Learn About Public Policy with These Five Free Online Courses


A lot of realities came into light in the aftermath of the 2016 election, chief among them being that the American people are divided in a way that has not been seen in recent history. The political theater has left many Democrats and Republicans unable to find a common ground, and people on both sides of the aisle feeling unrepresented by their elected officials.

From organizing massive protests and marches to reaching out to members of Congress, millions of people across the country have begun to take action. But when it comes to sparking tangible change, it can be hard to know where to start. Now that the 2016 campaign is over and the country’s highest office has undergone a transition of power, it’s as important as ever to become educated on policy, government, the constitution and all of the other mechanisms that have made the American experiment a successful one.

With that in mind, here are five free massive open online courses (MOOCs) that can help you turn your attention towards the processes elected officials use to form policies that directly affect the lives of millions of Americans.

Public Policy Challenges in the 21st Century

Start date: January 30

If you want to become educated on public policy, learning from some of the minds at the University of Virginia is a good bet (Thomas Jefferson founded the institution). This course is free to audit, and looks into the great number of interests, policymakers and organizations that turn issues into policy.

United States Health Policy

Start date: Any time

The current U.S. health care system is incredibly complicated, and it’s hard to enter a conversation about the future of Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurance, preexisting conditions and the slew of other relevant issues without a sound understanding of the effects of each. This archived course from Harvard is a great way to understand the factors that go into creating health care policy, and what’s at stake when policymakers attempt to overhaul the system.

Making Government Work in Hard Places

Start date: February 1

Given the current level of American political turmoil, it’s easy to forget that the country’s Constitution is a hallmark for other democracies and governments across the world. Generating institutional change in countries that need it the most is no small undertaking—yet it happens on a regular basis. At this Princeton-taught MOOC, students discover how institutional change takes place in “hard places,” and provides them with a “solutions toolkit” to apply these best practices towards making a difference through policy.

Be Persuasive: Write a Convincing Position Paper or Policy Advice

Start date: January 30

When it comes to voicing your stance on certain issues, simply calling your elected officials is often not enough, and your concerns are often lost in the shuffle. A well-written position paper, on the other hand, can have much more influence. This course, taught by English-Dutch historian Richard T. Griffiths, circles around a single project: researching and presenting an effective position paper. It’s free to audit, but if you want direct feedback on your work then you can pay a premium of $49.

America’s Written Constitution

Start date: January 30

Politics is regularly filled with talk of upholding and abiding by the U.S. Constitution, but many of those conversations do not dig into the founding document itself. Created by Yale University, this MOOC provides students with a fundamental understanding of the Constitution’s primary themes, and the implications of different interpretations them.

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