15 Free Online Courses to Learn About Social Activism and the Media

Updated on March 27, 2019
Lovelli Fuad profile image

Lovelli has a bachelor’s in the humanities. She, too, wants to apply her computational skills & ponder on the implications of her choices.


In an internet minute 973,000 users log in to Facebook, and over 174,000 users scroll through Instagram. Social media is where every 60 seconds we are sharing 2.4 million snaps, at least 38 million Whatsapp messages, and 481,000 tweets. Many of these tweets have political hashtags attached to them.

The social movement of our information age has created new and exciting channels that make it easier to get involved in the things that are really meaningful to us. The following free online Massive Open Online Course or MOOCs will help you internalize the social changes that are happening in our society. Should you decide to take a few or many of these course suggestions, with or without credit, you might also want to learn how to cite them on your resume.

1. Fearless Women in Politics

The Psychology of Political Activism: Women Changing the World details six theories to explain the individual motivation for social change, applied to a group of women activists in North America. Why are so many of these women becoming politically active? You will be listening to the voices of female activists, such as Gloria Steinem, Katzi Cook, Ginny Apuzzo, and other featured activists. The course is no longer actively offered by the Smith College, but the materials are still accessible from the edX archives.

2. Resistance: the Missing Link in Art Activism

Offered by the University of Kent on Future Learn, the course is titled Politics, Art, and Resistance. It explores the practices of resistance in creative practices, on a reflective journey to understand the role of the artist and the idea of “life as a work of art.” To receive a printed certificate by mail, you will need to upgrade, but the lessons are completely free.

3. Digital Technology & Social Change

This course is an exploration of the relationship between digital technology and social change. Throughout the course you will be learning about the two concepts and apply them to solve real-life problems. You’ll learn the complexities of human development through various topics: social evolution, digitalization, and the digital age. All the materials are accessible through Canvas.

4. ART of the MOOC Series: Activism, Public Art, and Sound Experiments

The ART of MOOC instalment is a very well-managed course compilation: Activism and Social Movements (English/Spanish), Public Art and Pedagogy (English/Spanish), and Experiments with Sound (English). These courses are the work of the Duke University and Creative Time, published on Coursera.

Activism and Social Movements focuses on the overlapping of socially engaged art and cultural practices. Public Art and Pedagogy attempts public art interventions, covering topics such as spatial politics, everyday social structures, and experimental education. Experiments with Sound works on sound interventions and musical compositions.

5. Network Cultures

Learn about the social and cultural aspects of Networked Life in this course. Discussions will be around major themes within the study of network cultures and within broader cultural conversations. You’ll watch documentaries about a journalist’s meeting with Edward Snowden in “Citizenfour (2014)” and “We Are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists (2012).” The course is available through the MIT Open Courseware, so no certificates, no lectures, and no seminar discussions for you to attend. Just lots of reading on hacktivism, social media, platform politics, and many other current topics.

6. Media and Mobilization

This seminar course was taught every week in 2015 as Networked Social Movements: Media and Mobilization. The course explores plural relationships between these social movements and the media systems. Because this is an archived version at MIT Open Courseware, some of the learning tools and activities suggested in the syllabus might not apply to you. Instead of attending a protest event, you might want to go through online documentations about a protest event.

7. Advocating and Promoting for a Social Cause

Activism and Citizen Journalism through Media is a great course for people who need to advocate for a social cause. It’s by WitsX (the University of the Witwaterstrand, Johannesburg) and offered through EdX. You’ll be learning about how to pitch a story idea to the print media, the radio, to social media publications, and other more technical aspects, such as identifying newsworthy issues and ethical practices.

A motivational poster saying: remember why you started.
A motivational poster saying: remember why you started. | Source

8. Behind the Popular Musics of the World

Popular Musics of the World goes behind the popular to identify recurring issues. The syllabus can be accessed from the archives of MIT Open Courseware, with reading materials on topics like musical change, Westernization, the impact of recording industries, and post-colonialism. The topics include protest music, music as a tool for humanitarian aid, rap and hip-hop in Japan, and music and identities.

9. How to Bring Positive Change

This course is called, Make Change Happen, and runs for 8 weeks. It is designed to go deeper into the driving force behind positive social change, such as the power dynamics, social systems, and the change mechanism. The course is suitable for activists, change agents, and people with significant interest in a career with a positive social impact. Available through Future Learn, the MOOC is prepared by Oxfam and the Open University.

10. How Musicians Respond to the Changes

Did you ever notice that the lyrics to your favourite song are reflective of the changes happening in the world? This course wants to know if this is also the case with classical musicians. Music and Social Action tries to answer some of the questions related to how musicians respond to the world around them. Prepared by the University of Yale, the course offers a certificate and is accessible from the Coursera platform.

11. The Use of Public Spaces for Protests and Identities

The course Identity, Conflict and Public Space is an exploration of how public spaces are used in ethnic and political conflicts. The course is developed by Queen’s University Belfast and accessible from Future Learn. You will be exposed to key issues around the use of public spaces to express identities, the nature of our social groups, and the importance of identity and public spaces. Your final project is a digital artefact of a public space protest.

12. Learn Social Entrepreneurship

Take this free learning path from Springboard to go behind the organizational structure of a change maker. Our Social Entrepreneurship course identifies the present social entrepreneurship as a global movement involving individuals as well as organizations. You will understand what a social problem is, how to design a solution, and how to finance your plan.

13. 200 Years of Youth Political Participation

Available through the MIT Open Courseware, the Youth Political Participation course was taught in 2016. It investigates the trends in youth political activism within a 200-year period. The focus of the course is in identifying the differences in media participation and in technology use.

14. Behind People’s Choices of Food

Explore the aesthetic, moral, cultural, religious, prudential, and political values observed in people’s choices of foods with Good Food: Ethics and Politics of Food. The course discuss interesting topics, such as how people make individual food choices, how society manages food production, and how food choices resolve conflicts.

15. The Impact of Globalization on Cultures

This is another course available from the MIT Open Courseware, Topics in Culture and Globalization. With it, you will learn how globalization impacts the everyday life of societies that are separated geographically, how it leads to a common “cosmopolitan culture” across First and Third Worlds. You will be learning from relevant films, pop music materials, advertisement, and political cartoons.

Internet archives and lecture series
Internet archives and lecture series | Source

Sources & Further Readings

  1. Smith College. Psychology of Political Activism: Women Changing the World. EdX.
  2. University of Kent. Politics, Art and Resistance. Future Learn.
  3. University of California, Davis. Digital Technology & Social Change. Canvas.
  4. Duke University and Creative Time. ART of the MOOC: Public Art and Pedagogy, Activism and Social Movements, and Experiments with Sound. Coursera.
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Network Cultures. MIT Open Courseware
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Networked Social Movements: Media and Mobilization. MIT Open Courseware.
  7. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Activism and Citizen Journalism through Media. EdX.
  8. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Popular Musics of the World. MIT Open Courseware.
  9. The Open University and Oxfam. Make Change Happen. Future Learn.
  10. Yale. Music and Social Action. Coursera.
  11. Queen’s University Belfast. Identity, Conflict and Public Space. Future Learn.
  12. Springboard. Social Entrepreneurship.
  13. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Youth Political Participation. MIT Open Courseware.
  14. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Good Food: Ethics and Politics of Food. MIT Open Courseware.
  15. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Topics in Culture and Globalization. MIT Open Courseware.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Lovelli Fuad


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