by Anthony 

September 29, 2019

For as long as we inhabit the earth, there will always be a demand for medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, practitioners of sports medicine, therapists and lab workers.

These careers promise continued employment and competitive salaries. For students considering a career in any of these professions,  a sound knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology is fundamental.

Whether you're considering a career in a medical profession, need extra help with your studies, or you simply want to learn more about the human body, there are a variety of courses available online.

In this article, we'll list 7 of the best, offered by leading universities and tutors from around the world.


4.8 out of 5 Star Rating

The University of Michigan offers its complete Anatomy course on both the EdX and Coursera platforms. The course is comprised of 4 sub courses.

  1. 1
    Musculoskeletal and Integumentary Systems
  2. 2
    Cardiovascular, Urinary, and Respiratory Systems
  3. 3
    Human Neuroanatomy
  4. 4
    Gastrointestinal, Reproductive and Endocrine Systems

Sub courses are separated into classes. There are 15 classes in total, and it is recommended to complete at least one class per week. Each class takes roughly 3 to 4 hours, but you can set your own pace. If that seems a little daunting or overwhelming, each sub-course can be taken individually.

Classes includes multiple video lectures and readings. High-quality anatomical images are provided to further explain concepts and improve understanding.

Quizzes provide a fun way to help memorise all the different names and concepts. 

Discussion areas allow students to ask questions and seek additional help.

While the course described itself as 'foundational', aimed at beginner level upwards, the content is comprehensive. You will learn all the major organ systems within the human body and how they function individually and in unison. The three instructors are all lecturers in the Division of Anatomical Sciences at Michigan State University.

The course is an excellent introduction to the study of human anatomy. It's ideal for students looking for extra help with their studies. Anyone hoping to pursue a career in the medical industry and individuals interested in learning more about their body and their well-being.

Over 3000 students have enrolled through the Coursera platform and gave the course a 4.8 out of 5-star rating. The platform itself is easy to use and can be accessed both on desktop and mobile.


  • A comprehensive study of all the major organ systems within the human body and how they function.
  • No prior knowledge required.
  • Self-paced.
  • Free in audit mode - click for more details.
  • 4.8 out of 5 star rating.


"It's an entry level course, but its actually very well created and organized. I liked it very much. I'm on medical school and enrolled to refresh my memory and it helped a lot"

More than 94,000 students already enrolled

This introductory 6-week course provides a unique way of teaching. The lessons are based upon the story of a film director who has a stroke while working on set. Hong Kong Polytechnic Uni created a short movie using real actors to simulate the situation.

Students begin the course by watching the film and then learn the fundamentals of anatomy by role-playing the process of treating the stroke victim. By showing the different stages of stroke treatment, the course demonstrates the various disciplines and career path open to medical students. 

As you progress through the modules, you will see how radiographers, physiotherapists and optometrist all use their understanding of anatomy to diagnose and treat patients. The role-playing nature of the lessons encourages students to practise problem-solving and improves their analytical abilities.

Interactive quizzes, games and discussion sections are used to aid learning and reinforce concepts.

While not as comprehensive as the course from Michigan State Uni, HK Polytechnic have produced a fun, engaging and alternative approach to learning anatomy. The course is free without the certificate and well worth a look.


  • Learn anatomy by following the treatment provided to a stroke victim.  
  • Insight into how health care professionals use anatomy in their work. 
  • No prior knowledge required.
  • Self-paced.
  • Free in audit mode - click for more details.
  • 94,000 students have already taken this course.
  • Perfect for high-school students and anyone consider a career in health care.

The Khan Academy is unlike other online learning platforms. It was created to provide free learning material for underprivileged children all over the world. Khan Academy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation.

As the number of courses on the platform has increased, so has it's popularity. Increasingly teachers are recommending the Khan Academy to parents as a means of continuing their children's education outside of school.

The Khan Academy now offers lessons and classes for all levels of education. The interactive nature of the lessons are great for staying engaged and stimulated.

The anatomy and physiology lessons are part of a broader course on the platform, called Health and Medicine. As with all the subjects on Khan, theses lessons are entirely free.

Students are introduced to all the major organs and systems within the human body.  The lessons include videos, self-assessments, articles, quizzes and readings to assist students in their understanding.

Students are encouraged to ask questions and to discuss with each other in the comments section under each video.

These lessons are suitable for high school kids and upwards.


  • Interactive teaching platform offers a fun way to learn. 
  • Great for kids and high school students.
  • Self-paced.
  • 100% free


"I first started practising on Khan Academy when I was preparing for my PSAT. I thought Khan Academy was only for SAT prep. Later I found it was much more than that. I am studying everyday from Khan Academy on many topics!"

