The Floating University


We Are All Students, Whether We're at University or at Home.

Steven Pinker speaks about the personal rewards that come from learning big ideas.

You don't need to be a student enrolled at a traditional college or university to take a Floating University course with some of the greatest professors from around the world. Great Big Ideas is available to anyone, anywhere.

Get More Than Just a Class.

  • Learn for the Joy of Learning. No homework. No tests. Just the vital knowledge, in compelling formats, directly from today's leading educators and practitioners.
  • No reading required. Follow the same syllabus as students taking the course for credit, or simply watch the highly produced video lectures.
  • Flexible. Watch the lectures whenever you want, wherever you want. Take a full course or a single eSeminar, based on your interests.

A $199 enrollment in Great Big Ideas includes:

  • 12 hours of HD Floating University lectures.
  • A course syllabus including suggested and related readings.*
  • Exclusive access to each lecture's online discussion board.
  • Notes for every lecture and reading.
  • Course access for 6 months (from date of sign-up).
  • Full compatibility with the Apple iPad.

Who Should Take Great Big Ideas?

Great Big Ideas will benefit a wide variety of students. The exposure to a comprehensive selection of academic subjects will provide insight and guidance to high school students and people early in their college careers who want to explore different major options, or to develop an interdisciplinary approach to their chosen fields.

The course is also ideal for learners of any age who wish to gain access to the country’s top academics and develop their problem solving skills and innovative faculties. Those involved with continuing education can also petition their schools to accept the Great Big Ideas course for credit. Anyone who takes the course will learn how to think better, bigger, and more creatively, skills that will improve everything from your household budgeting, personal relationships, and critical engagement with media to your career, political, and entrepreneurial prospects.

What You’ll Gain From Taking the Course

Great Big Ideas provides more than just a survey of the 12 academic subjects represented. It is our firm belief that more than hoarding specific knowledge, the innovators and thought-leaders of the future must be able to draw connections between fields once thought independent.

Moreover, there is an increasing separation between the hard sciences and the humanities, as people are funneled toward niche specialties. The Great Big Ideas course seeks to flip this paradigm and teach independent learners the titular big ideas of each field, and help them develop the critical thinking skills to apply these ideas to other arenas of inquiry.

To succeed in the 21st century, you’ll need to draw connections that haven’t yet been drawn, find new perspectives on age-old problems, and develop interdisciplinary problem solving skills. By taking the Great Big Ideas course you’ll learn what the classics have to say about medical research ethics, what physicists can add to the political debate about entitlements, and how sociological insights can improve economic planning, and much more.

Learning Goals

• Learn the fundamentals of the 12 Great Big Ideas subjects.

  • After watching each lecture and meeting the assessment benchmarks, you will have a strong grasp on the central concepts of the study of demography, physics, political philosophy, linguistics, economics, psychology, sociology, investment, biomedicine, the arts, the classics, and education. 

• Draw connections between disciplines.

  • Using the core intellectual conceits provided by Floating University lecturers, you’ll gain fresh and unexpected insights into each field that would not arise if you learned about each topic in isolation. The dynamic approaches to problem solving you’ll learn from the course will permanently enrich your perspective and provide you with multidisciplinary tools to use in your life and career. 

• Participate in academic discourse.

  • Most correct solutions are reached through discussion, debate, and argument, and Great Big Ideas facilitates these dimensions of learning through our online e-learning platform. Students are encouraged to participate actively in the discussion questions posed by each Great Big Ideas lecturer, moderated by experts, and to post their own questions about what they don’t understand.

Assessment and Certification

As part of our ongoing effort to bring the Ivy League classroom into your home at your own pace, The Floating University now offers assessment tools designed by experts to test your learning and award certification. Many students have requested the ability to test out their newly acquired multi-disciplinary perspective, and FU now provides an intuitive framework to assess deep learning and sharpen problem solving skills. The assessment path on Great Big Ideas is completely optional for students who prefer to absorb the lectures stress-free, and the certification is free of charge for all enrolled students.

There are three components to educational assessment on The Floating University, each designed to impart best parts of brick-and-mortar curriculum structure to our online learning platform.

**The Great Big Ideas certification does not confer college credit. To receive credit for successful completion of the course, contact your college or university to see if they will accept the Great Big Ideas certification for credit.**


For many people quizzes have a negative association from high school pop quizzes and the like, which ask students to recall factual information in a rote fashion. The Floating University approaches testing differently, using the concept inventory method. A burgeoning advance in pedagogical method, concept inventory quizzes ask students to apply the critical thinking and core ideas of learning materials to problems, assessing understanding, not memorization. Each lecture in the Great Big Ideas course comes with a ten-question multiple choice quiz that allows students to demonstrate mastery over the material.

Case Studies

While quizzes are designed to assess a student’s understanding of the conceptual ideas of an individual discipline, case studies present an opportunity to use the multi-disciplinary skills that arise from considering all of the Great Big Ideas as part of a continuum of learning. Each lecture presents a case study of a real-world problem associated with that field of study, as well as brief examples of how different knowledge fields could be brought to bear on the problem. The student is then invited to write a short response, contextualizing the issue within her own life, and to follow that up with insights into the problem from a different Great Big Idea topic. Suggested answer lengths are 200-400 words, but The Floating University doesn’t grade these written answers like a typical college writing course. The case studies are instead presented as frameworks to expand thinking, develop practical applications specific to the individual user, and the flex mental muscles without anxiety about measuring up to a mechanical writing rubric.


Discussion and debate are vital components in any higher educational experience, and The Floating University seeks to close this gap between the online and offline worlds. Every lecture comes with at least three discussion questions designed by the lecturer to stoke active engagement about the most pressing issues of the field. Students engaged with the assessment pathway are expected to add constructive feedback into 20 or more discussions threads (out of a total of 36), constituting a participation grade.

Extra Credit Reading Quizzes

To pass the assessment benchmarks students must receive a minimum of 180 out of 240 available points, but The Floating University has built in maximum flexibility to achieve this goal by including an optional set of reading quizzes. Every lecture comes with suggested readings, many of which are found in the course pack, available for purchase from University Readers for an additional fee. Students who take the extra step to do the readings can take the reading quizzes for extra points toward the total.

Feature Comparison

Different options are available depending upon enrollment in the full Great Big Ideas course or the individual eSeminar lectures.

Features Great Big Ideas Enhanced eSeminar eSeminar
HD video lessons (approx. 1 hour each)
Full transcript and outline of lesson video
Notes, readings, and supplementary resources
Dynamic Disqus commenting system
Discussion questions posed by professors
Flexible, self-guided structure
Additional case studies, videos, and articles curated by experts
Access to all 12 one-hour lessons in the Great Big Ideas series
Guided curriculum for a more hands-on educational approach
Expert-moderated discussion forums
Live "Office Hour" Q&A with the lecturer or distinguished expert
Signed Certificate of Course Completion
Ability to audit at a lower price, but without Certificate of Completion

* All readings for Great Big Ideas may be purchased in digital form, for an additional $107.45 fee, from University Readers (select your State as Online and your School as The Floating University).

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