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Top 10 Online Courses on Social Justice 

What is social justice? It’s a concept of fairness regarding the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. While human rights focus on providing everyone with the basic rights and freedoms outlined in documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, social justice is concerned with fairness, access, equity, and equality. Human rights and social justice are closely aligned, but not interchangeable. This guide describes ten social justice courses available online from the Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn learning platforms.

The courses below cover subjects such as feminism and social justice, social work, data science for social justice, art and music, and Black performance as social protest. As is the case with most online learning platforms, you can audit most of the courses for free. If you want to access all the materials (including graded assignments) and receive a certification, you will usually need to pay a course fee. Most courses offer financial aid opportunities. Coursera and FutureLearn also offer plans where you can subscribe and access most of the courses and certificates on their websites without an additional fee. If you want to take multiple courses on a single platform, these subscription plans are worth considering.

#1. Feminism and Social Justice (University of California Santa Cruz)
#2. Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change (University of Michigan)
#3. Love as a Force for Social Justice (Stanford University)
#4. Community Organizing for Social Justice (University of Michigan)
#5. Writing for Social Justice (BerkeleyX)
#6. Data Science for Social Justice (DavidsonX)
#7. Visualizing Women’s Work: Using Art Media For Social Justice (University of Michigan)
#8. Community Awareness: What Is A Socially Just University (University of Michigan)
#9. Black Performance as Social Protest (University of Michigan)
#10. Music and Social Action (Yale University)

#1. Feminism and Social Justice (University of California Santa Cruz)

An adaptation of Distinguished Professor Bettina Aptheker’s course at UC Santa Cruz, this online MOOC defines and explores feminism through the lens of three significant events in the history of feminism and social justice. The course covers the Empire Zinc strike of 1951, the 1971-1972 trial of Angela Davis, and the #metoo movement. Bettina Aptheke leads the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Understand Professor Aptheke’s working definition of “feminism”
  • Learn about the causes, conditions, and outcomes of the Empire Zinc strike
  • Learn about the trial of Angela Davis
  • Explore the causes and outcomes of the #metoo movement, as well as recent changes that came from the movement

How you will learn

“Feminism and Social Justice” is divided into four weeks. It takes about eight hours total to complete. Coursework includes readings, videos, discussion prompts and forums, and graded quizzes. The quizzes, which are each worth 25% of your grade, are available to view through the audit track. To pass each quiz, you must score an 80% or higher. At the time of writing, the course had a 4.8/5 user rating.

REGISTER HERE

#2. Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change (University of Michigan)

This course explores the role of social workers, including the history of social work, its roles in different settings, the themes that guide social work practice, and current challenges facing the profession. Students will gain a thorough understanding of social work in the United States and its connection to social justice. The course can be taken on its own or as part of the “Social Work: Practice, Policy, and Research MasterTrack Certificate Program.” Barbara Hilz (Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Work and MSW Program Director) teaches the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Understand the scope of social work and the skills and roles of social workers
  • Apply core frameworks and change efforts to a case situation
  • Explore the history of social work
  • Learn how to center justice in social work through the Privilege, Oppression, Social Justice, and Diversity framework

How you will learn

This course is divided into four weeks and takes 12 hours total to complete. Coursework includes videos, readings, discussion prompts and forums, practice quizzes, and four graded module quizzes. They are each worth 25% of your grade. To pass, you must score 70% or higher. To receive a grade, you must be on the paid course track. At the time of writing, the course had a 4.8/5 user rating.

REGISTER HERE

#3. Love as a Force for Social Justice (Stanford University)

This course explores “agape love,” a concept of compassion and kindness, as a force for social justice. Using the expertise of people from many disciplines, students will learn the biological, religious, psychological, and social perspectives of love. By the course’s end, students will have a deeper understanding of love as the key to creating community, connection, and functional societies. Anne Firth Murray teaches the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Understand different types of love
  • Explore love and the brain, including the neuroscience of empathy
  • Discuss love within different religions and ethical systems of thought
  • Explore love in action in one-on-one interactions, in businesses, and in NGOs
  • Understand love within a social justice context

How you will learn

The course is divided into six weeks and takes about 28 hours total to complete. Coursework includes videos, readings, discussion forums, and graded assignments. Assignments are peer-reviewed, so you must review three of your peers’ assignments. It appears that the assignments (there are twelve) are available even on the audit track. At the time of writing, the course had a 4.7/5 user rating.

REGISTER HERE

#4. Community Organizing for Social Justice (University of Michigan)

In this course, students will study strategies for community organizing for social justice in a diverse, democratic society. Topics include the core concepts of social justice, practical steps for community-building, and how to develop action plans. The course is based on those working for community change in the metropolitan Detroit area, but it’s useful for anyone no matter where they live. Professor of Social Work Barry Checkoway teaches the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Define social justice, community, organizing, and leaders
  • Explore stereotypes, discrimination, and social identity
  • Develop better communication skills and how to navigate tough conversations
  • Learn the seven steps to creating change
  • Understand the different elements of strategy for community organizing

How you will learn

This beginner course is divided into six weeks and takes about eight hours total to complete. Coursework includes videos, readings, discussion prompts and forums, and graded assignments. These are six reflections asking about your comprehension of that week’s topic. When you audit, you can see the reflections, but you can’t submit for a grade. At the time of writing, the course had a 4.8/5 user rating.