As the title suggests, this course focuses more on the Physiological side of Anatomy & Physiology. The eleven lessons cover the body's nine organ systems and how they integrate with each other.

You'll be introduced to microscopic anatomy, learning about cells, motor neurons and the brain - the body's central nervous system. Although rewarding, this course is challenging and perhaps not suitable for complete beginners. Medical students will likely benefit from using these lessons to supplement their learning.  

The course includes 22 hours of video lessons. As with the other subjects listed here,  additional readings, quizzes and exercises complement the video lectures. 

The instructors, Jennifer Carbrey and Emma Jakoi, are both Research Professors at Duke University in the Department for Cell Biology.

220,165 students have taken this course, with 1939 students giving it a rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars. Interestingly, 47% of students said this course directly helped them start a new career.


  • A comprehensive but challenging study of Physiology.
  • Suitable for students studying medicine or anyone with a medical background.
  • Self-paced.
  • Free in audit mode - click for more details.
  • 4.7 out of 5 star rating.
  • This course directly helped 47% of students progress their careers.


"I am about to start a degree in nursing and this was an excellent introduction. The pace was quite fast and the content is quite technical but through rereading the materials and watching some supplementary explanations (such as Khan academy) it all made sense. Thank you for all for all of the hard work required to create such a comprehensive course."

Students requiring a credit-equivalent course in Human Physiology may wish to consider this course from the University of Toronto. The credits may also benefit students applying for programs in speech pathology, dentistry, occupational therapy, physical therapy or nursing, among others.

Toronto University hosts this course twice a year, in summer and fall term, on their own website.

The course is not self-paced. Instead, students participate in online video lessons and discussions which last for 3 to 4 hours per week. If you struggle with motivation to finish self-paced courses, this may be more useful.

Quizzes taken throughout the semester go towards the final grade. There is also a 3-hour multiple-choice exam which accounts for 50% of the final grade. 

At the end of the course, students receive an official grade report from Toronto University.


  • An online course that requires students to commit to a term timetable.
  • Offers a credit towards degree courses and other health related programs.
  • Not self-paced and not free.
  • Academic certificate upon completion.
  • Suitable for students wishing to pursue a career in medicine.


"I enjoyed this course very much. I learned a lot of valuable and useful things. I am looking forward to continuing studies in health sciences, and I believe that this course was a good stepping stone toward a career choice. "

Open Learning Initiative by Carnegie Mellon University offers several free courses from a variety of faculties. Their Anatomy and Physiology course is one of the most comprehensive available online. However, it is predominately text-based and offers very little in the way of interaction. It functions more like an online textbook. Consequently, the online format looks slightly dated. 

Videos are included to help visually explain concepts and quizzes help retain and understand the information. 

Irrespective of the dated format, this is an excellent and comprehensive free resource. I can see it being used as an online encyclopedia for medical students. It is perhaps more suited as a reference guide to look up additional information on a topic, rather than digesting the content from start to finish.


  • A comprehensive free resource from a distinguished university. 
  • More useful as a reference guide than a course.
  • Format is slightly dated and dry.

4.8 out of 5 Star Rating

The final course in our list is called Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us, from the University of Pennsylvania.

Vital signs are indicators in the human body crucial to communicating important information about health and well-being. Heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and respiration are all measurements of our health.

In this course, we learn the anatomy and physiology that underlie those measurements and what they mean to our health. In the six lessons, you learn how to check your own vital signs and the numbers that are considered healthy.

This course was chosen for those wanting to know more about their health or interested in learning first aid. Created for a general audience, it is probably too elementary for those intending to pursuing a career in medicine. 

The teacher is Professor Connie B. Scanga, PhD from Pennsylvania University's School of Nursing. The course is estimated to take 16 hours to complete.

As with the other courses in this list, the information provided in the videos are supplemented with additional readings and quizzes.


  • How the human body communicates important information about health and well-being.
  • Learn to measure blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate. 
  • Perfect for first-aiders but perhaps too basic for med students.
  • Free - see more here.
  • 4.8 out of 5 star rating.
  • 140,000+ students have taken this course


"Great Course ! It provides important information regarding anatomy and physiology of the main systems in our body. The video lectures are very interactive and Dr. Scanga has a great ability to teach."

Free vs Paid Courses

Coursera and EdX both offer an 'audit' mode for all their courses, which allows users to watch the lectures and access the course material for free. 

While this is helpful for those on a tight budget, you lose out on many additional features.

Only paid students receive a certificate upon completion, can ask questions to the lecturers, participate in group discussion and receive feedback on assignments and quizzes. 

Image Attribution: Arek Socha on Pixabay,  Luis Villasmil on Unsplash, Andy Lee on Unsplash, Nicolas Horn on Unsplash

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