Web Design.edu: Top 50 Free Open Courseware Classes to Design Better Web Sites

by admin on Feb 18, 2009

Are you are a self-taught Web designer? Or, are you a visual communications graduate with a degree? No matter your level of education, you know that Web design is an ever-changing field. Software changes, accessibility demands, usability concerns and platform incompatibilities all contribute to the demand for constant learning curves.

Open courseware solutions may be the answer to your Web development woes. No matter where you live, you can take the courses listed below at your own pace and in the comfort of your home or office and at no cost to you. While some courses listed below are sponsored by colleges and universities, others are provided by experts in their fields.

The following categories are listed alphabetically, and each link in those categories also is listed alphabetically. This methodology ensures that we do not favor one resource over another.


Accessibility issues have come to the forefront with lawsuits against companies that maintain sites that are inaccessible to some users. Stay on top of this topic with the resources listed below:

  1. Accessibility in Interaction Design: Learning Space analyzes some common impairment and disability groups and how they interact with interactive design [Learning Space].
  2. Accessibility of eLearning: Introducing accessibility and disability and how online materials either limit or enhance learning for others [Learning Space].
  3. HTML Best Practices: Illinois Center for Information Technology Accessibility offers tutorials on how to develop an accessible Web site [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign].
  4. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI): The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides information on how to create an accessible Web site [W3C].


Animation has become more accessible and is considered a very usable option for online communication. Learn more here:

  1. Advanced Computer Graphics (and Animation): Learn more about OpenGL programming, computer graphics and computer animation [University of Virginia].
  2. Algorithms for Computer Animation: An MIT course that investigates the algorithms that make computer animations possible [MIT].
  3. Animation: Adrien-Luc Sanders is your guide in this extensive section about animation and the tools involved in the process [About.com].
  4. Special Topics in Cinematic Storytelling: This course is great for anyone who wants to learn how to create a relationship between story creation and story appreciation [MIT].
  5. Survey of 3D Animation: You’ll need iTunes to listen to this lecture about three-dimensional animation [DePaul University].
  6. Three-Dimensional Modeling, Animation and Rendering: Using Blender 3D software, this Tufts course is intended to offer students an introduction to the world of computer generated 3-D modeling and animation [Tufts].

Basic Web Design

The following courses provide information on how to build a site. Some links listed below are updated as changes occur in methodology.

  1. Fundamentals of Computational Media Design: An MIT course that introduces principles of analysis and synthesis in the computational medium [MIT].
  2. HTML Basics: This course covers the basic structure of an HTML document, what HTML tags look like, the fundamental document structure, and basic tags found in nearly all HTML documents [University of Washington].
  3. Introduction to Web Design: Indiana University offers several modules on Web design. You’ll need Real Player [Indiana University].
  4. W3Schools: Instructors often point their students to this site for basic information on everything from HTML to PHP and more [W3Schools].
  5. Web Page Authoring: Jo Anne Howell from Gavilan College offers this course through the Sofia open content initiative [Sofia].
  6. Weekly Web Design Class: Jennifer Kyrnin is a professional Web developer who has assisted others to learn Web Design, HTML, CSS, and XML since 1995 [About.com].

Copyright and Legal Issues

Copyright and legal issues have increased for Web designers over the past few years. Stay on top of these topics with the classes and information listed below:

  1. Creative Commons: Creative Commons provides education, free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry [Creative Commons].
  2. Ethics and the Law on the Electronic Frontier: This course considers the interaction between law, policy, and technology as they relate to the evolving controversies over control of the Internet [MIT].
  3. GNU Licenses: Learn more about the GNU license, a free, “copyleft” license for software and other kinds of works [GNU].
  4. Internet and Copyright Law: This article is designed to provide readers with information on how they can protect their intellectual property or avoid putting themselves in the line of legal fire [Web Developer’s Virtual Library].
  5. Introduction to Copyright Law: This course is an introduction to copyright law and American law in general [MIT].
  6. Text as Property/Property as Text: This course covers topics such as ownership, plagiarism, and ethical and legal topics in writing [Rice Connexions].