REGISTER HERE

#5. Writing For Social Justice (BerkeleyX)

This edX course teaches students about how writing can change the world, whether it’s on a personal, local, national, or global subject. Students will learn the importance of words in different genres, such as personal journals, letters to public officials, and opinion articles. By the course’s end, students will have a firm grasp on the power of writing for social justice and the skills necessary for a variety of genres. Maggie Sokolik (Director, College Writing Programs) teaches the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Define social justice
  • Learn how to develop powerful vocabulary and strong sentences
  • Understand how to use logic to persuade readers
  • Learn to craft persuasive and powerful opinion essays
  • Explore writing formats and how to get published

How you will learn

When the course is in session and you’re taking the certificate track, you have access to all materials including graded assignments. It takes four weeks with 4-5 hours of work per week. On the audit track, your access expires after about a month. Coursework includes videos, readings, ungraded quizzes, and discussion forums. There are three homework assignments and one final writing assignment. To pass, you need to score 50% or higher as an average of all assignments. You only receive a grade you’re paying for a verified certificate. When the course is not in session, it’s archived and no longer active, though you can see the materials and old discussion forums.

REGISTER HERE

#6. Data Science for Social Justice (DavidsonX)

This intermediate course teaches students how to analyze injustice and structural inequality by applying methods in R. R is a tool and environment for statistical analysis and is used to handle, store, and analyze data. Based on a student’s current R skills, you’ll learn how to use data for social change, see how inequities are embedded in education, health, and housing, and analyze and communicate data using well-designed visualizations like histograms, bar graphs, and boxplots. Laurie Heyer (Kimbrough Professor of Mathematics | Chair of Genomics) teaches the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Apply data science to analyze injustice and structural inequality
  • Reflect on inequities across communities and regions using data
  • Communicate with data with unbiased and well-designed visualizations
  • Explore the role of data scientists in social justice

How you will learn

At the time of writing, we couldn’t access the course details. With 3-5 hours of work per week, the course takes about four weeks. Because it’s an intermediate course, students will need to access R and Rstudio, install tidyverse, load data from Excel spreadsheet or .cvs, use R Markdown files, work with projects in R, and recognize categorical/non-categorical variables. Access to any graded materials is limited on the audit track. Access to the course also expires after a certain time with the audit track.

REGISTER HERE

#7. Visualizing Women’s Work: Using Art Media For Social Justice (University of Michigan)

This FutureLearn course teaches students how to view art history through the lens of gender and learn about the historical erasure of women’s work through social justice art. Students will gain a foundation in visual literacy and interpretation, as well as an understanding of how to identify and interpret art-based social justice projects. Melanie Manos, a world-renowned visual and performance artist, leads the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Understand the basics of visual literacy and different art forms
  • Explore the connection between art and social justice
  • Identify the history and patterns of gender bias in public art
  • Develop strategies for responding to gender bias in public art/memorials and other social justice issues

How you will learn

This course takes four weeks with about three hours of work per week. It’s self-paced though with the audit track, you lose access to the course after four weeks. Coursework includes videos, readings, exercises, and discussions. There don’t appear to be any graded assignments.

REGISTER HERE

#8. Community Awareness: What Is A Socially Just University (University of Michigan)

In this Coursera course, students learn about higher education and how institutions can become more socially just for all groups, especially low-income and historically-underrepresented populations. Students will hear from institutional leaders, professors, and students on topics such as a university’s role in social justice, universities’ contributions to inequality and injustice, and what changes need to be made in higher education. Barry Checkoway (Professor of Social Work), Dilip Das (Assistant Vice Provost for Academic Affairs), and Rachel Neimer (Instructor) lead the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Discuss what a university is and who the institution is for
  • Explore the purpose of higher education
  • Examine learning and teaching in light of a changing university population
  • Learn about the role of faculty members and administration

How you will learn

This course is divided into eight weeks and takes about six hours to complete. There is no paid track (or certificate of completion), so full access is available to everyone. Coursework includes readings, videos, and discussion prompts and forums. There are no graded assignments.

REGISTER HERE

#9. Black Performance as Social Protest (University of Michigan)

In this course, students explore the history of social protest through Black performance, which has been a model for protest around the world. Students will read, watch, and listen to performances throughout American history, learn about patterns of resistance, and produce a reflective manifesto for racial equity through performance. Three professors from the school of Music, Theatre, and Dance (who also have lived experiences as Black performers) lead the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Describe histories of plantation performance
  • Understand the geographies and motivations for the Great Migrations between 1917-1935
  • Explore performance from the Civil Rights Era and Black Lives Matter movement
  • Create a personal manifesto and share it with the class

How you will learn

The course takes five weeks with three hours of work per week. If you’re on the audit track, your access is limited to five weeks. Coursework includes videos, readings, discussion forums, and exercises. There are two tools in this course: the Gallery tool and the Workbook tool. The Gallery is a public space where students post their Mixtape and manifesto and receive comments. The Workbook tool is a private space for journaling, reflecting, and drafting. Students can export a PDF version of their Workbook content.

REGISTER HERE

#10. Music and Social Action (Yale University)

How should musicians respond to the state of the world? What are their responsibilities and where are the opportunities for them to participate in social action? This course creates space for these questions and many others. Students will explore the figure of the classical musician as a public figure with an important societal role that can fuel positive change and democracy. Sebastian Ruth (Visiting Lecturer in Community Engagement) leads the course.

What you will learn (excerpt)

  • Discuss what art is and how it contributes to public life
  • Explore the connection between art and democracy
  • Learn about the social commitment of artists from the 20th and 21st centuries
  • Reflect on the role of art, artists, and social action

How you will learn

The course is divided into nine weeks and takes about 26 hours to complete. Coursework includes videos, readings, discussion prompts, and graded assignments, which include quizzes and peer-reviewed assignments. To pass the quizzes, you must score a 70% or higher. It doesn’t appear that the assignments are locked behind the paid track. At the time of writing, the course had a 4.7/5 user rating.

REGISTER HERE

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.