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Barbara Oakley
Born Barbara Ann Grim
November 24, 1955(1955-11-24) (age 66)
Lodi, California, United States
Alma mater University of Washington
Oakland University
Spouse(s) Philip Oakley (m. 1984)
Children 4

Barbara Ann Oakley (née Grim, November 24, 1955) is a Professor of Engineering at Oakland University. She is involved in multiple areas of research, ranging from STEM education, to engineering education, to learning practices.

Most recently, Oakley has co-created and taught Learning How To Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects, the world's most popular online course.[1] It is available on Coursera.[2]

She also wrote a book, A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).[3] This is a standalone book, though it companions the ideas presented in the MOOC.

Oakley has been featured in the Wall Street Journal with an op-ed article[4] entitled How We Should Be Teaching Math.[5]


Oakley was born in Lodi, California, in 1955. She was born to parents Alfred and Constance Grim. Alfred was in the US Army Air Corps as a bomber pilot during World War II. After the war, Alfred became a veterinarian, and then went on to get a Master in Food Technology from MIT. He went on to head the Air Force program to develop food for astronauts. Oakley moved frequently with her family as a child, moving to ten different places by the time she was in tenth grade.

After leaving high school, Oakley enlisted in the U.S. Army. The Army sent her to study at the University of Washington, where she completed a B.A. in Slavic Languages and Literature. Oakley went on to serve as a Signal Officer in Germany for four years, achieving the rank of Captain.

After her Army duties ended, Oakley decided to challenge herself and see if her brain, more used to the study of languages, could be 'retooled' to study mathematical subjects. She chose to study engineering, in order to better understand the communications equipment she had been working with in the Army.

Oakley completed a B.S. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington in 1986. While she was studying for the degree, Oakley worked as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea. She also wrote a book about her experiences during this time, entitled Hair of the Dog: Tales from Aboard a Russian Trawler.[6]

Oakley went on to spend a season as the radio operator at the South Pole Station in Antarctica. It was here that she met her husband-to-be, Philip. They married shortly afterwards on February 1, 1984. They have four children; two daughters, and two adopted sons who were previously refugees from Kosovo.[citation needed]

Oakley moved to Detroit with her family in 1989. She worked for Ford briefly, and then began attending Oakland University while doing consulting work. She received an M.S. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering in 1995. Oakley continued her education after that, and received a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering in 1998.

Work and research[]

Oakley became a Professor of Engineering at Oakland University in 1998, after graduating with a Ph.D in Systems Engineering. She continues to be a part of the Industrial and Systems Engineering Department at Oakland.

Professor Oakley participates in several areas of research. These include STEM education, engineering education, general learning, online learning, MOOCs and their effects, and studies of empathy and altruism.

Oakley has co-created (with Professor Terry Sejnowski, a neuroscientist) and teaches Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects, a MOOC offered on Coursera. The course had its first three runs in August and October 2014 and January 2015, respectively, when it attracted approximately 300,000 students in total. It is now available in on-demand format. A total of about 1.2 million students have enrolled as of December 2015.[1]

She has also written books on multiple different topics, several of which have garnered acclaim. Her published works include:

  • Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens, by Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnowski, with Alistair McConville, Tarcher-Penguin, August 2018.
  • A Mind for Numbers, by Barbara Oakley, Tarcher-Penguin, July 2014. A New York Times best-selling science book.[3]
  • Practicing Sustainability, edited by Guruprasad Madhavan, Barbara Oakley, David Green, David Koon, and Penny Low. Springer, October, 2012. Selected for a 2013 Nautilus Silver Book Award.[7]
  • Pathological Altruism Eds Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, Guruprasad Madhavan, David Sloan Wilson, Oxford University Press, January 2012.[8]
  • Cold-Blooded Kindness, by Barbara Oakley, Prometheus Books, April, 2011.[9]
  • Career Development in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, Eds. Guruprasad Madhavan, Barbara Oakley, Luis Kun, Springer, 2008.[10]
  • Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend, by Barbara Oakley, Prometheus Books. October, 2007.[11]
  • Hair of the Dog: Tales from Aboard a Russian Trawler, Barbara Oakley, WSU Press, 1996.[6]
  • Mindshift


  1. 1.0 1.1 Markoff, John (2015-12-29). "The Most Popular Online Course Teaches You to Learn". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-01-03. "The world's most popular online course is a general introduction to the art of learning, taught jointly by an educator and a neuroscientist." 
  2. "Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects". 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Oakley, Barbara. "A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)". ISBN 039916524X. 
  4. Oakley, Barbara (September 22, 2014). "How We Should Be Teaching Math". 
  5. Oakley, Barbara. "How We Should Be Teaching Math". Retrieved January 16, 2015. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Oakley, Barbara. "Hair of the Dog: Tales from Aboard a Russian Trawler". Washington State University. ISBN 0874221358. 
  7. Madhavan, Guruprasad; Oakley, Barbara; Green, David; Koon, David; Low, Penny. "Practicing Sustainability". ISBN 1461443482. 
  8. Oakley, Barbara; Knafo, Ariel; Madhavan, Guruprasad; Wilson, David Sloan. "Pathological Altruism". ISBN 0199738572. 
  9. Oakley, Barbara. Cold-Blooded Kindness. ISBN 161614419X. 
  10. Madhavan, Guruprasad; Oakley, Barbara; Kun, Luis. "Career Development in Bioengineering and Biotechnology". ISBN 0387764941. 
  11. Oakley, Barbara. Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend. ISBN 978-1591025801. 

External links[]

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