12 Online Computer Science Courses Worth Taking


Updated March 16, 2023

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Many schools offer free computer science courses online. These classes can prepare students to pursue computer science careers with advancement opportunities and higher-than-average pay.

Some schools deliver the best online computer science classes as massive open online courses (MOOCs). These classes make college education more accessible by opening distance learning to people everywhere, regardless of their location. Most MOOCs are free, but many offer optional paid upgrades.

Many students find that online computer science classes provide flexibility, convenience, and affordability. Online education can especially benefit working professionals or anyone who needs to balance their education with other responsibilities.

Discover what you can learn by taking a computer science course and explore 12 of the best online computer science classes with this helpful guide.

What Subjects Are Covered in Computer Science Courses?

Computer science college courses can cover various subjects, including computer forensics, database management, and web development. Other common subjects include information technology and software engineering. Explore the list below to learn about some of the other subjects explored in popular online computer science classes.

Computer Programming: Computer science professionals write code with programming languages that tell computers to perform tasks. Some computer programming courses provide a broad introduction to programming languages, while others focus more narrowly on one or more languages, like JavaScript, Python, or C++.

Computer Engineering: Computer engineering classes incorporate computer science and electrical engineering concepts to explore computer hardware development and design fundamentals. Topics may include circuit boards, operating systems, and robotics.

Cybersecurity: A typical cybersecurity class explores computer risk management, information security policies, and penetration testing. Coursework may cover a broad introduction to the subfield or focus on specific cybersecurity tools and practices.

Data Science: This field uses advanced tools to apply data in problem-solving contexts. Students who take data science courses learn about data mining, data visualization, statistics, and machine learning.

Information Systems: Information systems classes explore how organizations can use information technology to solve problems. Topics include application design, human-computer interaction, and information systems theories and practices.

Network Administration: Students explore ways to make computer networks run effectively. Enrollees learn to install, fix, and upgrade computer networks. The curriculum may include aspects of data management, web development, and networking solutions.

Software Development: These classes teach learners to create, test, and maintain modern computer applications. The curriculum may include programming languages, software security, and algorithms and data structures.

Best Computer Science Courses to Take Online

Code Yourself! An Introduction to Programming

Coursera offers this introductory online programming class that teaches Scratch, a beginner-friendly visual programming language. The course covers fundamental computing principles and shows students how to think like software engineers. The curriculum includes designing a computer program, integrating visual and sound effects, and reusing code to make something new. Learners who complete the course can pay to get a shareable certificate.

Provider: University of Edinburgh and Universidad ORT Uruguay

Duration: 12 hours over 4 weeks

Lessons: 4 modules with lectures and assignments

Topics Covered

  • Computer programming
  • Scratch
  • Algorithms


This class is part three of the five-course Coursera cybersecurity specialization. Coursework applies flexible deadlines to cover classical and modern cryptography. Students learn practical applications and complete programming assignments. Other courses in the cybersecurity specialization include usable security, software security, and a cybersecurity capstone project.

Provider: University of Maryland

Duration: 18 hours

Lessons: 7 modules; includes practical learning projects, videos, quizzes, and readings

Topics Covered

  • Number theory
  • Public-key cryptography
  • Digital signatures
  • Message authentication codes
  • Computational secrecy

Building a Basic Website

This free 12-lesson class — the first MOOC from University of Massachusetts Amherst — helps students develop the design skills to build basic websites. The journalism department created this course for a general audience. Subjects include styles of navigation, aesthetic choices, and basic HTML and CSS. The class also explores using templates, integrating images, and adding plugins and other extra features to websites.

Provider: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Duration: Self-paced

Lessons: 12 lessons

Topics Covered

  • Design principles
  • CSS
  • HTML5

Databases: Relational Databases and SQL

This self-paced MOOC from Stanford Online joins four other database-related classes from Stanford University. The curriculum introduces concepts in relational databases and SQL. Learners need strong backgrounds in basic computer science, including programming and computer science theory. The class includes access to detailed lecture notes. Participants can pay a fee to receive shareable certificates upon completion.

Provider: Stanford Online

Duration: 2 weeks (8-10 hours per week)

Lessons: Videos, quizzes, exercises

Topics Covered

  • SQL
  • Relational databases
  • Relational database management systems

Secure Software Development: Requirements, Design, and Reuse

This self-paced introductory class, offered through edX, explores the basics of secure software development. Students learn to create secure software and respond to attacks effectively. The class requires basic software development knowledge for software developers, software engineers, and other professionals. The course is one of three in the Secure Software Development Fundamentals Professional Certificate program.

Provider: The Linux Foundation

Duration: 7 weeks (1-2 hours per week)

Lessons: Final exam for students paying for the verified track

Topics Covered

  • Secure design principles
  • Security basics
  • Reusing external software
  • Supply chain evaluation

Introduction To Computational Thinking And Data Science

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) department of electrical engineering and computer science offers this introductory data science course through its open courseware program. This class can help students who do not have computer science experience. The curriculum covers machine learning, classification, and clustering.

Provider: MIT

Duration: 3 hours per week (15 weeks)

Lessons: Lecture videos, programming assignments, problem sets, lecture notes, final exam

Topics Covered

  • Optimization problems
  • Confidence intervals
  • Sampling and standard errors
  • Understanding experimental data

Introduction To Computer Science And Programming

Ideal for people with little or no background in programming, this course from MIT's open courseware program helps develop the skills to write small programs. Students learn to use Python and understand fundamental theories of computing. The curriculum explores optimization problems, confidence intervals, classification, and experimental data.

