Course preview video of "Neuroscience in Action: Understanding Our Brains and Nervous Systems" (Pre-college online course)


Brown's pre-college online courses, taught by Brown faculty and other members of our instructional community, are rigorous, active learning experiences designed specifically for high school students who are ready for the challenge of college-level work. Students engage in intellectual discussion and complete assignments designed to inspire curiosity and discovery, working closely with their instructors and with talented, motivated students from around the world.

Pre-college online courses launched in 2009. Offered primarily during Summer term, courses include writing/creative expression, neuroscience, environmental science, leadership, humanities, engineering, and health sciences topics; see the full pre-college online course catalogue.

The pre-college online initiative grew out of Brown’s long-standing face-to-face Pre-College Programs.


  • SPS + faculty partnership

  • 1+ faculty per course

  • 1 instructional designer per course

  • SPS Digital Media Group

  • 17 courses to date, including 1 free, open course

  • Offered during Summer term; previously offered during Fall and Spring as well.

  • 3- to 8-week lengths

  • Fully online, asynchronous

  • Focus on inquiry-based, experiential learning; discussions; close interaction among students and between students and instructors

  • Not for credit; students who successfully complete course requirements earn a certificate of completion

  • Canvas LMS


SPS’s online experts know that effective learning depends on high-quality instructional design.

To develop a pre-college online course, faculty partner with an SPS instructional designer to discuss the essence and aims of the course, develop clear course learning objectives, and design engaging assignments, discussions, and activities that support those objectives using student-centered pedagogical practices and design principles proven effective for online learning.

The timeframe for course development depends in large part upon instructor schedules/availability, but a 3- to 8-week course typically takes about 3-6 months to develop, from project kickoff to launch.

Learn more about SPS's course development process.

Project Lead: SPS Online Team

Project Contact: ​Larry Bouthillier, Senior Director for Digital Initiatives ([email protected])


  • Has enabled great experimentation with digital teaching and learning

  • Discovered multiple ways to enable project-based/experiential learning in an online format

  • Faculty report that working one-to-one with an instructional designer to design and facilitate online courses is an invigorating experience that positively impacts their undergraduate/graduate teaching practices and course design

  • A growing network of engaged, innovative faculty committed to the effective use of technology to enhance student learning

  • Participating faculty and graduate students gain valuable skills in online course design and facilitation

  • Graduate students gain experience teaching / TAing and developing course content

  • Allows students who cannot travel to Providence to enroll in a version of [email protected]

  • Allows Brown to reach a global audience

  • Students connect with learners from around the world

  • As Brown’s first foray into fully online course development, pre-college online courses showcased best practices for online teaching and learning to the Brown community

“I loved the assignments. It really made me work to research the material and solve answers on my own.”

“The rigor kept me engaged in the course from the start. I was a bit surprised of the level of coursework I was exposed to and was overall captivated and satisfied. The essays we were asked to complete took my learning experience to another level seeing as that the assignments were geared towards individual effort.”

“I'm very impressed with the quality of this course. This class is interesting and challenging, not monotonous like other courses I have taken (face to face).”

“This course was very well done. Unlike other online courses I've taken, this class offered more flexibility as to how we could approach the assignments, and less flexibility concerning deadlines. Having concrete dates of submission made me obligated to follow through with my work, a skill that I wouldn't have fully learned if I hadn't taken this course since other online courses are designed to let students pace themselves.”

“I have never taken an online course before, but I was very surprised how well it worked, and how interactive it was…. It really exceeded my expectations on that front.”

- Pre-College Online students

  • Designing online courses that meet the high expectations of digitally-savvy youth

  • Determining what courses topics pre-college students value most

  • Assessing the value of these learning experiences by tracking students over time


The pre-college online initiative was Brown’s first venture into online learning. Since 2009, more than 3,200 students around the world have participated in Brown’s innovative and engaging pre-college online courses. Many of these students discover Brown for the first time or enhance their understanding of the Brown curriculum and learning experience through these courses.

Brown currently offers 16 pre-college online courses during the Summer term.