At first, the podcast was like the newsletter of the digital age: sign up and wait for the material to arrive. Today the term has come to mean any audio or video collections that are consistently added to and that can be downloaded for playback later, a capability that has intertwined podcasts with open education. The web is full of outstanding, free academic talks. For your convenience, we lined up 50 of our favorite individual lectures and lectures series by scholars and academicians both past and present.
These fun lectures comprise Wesleyan University professor Richard Slotkin’s last course before retirement, and with titles like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Three Amigos, you know they’re going to be entertaining.
Professors from Oxford and elsewhere give short lectures celebrating Dickens, Milton, Shakespeare, Austen, and more in this strong podcast.
The titular professor is Corey Olsen of Washington College, whose infectious passion for and knowledge of the creator of The Lord of the Rings will have you seeing the books in a whole new way.
In these fun lectures, you’ll study “finding spirituality in Avatar” and how to avoid similar fates to the people in Contagion.
Yet another entry from Stanford, two profs share their thoughts about values, free will, and “the art of living” with enthusiasm and insight.
Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology
Berkeley psych professor and author of Born to Be Good Dacher Keltner lectures on human emotions as a powerful help, not a hindrance.
Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Med teaches this class known as Sociology 190, an important look at medical care as a factor of social classes.
Respected Yale prof Shelly Kagan tackles this grim subject and manages to turn it into a compelling course on the fate all of us eventually face.
Courtesy of the hallowed halls of Oxford, this podcast features a panel discussion among the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Anthony Kenny, and famous atheist Richard Dawkins.
UCLA’s Thomas Bradbury lectures are full of excellent insights about intimacy, mate selection, and the nature of human relationships.
This lecture series by UC Berkeley’s Terrence W. Deacon is continually well-reviewed for both its intriguing subject matter and Deacon’s engaging teaching style.
Texas Christian University prof Lockett expounds on the Flavians, the Julio-Claudians, Roman mystery cults, and more cool stuff in this ANTH 30923 series.
One of iTunes’ Education Spotlight podcasts, these lectures feature UC Irvine’s Daniel Stokols’ comments on littering, overcrowding, resource scarcity, and more.
One of the most popular Harvard classes ever is yours to enjoy for free, although it will mean asking yourself some brutally tough questions.
Listen to these short talks in the car as the entertaining Dan Ariely of Duke University interviews some of today’s brightest thinkers.
Jill Geisler of Florida journalism school The Poynter Institute gives practical, short-and-sweet lectures on what makes the best business leaders.
Math and Science
The top-rated MIT podcast on iTunes U consists simply of instructor Herb Gross making calculus simple with only the aid of a chalkboard.
A winner of the Best Ideas podcast series’ Best Lecturer award, Brar talks astronomy and how it affects our understanding of the universe.
Melosh, a professor of theoretical geophysics, offers his take on a subject that has long plagued scientists with the help of computer simulations.
Yale associate prof Ainissa Ramirez makes engineering cool in these amazing video podcasts about heat-deflection on the space shuttle, quasicrystals, and more.
Richard Muller also has a book with this name, so clearly he’s serious about a future Commander in Chief knowing “the most interesting and important topics in physics.”
A group of Columbia University instructors present one great lecture after another on astronomy.
Inspired by the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, the University of Edinburgh offers these lectures on the continued importance of detective work by today’s doctors.
Leonard Susskind, the “bad boy of physics,” introduces you to string theory, a concept he co-founded, and its impact and implications.
Not only does this podcast connect you with free Harvard computer science training, professor David Malan makes all his course notes and slides available on his website.
Philosophy and Religion
This two-part lecture is a great introduction to the oldest book of the Bible and one that has stumped readers and theologians for hundreds of years.
MIT’s Stephen Yablo presents this excellent lecture series in conjunction with Oxford regarding one of modern man’s most influential philosophers.
Though he passed away in 1980, legendary philosopher Walter Kaufmann discusses Nietzsche, of whose works Kaufmann was a renowned translator and commentator.
Part history, part theology, these lectures by Robert Cargill of UCLA are a fascinating look at the religious capital of the world.
On the eve of the publication of his book by the same name as the lecture, former Wall Street Journal bureau chief Frederick Kempe takes you back to the heated days before the Cold War.
The late, great Zinn “lectures” in his conversational, funny way about the origins of his study of history and his game-changing book, A People’s History of the United States.
One of the most popular classes at Yale, taught by one if its most renowned professors (Donald Kagan), this series is a can’t-miss.
One of Yale’s most-downloaded files is this first lecture from Yale Professor Joanne Freeman’s HIST 116 class. If you thought the American Revolution was all about war, this one’s for you.
Life in the 21st Century
Professor Lord Robert Skidelsky of the University of Warwick and Dr. Maurice Glasman, author of Unnecessary Suffering investigate why we work so much harder than we used to and suggest we all say enough is enough.
The renowned MIT linguistics professor discusses the War on Terror with his trademark insight and grasp of international affairs.
You can’t go wrong with any of the award-winning discussions hosted by George Mason’s Russ Roberts, but this one with investigative journalist Brian Deer on the vaccine-autism myth is especially good.
Robert Sapolsky, the Stanford professor and author of a book with the same title, delivers a great lecture on stress that would be funny if it weren’t so startling.
Stanford’s Ramesh Johari gets you caught up on Internet jargon and tech you may never have learned and gives you a vision into tomorrow’s web.
One more from Chomsky. Here he discusses the alarming relationship between business and government, what he calls “a threat to freedom and survival.”
In this short video from the TEDTalks podcast, applied mathematician Max Little reveals a 30-second test for Parkinson’s disease that’s 99% accurate.
Eight speakers discuss the amazing journey of the evolution of communication throughout the ages of man.
A New York teacher explains how he and his students create food, jobs, and hope in their gardens and how the principles can be applied in the greening of America.
The head of the Equal Justice Initiative delivers an exciting talk on the hidden problems with the American legal system.
Author Susan Cain overcomes her own introversion to lecture viewers on the potential of fellow introverts, with the scientific data to back it up.
The brain scientist shares her incredible story of suffering a stroke and how in her struggle to regain her brain faculties she developed a desire for a world beyond scientific analysis.
This creativity expert presents a compelling case that our school system is inherently flawed and destined to stifle our young people’s imaginations.
MIT researcher Saxe delves into the fascinating meta-topic of how our brains think about the workings of other brains based on her cutting-edge lab work.
One of the foremost names in wearable computing, Mistry displays the breakthrough tech behind his SixthSense device, as well as his amazing paper laptop.
Demonstrating again that the developing world is not so far removed from the First World, the global health professor brings the data to explode myths about poverty and prosperity.
UCSF clinical professor Ornish keeps it short and sweet in this lecture about the dangers of cardiovascular disease and how you can keep it from striking.