Provider: MIT

Duration: 3 hours a week (15 weeks)

Lessons: Problem sets, lecture videos, exams with solutions

Topics Covered

  • Python
  • Computing theory

Computer System Engineering

Computer system engineering from MIT's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department provides a foundation in software and hardware engineering. Students design distributed systems to solve problems in the real world through hands-on projects.

Provider: MIT

Duration: 5 hours per week (14 weeks)

Lessons: Design projects, lectures, recitations, written assignments, quizzes

Topics Covered

  • Operating systems
  • Networking
  • Distributed systems
  • Security

Introduction to Data Science with Python

HarvardX's intermediate, self-paced course provides practical experience with using Python to answer real-world questions. The curriculum focuses on machine learning and the foundations of data science. In the final week of the class, students complete a capstone project. The free program offers an optional paid upgrade, which delivers a shareable certificate after completion, graded assignments, and exams.

Provider: HarvardX

Duration: 8 weeks (3-4 hours per week)

Lessons: 8 lessons, capstone project

Topics Covered

  • Linear regression
  • Classification and logistic regression
  • Model selection and cross-validation
  • Hypothesis testing

Computer Science: Algorithms, Theory, and Machines

Princeton offers this intermediate-level class through Coursera. Students complete hands-on learning projects and can adjust deadlines to fit their schedules. The course focuses on the connection between computation theory, applications programming, and the history of computer science.

Other topics include algorithms, computability, logic design, and machine architecture.

Students need previous experience with Java programming.

Provider: Princeton University

Duration: 10 weeks (20 hours)

Lessons: 10 lessons, videos, readings, quizzes

Topics Covered

  • Theory of computing
  • Turing machines
  • Combinational circuits
  • Central processing unit

Computer Architecture

Available through Coursera, this advanced Princeton University class teaches students to design different computer architectures. Learners complete practical projects and explore performance improvement of out-of-order processors and superscalar architecture. The course does not offer a completion certificate.

Provider: Princeton University

Duration: 11 weeks (50 hours)

Lessons: Videos, readings, quizzes

Topics Covered

  • VLIW processors
  • Branch prediction
  • Memory protection
  • Parallel programming

Intro to Theoretical Computer Science

This self-paced theoretical computer science class welcomes intermediate students with a basic understanding of introductory algorithms and computer programming. It explores complexity classes, approximate solutions, and unsolvable computer problems. Students learn to use tools to handle complicated algorithmic problems. The course does not require prior knowledge of theoretical computer science.

Provider: Udacity

Duration: 2 months

Lessons: 7 lessons, instructor videos, interactive quizzes, exercises

Topics Covered

  • Algorithms
  • Programming
  • Theoretical computer science

What to Expect From Online Computer Science Classes

Students can take online computer science courses in various subjects with several formats and structures. Synchronous classes take place in real time, requiring learners to log on to a virtual classroom at specific times. Asynchronous courses, however, generally let students complete coursework on their schedules as long as they meet deadlines.

Typical class structures include live or recorded lectures, reading and writing assignments, and required quizzes. Computer science courses also may include guest speakers and hands-on projects.

Many online computer science classes welcome beginners with little to no previous experience in the field. However, some courses may require prerequisites or relevant experience. Some classes supply required readings or use free resources, but others may require students to purchase supplemental materials.

Pros and Cons of Online Courses in Computer Science

The best online computer science courses allow students to gain in-demand skills conveniently and at low or no cost. These classes can prepare learners to apply for basic tech jobs that do not require formal college degrees.

Taking computer science courses online offers both pros and cons.

Benefits of online education include the convenience of learning in the comfort of your home instead of commuting to a campus. Other potential pros include opportunities to develop time management skills, save money, and learn at an accelerated rate.

Drawbacks of online courses in computer science may include reduced interactions with teachers and classmates, fewer networking opportunities, and the burden of motivating yourself to stay on track.

Should You Take Computer Science Courses Online?

Online computer science courses can appeal to anyone seeking a flexible and affordable learning pathway. Distance education may benefit people trying to educate themselves while working full time.

Older adults worried about whether or not they are too old to learn to code may find computer science online classes a convenient and low-risk way to start their education.

Taking a one-off online computer science class allows a student to dip their toe into the field and help them decide if they want to pursue a degree or certificate. Learners can also take online classes that provide certificates or degrees.

More Resources for Learning Computer Science

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Best Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science

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Best Master's Degrees in Computer Science

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FAQ About Taking Computer Science Courses Online

  • How long do online courses in computer science take?

    Computer science courses vary in length. Some last just a few hours, while others occur over weeks or months. Students can even earn four-year computer science degrees online.

  • Which online computer science class is best for beginners?

    Many schools offer beginner-friendly computer science courses online. Make the right choice by considering your interests, goals, and available time. Look for courses that cover the topic you want to learn and fit into your schedule.

  • Are online computer science courses worth it?

    Yes — they can be. Many online computer science classes are free or low cost and can help students gain the skills they need to pursue entry-level tech jobs. Research the details of a prospective class before signing up to ensure that it covers your interests or needs.

  • Can I take computer science college courses online?

    Yes — many schools offer online computer science college courses on various and focused topics. Consult our list above to sample some online computer science classes worth taking.

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