Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government should study the whole text. A good history course will be hard. It will build your reading skills along with your understanding of history. A bad history course will be easy, and full of feel-good propaganda.