The best MOOCs on Cities

Whether you are taken up by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)-mania or not, distance and e-learning is opening up learning to everyone with access to the internet. Typically, a MOOC consists of pre-recorded video lectures by the MOOC institution (e.g. university) and released on a weekly basis. Class assignments are due by the end of the course, and often times graded by class peers. In some cases, these courses are recognised by the MOOC institution, and certificates of attendance can be issued. 

The need for widespread education on urban issues is much needed. In many countries, urban development professionals are scarce, and government research bodies spend millions of dollars to invest in skills development by means of in-service training, bursaries for graduate studies, and job placements. These MOOC courses are offered by some of the most acclaimed universities, multilateral agencies, and international NGOs. This is perhaps the perfect place to learning about the complex issues facing cities today. 

This week we look at the best MOOCs on urban development topics. Some of these courses have either expired, or are currently in session. All listed here are available on-demand and free of change. MOOCs are great places to start or enhance your understanding of the histories, theories, processes and systems that underpin our experiences of cities. 

In each of the MOOCs below, the course title, convening university/agency, hosting website and date of launch is given. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. 

Cities | The Open University (UK) | iTunes University | January 2012

22 podcast episodes, 4 – 10 minutes per podcast (on-demand)

The Open University crowded in some of the UK’s top academics, government officials, activitists and everyday city dwellers at the street-level to produce a gripping series. It consists of 22 podcasts of between 4 – 10 minutes each, and although this series is quite old, it covers the widest range of topics of all MOOCs reviewed by Making of Cities.

Case studies include: Regeneration in Glasgow; Who killed Los Angles’ river?; De-industrialisation; and Britain’s anti-urban sentiments.

Cities MOOC, by The Open University

Cities are Back in Town | Sciences Po (France) | coursera.org | September 2015

 8 weeks of study, 2-3/hours per week (In session at time of writing)

Patrick Le Galès of Sciences Po considers cities from a social and political sciences lens (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Patrick Le Galès of Sciences Po considers cities from a social and political sciences lens (Source: Wikimedia commons)

In Cities are Back in Town, Patrick Le Galès of Sciences Po applies sociological and political science lenses to cities of Europe and America. The course just started, and so far, Le Galès offers interesting perspectives on some of the most loved cities. For example, in module two, Le Galès shows how the real estate development in European cities can be understood through German sociologist Max Weber. As a new social class of urban bourgeois emerged, the “development of the city as a collective actor” becomes more clear.

Urbanization is reaching a new peak in the contemporary world with the rise of mega cities. Researchers try to make sense of these large urban areas using a variety of concepts. The class will review debates and present social science models of cities to analyse and compare contemporary developments.
— Patrick Le Galès, Sciences Po

Cities are Back in Town MOOC, by Sciences Po

Global Urban Lectures | UN Habitat (Kenya and USA) | youtube.com | Season 1: 2014, Season 2: 2015

20 video lectures, 15 minutes per lecture, two seasons (on-demand)

Have you ever come across those 300-400 page UN Habitat or World Bank reports and wondered how you will ever process this information? In these Global Urban Lecture series, friends of UN Habitat unpack in clear and understandable terms. Speakers include Martim Smolka (Lincoln Institute of Land, USA), Edgar Pieterse (University of Cape Town), Janice Perlman (The Megacities Project), and Nabeel Hambi (Oxford Brookes University), to mention a few. Each video is 15 minutes long delivered in a "TED Talk" style, and season 2 just recently started.

The Series aims to demonstrate a sound evidence-based analysis of a given problem and issues at stake, identify propositions to address them and provide examples that demonstrate how such propositions actually work, are being tested or have been implemented
— Preface to Global Urban Lecture Series, UN Habitat

UN Habitat Global Urban Lectures Season 1 | Season 2 (youtube playlists)

Designing Cities | University of Pennsylvania (USA) | coursera.org | October 2013

10 weeks of study, 4-6 hours per week (on-demand)

Perhaps one of the best MOOCs on urban design, or the “language of the city” in Eugenie Birch’s words, Designing Cities is comprehensive and very insightful; a crash course in urban planning and design 101. Instructors Gary Hack, Jonathan Barnett and Stefan Al unpack topics: How Today’s City Evolved; Tools for Designing Cities; Preserving Older Cities; Districts and Neighborhoods; and Making Cities Sustainable.

The course consists of 10 modules of 20-30 minutes each, and assignments can be completed at the end of each course. This MOOC is essential for all who want to better understand design elements of ancients, modern and post-modern cities.

Designing Cities MOOC, by UPenn

Quality of Life: Liveability in Future Cities | ETH Zurich (Switzerland) | Edx.org | Starts today!

11 weeks of study, 3 hours per week (In session at time of writing)

In some ways the Quality of Life MOOC builds on ETH’s Future Cities MOOC, which explored big data and smart growth techniques from the perspective of their ETH Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore, which has produced many necessary research results over the past three years. There was talk of setting up an ETH Future Cities Lab in Africa also, but no confirmation of this has been forthcoming.

If you are interested in learning about the data-driven decision making and complex system modeling, Prof. Gerhard Schmitt, Professor of Information Architecture at ETH Zurich and winner of the 2010 European Culture of Science Award, will teach about Information Architecture (iA) as the next level of Computer Aided Architecture Design (CAAD).

Quality of Life MOOC | Future Cities MOOC

Engaging Citizens: A Game Changer for Development? | World Bank Group | coursera.org | March 2015

4 weeks of study, 4-5 hours per week (on-demand)

In Engaging Citizens, course instructors Jeff Thindwa, Björn-Sören Gigler and Tiago Peixoto facilitated a four-week intensive learning experience with two options for deeper learning: 1) citizen-engagement “champions” and 2) policy and leadership. This course is particularly well put together, and much needed, considering the lack of participation in many World Bank-finances projects. This course was designed in collaboration between the London School of Economics, Overseas Development Institute, Participedia, Civicus and the World Bank Group.

Government works best when citizens are directly engaged in policymaking and public service delivery. What conditions are necessary for inclusive and effective citizen engagement? Can it positively improve people’s lives? This course provides an overview of citizen engagement, critically analyzing how it can be leveraged most effectively to achieve development results.
— Engaging Citizens course overview, World Bank Group