5 MOOC Professors To See Before You Die

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

- William Arthur Ward


Times have changed. The new rock stars are top professors from top universities. The brave knights of 21st century fight the darkness of ignorance, earning the love of millions of students around the globe. Why? In this chaotic ocean of knowledge and amongst the great variety of learning resources, teachers are what matter the most – their talent to incite interest in students and inspire them to dive deeper.  Their charisma and support can create real magic. In this article we’ll take a look at 5 instructors you don’t want to miss.

Dan Ariely of Duke University

Habitat:  Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior by Coursera

Persona:  Jedi who fights the darkness of human irrationality.


Dan Ariely brings to you a surreal experience, a realization that everyone around you (including yourself) isn’t rational at all. Your life will never be the same again once you’ve taken this course. The fun, entertaining nature of his lectures a-la thriller, comedy, cartoon, with a superhero-like professor makes the experience truly wonderful. 

People behave irrationally, that’s a fact. You think that you are not in this category? Take this class and think again. Dan Ariely shows that obvious is usually not so obvious and the rational human being is a myth. You will learn aspects of psychology and behavioral economics such as cognitive bias, the psychology of money, neuroeconomics as well as everyday life hacks such as why “play hard to get” is a great strategy for dating, how to split the bill after the dinner at a restaurant with friends and what are the best hacks for boosting personal productivity.

Interestingly enough, Dan Ariely never had an intention of becoming a behavioral economist. Initially, he studied Physics and Math at Tel Aviv University until the last year of university when he switched to Psychology.  Although, Dan Ariely has no formal experience, he is recognized as one of the brightest minds in the field of Behavioral Economics. He has written numerous papers, bestselling books, popular articles in major business and economics newspapers and magazines and has broad teaching experience in universities such as Sloan Management School and Duke University.

Trivia: Now he’s getting magical power aka valuable information on human beings in the Center for Advanced Hindsight and sharing it with the world by writing books and giving ted talks.

Contacts: https://twitter.com/danariely

“A Preview to “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” can give you a precise idea what fun this class is.



David J. Malan of Harvard 

Habitat: CS50x by edX

Persona: The Captain who guides through the rough seas of Computer Science.


David J.Malan is a Senior Lecturer of Computer Science at Harvard. However, for the majority of online students he is known for his course CS50x. Computer Science is now sexy. Many prominent entrepreneurs, business executives and journalists support the idea that everyone in 21st century should be able to code. This belief is based upon research on the future of the labor market, corroborated by the huge $500 billion gap between CS job demand and supply within the next 5 years. However, Computer Science is a difficult discipline and can be very challenging even for the most motivated self-directed learners.  

Here comes David J. Malan and CS50x.  Every “play” click will take you to a Harvard auditorium. The course is as rigorous as an actual Harvard class would be. However, you won’t even notice rigidity of the course and all the effort you’ll put into tough homework and coding. The first homework in Scratch will make even complete newbies comfortable. Singing students from previous offerings adds a lot of fun to your studies. Recommendations of documentaries and related fiction such as movies about hackers will give you some extra material to be inspired by. David Malan’s passion about his subject and faith in his students will further enhance your motivation. Why does this happen? Partially, because a professor is interested in his subject but most likely it is because apart from actually teaching he’s doing research on instructional technologies and pedagogy. This class is a great preparation for more advanced courses.

Trivia: After this class you’ll realize that there’s no wonder why Harvard students pay 200k for 4 years of education. Luckily for the world and thanks to edX, CS50X is free for everyone willing to learn.

Contacts: https://twitter.com/davidjmalan

One of the most funniest parodies on “Call Me Maybe” from Harvard CS50 students will encourage you to take this class


Chuck Eesley of Stanford University

Habitat: Technology Entrepreneurship by NovoEd

Persona:  The Pirate-in-disguise who converts newbies into Pirates of Startup Seas.


You won’t see any jaw-dropping effects in Chuck Eesley’s lectures, but his modest confidence and in-depth knowledge of the subject will give you insights into starting a technology business. His course, Technology Entrepreneurship, is based on his own research at Stanford and personal experience of entrepreneurship and successful startups. The mission of professor Eesley’s work is to “empower the next generation of entrepreneurs to have the greatest chance of success”. What makes Chuck Eesley really special is his activity and interactions with students via the Facebook group and via Twitter. 

What about course itself? If there’s anything hotter than Computer Science nowadays, it’s startups. The buzz around the trend of starting businesses, dropping out of school, exploring new worlds and creating valuable and useful products allures thousands people of all ages, sexes and nationalities into the harsh world of business. Welcome to the Gold Rush of 21st century! 

Likely for society, creation of businesses is more meaningful and beneficial than mining gold. Because of business complexity, it requires deep knowledge and a range of skills. Books, articles and blogs can help in this case but the knowledge gained from these alone won’t be equal to what Chuck will give you – a holistic picture, deep understanding of the subject, carefully designed assignments… All the equipment for becoming a True Pirate of the startup seas!