You or your clients will want to make money on the Internet to pay all those writers, Web designers and hosting solutions. The courses below teach various aspects about E-Commerce solutions:

  1. An Introduction to E-Commerce and Distributed Applications: This unit examines the type of system which is described by the umbrella term ‘e-commerce’ [Learning Space].
  2. E-Commerce and the Internet in Real Estate and Construction: This module examines the long term effects of information technology on business strategy in the real estate and construction industry [MIT].
  3. Economics and E-commerce: This course uses theoretical models and studies of “old economy” industries to help understand the growth and future of electronic commerce [MIT].
  4. Transaction Processing for E-Commerce: Transaction processing is a systems engineering problem, with many interacting parts. This course covers them all [University of Washington].

Graphics and Design

Web design, or the ability to communicate visually, incorporates elements and principles that are timeless, yet that change constantly in the digital world. Learn more about color, typography and other creative topics with these courses:

  1. Art of Color: This seminar introduces, through studio projects, the basic principles regarding the use of color in the visual arts [MIT].
  2. Color Theory 101: Color theory made simple [Planet Photoshop]
  3. Creating Interactive Media: This course introduces students to some technologies, tools and techniques associated with the creation of interactive multimedia [University of Southern Queensland].
  4. Creative Typography: Carolyn Brown from Foothill College provides this course on typography at the Sofia open content initiative [Sofia].
  5. Design: This unit looks at the process of design – from assessing the complexity of design as an activity to exposing the difficulty in making general conclusions about how designers work [Learning Space].
  6. Designing the User Interface: This course covers text, color, images, moving images and sound [Learning Space].
  7. Digital Typography: This class was one of the earliest classes taught in the Aesthetics and Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab, and it focuses on the history and traditions of typography, and its entry into the digital age [MIT].
  8. Feeling and Imagination in Art, Science, and Technology: This course is a seminar on creativity in art, science, and technology [MIT].
  9. Intro to Instructional Design: Instructional technology includes aspects of instructional design, product development, interactive learning technologies, multimedia, distance education, and library and information literacy [Utah State].
  10. Principles of Design: This course deals with advanced design theories and textual analysis with an emphasis on script analysis in general, as well as the investigation of design principles from a designer’s perspective [MIT].


Unlike accessibility, usability affects the success of any digital communication with all users, not just a segment of the population. The following courses can help you learn more.

  1. Common Sense Reasoning for Interactive Applications: This course explores the state of the art in common sense knowledge, and design and interfaces that can exploit this knowledge to make information more usable and helpful [MIT].
  2. Communicating in Cyberspace: Students are encouraged to think about the Web and other new digital interactive media not just in terms of technology but also broader issues such as language (verbal and visual), design, information architecture, communication and community [MIT].
  3. Designing for Humans: This lecture focuses on how to prevent user errors and design human-oriented solutions [Gresham College].
  4. Designing Sociable Media: This course is not about how to use social media, but how the design of the interface influences people’s interactions with each other and shapes the cultural mores and structures they develop [MIT].
  5. ICTs: e-government: Although this course at the Learning Space is about e-governments online, it contains some remarkable information on information graphics, usability and accessibility [Learning Space].
  6. People-Centered Design: One of the primary considerations in all fields of design is ‘usability’ and, increasingly, the phenomenon of ‘user-centered design.’ Learn about it at the Learning Space [Learning Space].
  7. Social Visualization: In this course you can examine ways of visualizing people, their activities and their interactions [MIT].
  8. User-Centered Design and Navigation: This course is based upon using user-centered Web design as a means to design content [Rice Connexions].


You may be visually oriented, but communication also involves writing. Learn how to write or how to improve your writing through the links below.

  1. Intro to Tech Communication: This course includes a list of web resources helpful to technical writers [MIT].
  2. Technology for Professional Writers: You may already be an accomplished writer, but lack necessary technical skills to obtain the most fulfilling and best paid position in the writers’ market. Discover how you can expand your skills here [Utah State].
  3. Three Modules on Clear Writing Style: This is an introduction to The Craft of Argument, by Joseph M. Williams and Gregory Colomb [Rice Connexions].
  4. What is Good Writing?: Learn how to write through various exercises and thought processes [Learning Space].
  5. Word and Image: This unit deals with a range of printed literary texts which use visual communication as a meaning-making resource [Learning Space].
  6. Writing and Humanistic Studies: MIT goes all out with this department that provides users with the opportunity to learn the techniques, forms, and traditions of several kinds of writing, including for digital media [MIT].

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