Top 10 Online Courses for Personal Development

Published June 1, 2023


Personal development is the process of building skills over the course of your life so that you can set and achieve the goals that will ultimately lead to more joy and fulfillment. Whether you're a current student, recent graduate, a mid-career professional, stay at home parent, or a retiree exploring new passions, time spent working toward personal development goals is an investment in yourself. 

Image of woman wearing orange top writing in a journal with a pen.


With a wide array of courses taught by world-class instructors that are designed to cater to diverse interests and aspirations, Harvard Online provides a transformative learning experience that empowers individuals to unlock their full potential. 

We have compiled a list of our top online courses for learners who are ready to take the next step in their journey of self-discovery and personal growth: 

10. Justice

The course for those who often find themselves asking, “what’s the right thing to do?”

Challenge the reasoning behind the moral choices we make everyday. Taught by lauded Harvard professor Michael Sandel, Justice explores critical analysis of classical and contemporary theories of justice, including discussion of present-day applications. Topics include affirmative action, income distribution, same-sex marriage, the role of markets, debates about rights (human rights and property rights), arguments for and against equality, dilemmas of loyalty in public and private life. The course invites learners to subject their own views on these controversies to critical examination.



9. Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures

The course for those who are curious about religions around the world and their teachings.

The study of religion is the study of a rich and fascinating dimension of human experience that includes, but also goes well beyond, beliefs and ritual practices. Join Harvard Divinity School faculty in this religion course to explore case studies about how religions are internally diverse, how they evolve and change through time, and how religions are embedded in all dimensions of human experience. We’ll explore these tenets through the lens of scripture and through themes such as gender and sexuality, art, violence and peace, science, and power and authority.



8. Contract Law: From Trust to Promise to Contract

The course for anyone who has ever signed an agreement or a contract.  

We are exposed to contracts in all areas of our life -- agreeing to terms when downloading a new computer program, hiring a contractor to repair a leaking roof, and even ordering a meal at a restaurant. Knowing the principles of contracts is not just a skill needed by lawyers, it illuminates for everyone a crucial institution that we use all the time and generally take for granted. Learn about contracts from Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried, one of the world's leading authorities on contract law. 



7. Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking

The course for anyone who wants to learn how to more clearly and effectively express themselves.

Built around Harvard Professor James Engell's on-campus course, "Elements of Rhetoric," this course will help you analyze and apply rhetorical structure and style, appreciate the relevance of persuasive communication in your own life, and understand how to persuade and recognize when someone is trying to persuade you. You will be inspired to share your viewpoint and discover the most powerful ways to convince others to champion your cause. Join us to find your voice!



6. Data Privacy and Technology

The course for anyone with at least one online login and password who wants to learn how to protect their privacy online. 

Through real-life examples with industry experts, policy makers, and privacy researchers you’ll gain privacy and data protection training, and examine legal and ethical implications of collecting personal data, understand who’s responsible for protecting personal data, and comprehend why antitrust and privacy laws are unable to keep pace with the rapid change in technology.  



5. Big Data for Social Good

The series for those who want to understand inequity and how to fix it through the use of data.

The Big Data for Social Good online professional certificate series will teach you how to use big data, coupled with the tools of data science and economics, to solve some of the most important social problems of our time. In the first course, Evaluating Upward Mobility: The Fading American Dream, you will learn about the history of socioeconomic mobility and how geography plays a role in access to opportunity. In the second course, Big Data Solutions to Economic and Social Disparities, you will see how big data can be used to measure mobility related to K–12 education and how data can be used to solve social problems. 



4. Data Science Principles

The course for those who want to learn the language of data without coding or math.

An introduction to data science course for anyone who wants to positively impact outcomes and understand insights from their company’s data collection and analysis efforts. This course will prepare you to speak the language of data science and contribute to data-oriented discussions within your company and daily life. This is a course for beginners and managers to better understand what data science is and how to work with data scientists.



3. Managing Happiness

The course for those who are ready to get serious about being happy. 

Led by Harvard professor, author, social scientist, and former classical musician Arthur Brooks, this course will introduce cutting-edge survey tools, the best research, and trends in social science, positive psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy to help learners unlock the strategies to create a more purposeful life, full of long-lasting enjoyment and satisfaction. Managing Happiness uses philosophical and technical insights to challenge your assumptions about happiness — helping you break bad habits that hold you back and build good ones you can use for the rest of your life.



2. The Path to Happiness: What Chinese Philosophy Teaches us about the Good Life

The course for the self-help skeptic.

Today, finding happiness is about mindfulness and discovering your true self. You may have heard that happiness is found by looking within. Ancient Chinese philosophy challenges all of these modern assumptions. From Confucianism to Daoism, the philosophies developed over two thousand years ago are among the most powerful in human history.



1. Building Personal Resilience: Managing Anxiety and Mental Health

The course for those who are ready to overcome their greatest fears and experience fulfillment in their lives. 

We all face challenging decisions and experience stressful situations at some point in our lives. Building mental strength and personal resilience is possible when you focus on implementing simple but powerful tools in your everyday life. With a focus on proven psychology philosophies and science-driven skills to overcome challenges, this course breaks down five core components to creating better stress management habits.


With a wide variety of courses and enrollment options, Harvard Online provides you with the flexibility so you can learn for pure enjoyment (by auditing our edX courses for free) or learn to strengthen skills that can help you in your career (with our certificate programs). Which course will you take next? View all courses

Related Articles

Meet Our Harvard Online Learners
Our worldwide community of curious, inquisitive, and engaged learners is all around you. 


Jim and Mike on the Potential and Limitations of ChatGPT
Leaders in the fields of computer science and data privacy answer questions about ChatGPT and offer their thoughts on the risks and rewards that accompany widespread generative AI technology use.

Mike Smith and Jim Waldo



Related Blog Posts

Everything You Need to Know About Discounts and Financial Assistance for Harvard Online Courses

We're proud to bring the Harvard learning experience to you, regardless of your distance from our historic campus in Massachusetts.

How Harvard Online Learners Succeed

The strength of Harvard Online lies in our global community of learners.

5 Courses to Help You Achieve Financial Literacy

Strengthen your financial literacy. Explore these courses that dive into economics, markets, financial analysis, and more.