Trivia: Indeed, Chuck Eesley is the most social MOOCs professor. You may follow him on Quora to find out his thoughts, opinons and ideas on many questions by community, from personal “What is like to be a professor at Stanford?” to more general “What are some ways to foster entrepreneurship?”. He’s written 80 answers and is not stopping, so lots of food for thoughts even after the class is over.

Contacts: https://twitter.com/eesley

Haven’t heard about Lean Startup? That’s bad, but no worries – this video will give you some useful clues


Edward Hess of Darden School of Business(Virginia University)

Habitat: Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses by Coursera

Persona: The Wizard of Business who reveals the magic of growing successful companies.


Are you bored by academic, traditional lecture-style courses? Try this course. It couldn’t be farther away from bookish, dull lectures. You may even forget that it’s an online course – Edward Hess creates an atmosphere of conversation with an old friend. Serious researches and case studies sound rather like anecdotes from life, which engages you more and more with each lecture and makes digesting information much easier. 

If there’s only one business course you take, Grow to Greatness is a great choice because it reveals the mystery of successful businesses in just 10 weeks. Statistically, 1 out of 10 newborn companies survives. There is a widespread belief of success: find a brilliant idea, check for product/market fit, execute flawlessly, and, voila, magic happens. However, something is missing in this recipe: business nuance and actual how-to’s. Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Companies is a perfect place to find the Holy Grail.

You might say: ”I’m not so into business, why should I take this course?” If we take a closer look at the nature of business, many practices can be applied to life to help you to become a better you, to live a fulfilled life and accomplish great things. Doesn’t it sound familiar? (Hint: bestsellers on lifestyle, productivity, wealth…)

What is business about? Creating value for society, making people happy, getting things done, achieving great things despite all odds.

Concepts such as “power of processes” will help you to organize your life and fight procrastination. “Leadership” lessons will show you how to be charismatic and confident person, bringing out the best in others and inspiring people to make great things happen. “Strategic focus” will teach you how to set the right goals and achieve them.

Trivia: More than 30 years in business world, ex-executive of serious firms, author of 10 brilliant books… Sounds scary, huh? But instead of a haughty stereotyped Wall Street guy, you will find a likable professor-friend. Edward Hess knows how to create the right atmosphere. 

Contacts: https://www.coursera.org/instructor/~10

Introduction for the first part of course which focuses on 4P’s(Planning, Prioritization, Processes and Pacing). The second part of course is on 5th P – People.



Salman Khan of Khan Academy

Habitat: Khan Academy

Persona: The Brave Knight who created Khan Academy, the antecedent of today’s popular MOOCs.


Every self-directed learner has at least heard of Khan Academy. The story of it’s inception is fascinating. Short educational 10-minute YouTube videos became a huge catalyst for education, with more than 260 millions views so far. Now you can find more than 3000 videos covering almost everything from deep science to liberal arts subjects alongside assignments, discussions and tracking progress tools. Moreover Khan Academy successfully applies the principles of gamification, so you’ll never be bored and always motivated to learn more.

As a result, Khan Academy has been recognized as one of the most influential educational organisations in the world.

The story behind the curtains is truly inspiring. It all started from just one person, Salman Khan, a talented, well-educated hedge fund analyst who wanted to help his cousin Nadia with her math. Tutoring went well,  and, as it always happens with great things, more people he knew wanted to get help. This was an “A-ha” moment for Salman: he created a YouTube channel to distribute more of his videos. Surprisingly for Khan, not only his friends and relatives watched his videos. Other learners and teachers all around the world also started to appreciate his effort. A few millions views in 3 years and a lot of testimonials persuaded Salman Khan to quit his job and begin Khan Academy. 

This is a true fairy tale story, with the Brave Knight spreading the light of knowledge.

Trivia: Sal Khan’s vision is to provide world class education to anyone, anywhere. He writes about it in his book ‘One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined’. His TED talk inspired Sebastian Thrun to quit Stanford and start his own MOOC platform Udacity.

Contacts: https://twitter.com/salkhanacademy

TED talk by Salman Khan on reinventing education


Each month there are dozens more courses going live. New universities join the MOOC movement, bringing the best talent to the scene. Today, we’ve covered only 5 instructors, but there are many others who deserve to be in this list. Who has been the best online teacher you’ve encountered? We’d love to hear about how they inspired you.

This post is part of a series on the Beginner’s Guide to MOOCs:

0. Introduction

1. Major MOOC Platforms 

2. 5 MOOC Platforms you should know about

3. 5 MOOC Professors to See Before You Die (current post)



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5 thoughts on “5 MOOC Professors To See Before You Die

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  2. Kahn is famous. The Harvard class has been famous on Harvard for years and now through its offering as one of the first MOOCs on EDX, has a similar reputation. Airety has had so many rave reviews from serial MOOCers that I know that I have no doubts about his excellence. As for the other two, one seems competent, the other… just look at his current MOOC and the stunning lack of activity on it. It mirrors his demotivational style of teaching and his inaccessibility (read his university page where he takes an entire page listing how many ways to avoid emailing him). It is bizarre that this blogger lists him as a MOOC professor that one has to see before they die. Maybe the blogger is just biased because of the course topic and not being able to find another MOOC covering the same material elsewhere.

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