Course Syllabus

Welcome to PHYS102: Introduction to Electromagnetism

Specific information about this course and its requirements can be found below. For more general information about taking Saylor Academy courses, including information about Community and Academic Codes of Conduct, please read the Student Handbook.


Course Description

Explore the physical underpinnings of our universe, the basic principles of physical law, their application to the behavior of objects, and how we use the scientific method to drive advances in knowledge.


Course Introduction

The physics of our universe is dominated by four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and weak and strong nuclear forces. These forces control how matter, energy, space, and time interact. For example, when someone sits on a chair, gravitational forces balance with the material forces that "push up" to hold the person in place. This upward push results from electromagnetic forces on microscopic length scales. On the larger stage, gravity holds the celestial bodies in their orbits, but without electromagnetic radiation (light), none of these bodies would be visible to us.

Electromagnetism extends our understanding beyond classical mechanics because it introduces the concept of charge – a property we can observe in macroscopic objects and the smallest building blocks of matter. Electromagnetism is the invisible hand that allows charged objects to interact with each other. It also allows you to take this course: the modern world would be impossible without telecommunications and microelectronics, two of the major applications of electromagnetism.

Scientists began studying electromagnetism in the 18th century. They prepared the groundwork for developments in the 20th century and our modern understanding of atomic structures and the cosmos. In this course, we will learn why electromagnetism is so important for everyday applications and fundamental physics. To put this information into proper context, you should be familiar with the force concept of classical mechanics.

Building on the idea of force, we develop the more abstract concept of fields. This study culminates in Maxwell's theory which, among other achievements, led to the discovery of radio waves. We begin by discussing waves and oscillations in the more familiar setting of mechanics to review how forces relate to the motion of objects. This preparation will help you understand Maxwell's insights into the nature of electromagnetic radiation as a wave phenomenon.

The term "electromagnetism" combines two effects we will study separately: electricity and magnetism. We explore electrical measurements and circuits to learn how to observe, quantify, and apply the laws that govern how charges cause static electricity and magnetism. In Maxwell's equations, we will finally unify electric and magnetic effects and discover electromagnetic radiation. This will also put radio waves on the same footing as light: they are the same phenomenon, differing only in their wavelength.

In the final units of this course, we look at optics and Einstein's theory of special relativity. You can think of optics, the science of light, as a practical application of electromagnetism. However, the theory of relativity is an entirely new way of looking at the nature of space and time. This paradigm shift in the foundations of physics was inspired directly by the discoveries at the heart of this course.

This course includes the following units:

  • Unit 1: Mechanical Vibrations and Waves in Extended Objects
  • Unit 2: Electrostatics
  • Unit 3: Electronic Circuit Theory
  • Unit 4: Magnetism
  • Unit 5: Electromagnetic Induction
  • Unit 6: Electromagnetic Waves
  • Unit 7: Optics
  • Unit 8: Special Relativity


Course Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • analyze situations involving simple harmonic motion;
  • apply Hooke's Law to solve problems involving springs;
  • apply Coulomb's Law to solve problems involving electric charges and fields;
  • apply the formulas for the electric potential and electric potential energy;
  • solve problems involving circuits and the basic components of a circuit (resistor, battery, inductor, and capacitor);
  • solve problems involving magnetic fields of certain objects (permanent magnets, current-carrying wires, wire loops, and solenoids) and Ampere's Law;
  • solve problems involving the motion of a charged particle in electric and magnetic fields;
  • use Faraday's and Lenz's Laws to solve problems involving electromagnetic induction;
  • use Maxwell's equations to explain some of the properties of electromagnetic waves;
  • solve problems involving image formation by the mirrors and lenses and the laws of refraction;
  • explain phenomena caused by the wave nature of light; and
  • explain the postulates and consequences of the special theory of relativity.
Throughout this course, you will also see learning outcomes in each unit. You can use those learning outcomes to help organize your studies and gauge your progress.


Course Materials

The primary learning materials for this course are articles, lectures, and videos.

All course materials are free to access and can be found in each unit of the course. Pay close attention to the notes that accompany these course materials, as they will tell you what to focus on in each resource, and will help you to understand how the learning materials fit into the course as a whole. You can also see a list of all the learning materials in this course by clicking on Resources in the navigation bar.


Evaluation and Minimum Passing Score

Only the final exam is considered when awarding you a grade for this course. In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam. Your score on the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you may take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt. Once you have successfully passed the final exam you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.

There are also end-of-unit assessments in this course. These are designed to help you study, and do not factor into your final course grade. You can take these as many times as you want until you understand the concepts and material covered. You can see all of these assessments by clicking on Quizzes in the course's navigation bar.


Earning College Credit

This course is eligible for college credit via Saylor Academy's Direct Credit Program. If you want to earn college credit, you must take and pass the Direct Credit final exam. That exam will be password protected and requires a proctor. If you pass the Direct Credit exam, you will receive a Proctor Verified Course Certificate and be eligible to earn an official transcript. For more information about applying for college credit, review the guide to college credit opportunities. Be sure to check the section on proctoring for details like fees and technical requirements.

There is a 14-day waiting period between attempts of the Direct Credit final exam. There is no waiting period between attempts for the not-for-credit exam and the Direct Credit exam. You may only attempt each Direct Credit final exam a maximum of 3 times. Be sure to study in between each attempt!


Tips for Success

PHYS102: Introduction to Electromagnetism is a self-paced course, which means that you can decide when you will start and when you will complete the course. There is no instructor or an assigned schedule to follow. We estimate that the "average" student will take 42 hours to complete this course. We recommend that you work through the course at a pace that is comfortable for you and allows you to make regular progress. It's a good idea to also schedule your study time in advance and try as best as you can to stick to that schedule.

Learning new material can be challenging, so we've compiled a few study strategies to help you succeed:

  • Take notes on the various terms, practices, and theories that you come across. This can help you put each concept into context, and will create a refresher that you can use as you study later on.
  • As you work through the materials, take some time to test yourself on what you remember and how well you understand the concepts. Reflecting on what you've learned is important for your long-term memory, and will make you more likely to retain information over time.


Suggested Prerequisites[If applicable]

In order to take this course, you should:


Technical Requirements

This course is delivered entirely online. You will be required to have access to a computer or web-capable mobile device and have consistent access to the internet to either view or download the necessary course resources and to attempt any auto-graded course assessments and the final exam.

  • To access the full course including assessments and the final exam, you will need to be logged into your Saylor Academy account and enrolled in the course. If you do not already have an account, you may create one for free here. Although you can access some of the course without logging in to your account, you should log in to maximize your course experience. For example, you cannot take assessments or track your progress unless you are logged in.
  • If you plan to attempt the optional Direct Credit final exam, then you will also need access to a webcam. This lets our remote proctoring service verify your identity, which is required to issue an official transcript to schools on your behalf.

For additional guidance, check out Saylor Academy's FAQ.



This course is entirely free to enroll in and to access. Everything linked in the course, including textbooks, videos, webpages, and activities, is available for no charge. This course also contains a free final exam and course completion certificate.

This course also has an optional final exam that can give you an opportunity to earn college credit. This exam requires the use of a proctoring service for identity verification purposes. The cost for proctoring for this optional exam is $5 per session.

Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2022, 6:35 PM