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Leiden University

Evolution Today

Leiden University and Naturalis Biodiversity Home via Coursera


In this course you will learn how evolution works. You will develop an understanding of evolutionary processes and their formative power. You will see how evolution has shaped biodiversity, and continuously influences our daily life. Evolution impacts human endeavors as varied as medicine, agriculture, psychology, economy, and culture. It is the major unifying principle for biology and a fundamental natural law. In five weeks we will make evolution accessible for you and help you to recognize evolutionary processes around you, in nature as well as in society. We make use of the unique collection of Naturalis, the natural history museum in Leiden, but also take you to the field. Using classical and up-to-date examples, we will show you how scientists address evolutionary questions. In the last module, we will have a look at the future. How will humans evolve? And how do we influence our own evolution and that of other organisms?

This course is aimed at anybody with a drive to obtain a deeper, broader, and pragmatic understanding of evolution, including high-school students, BSc (undergraduate) biology students, MSc (graduate) students from other disciplines, medical professionals, conservation officers and educators in museums, libraries, national parks, and schools.


  • Welcome to the course Evolution Today
    • Great that you are joining us! In this course you will learn about Evolution. Before you start with this course we invite you to first take a look around and meet your fellow learners. We would like to know what brings you here and what you would like to get out of the course. If you encounter any difficulties while studying, please let us know in the forum. For technical difficulties or questions regarding the course certificate, you can always contact the Coursera Learner Helpdesk. Good luck & we hope you will enjoy studying in this course!
  • Do we change?
    • In this module, you are going to learn that a very powerful mechanism, natural selection, leads to evolutionary change. We are going to have a detailed look at what is required for this natural selection. And, knowing these conditions, we can judge whether traits in humans are evolving at the moment. This is a surprisingly simple module. I am looking forward to discuss human evolution with you at the end!
  • How do we change?
    • This is a real puzzle-module. We are going to decipher the language of DNA, and see that mutations in this DNA lead to new variation. As we saw, variation is the raw material for natural selection. Thus, take your pen and pencil and unravel with me the code of your own DNA!
  • Who is this "we" anyway?
    • In the first two modules, we have asked ourselves whether we experience evolutionary change, and if so, how this change comes about. In this module, we will explore who this "we" is anyway: is it us, the individual? Is it our species? Our genes? Who is in charge here?
  • How have we (and haven't we) changed?
    • In this module, we will take a look at the limitations to evolution. Despite the strength of the process of natural selection, some things simply are not possible. Evolution has to play by the rules, and this module will explore what those rules are.
  • How will we change?
    • In this module, we will have a look at the future. How will humans evolve, and, as our impact on the world increases, how will we affect the evolution of other organisms?

Taught by

Rutger Vos, Maurijn van der Zee and Menno Schilthuizen


5.0 rating, based on 2 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at Coursera based on 165 ratings

Start your review of Evolution Today

  • Anonymous
    Very well paced, explained and skillfully using external course material. I feel that I learnt a lot.
    Not perfect though:
    1. some of the external links did not work; I added suggestions to replace them with working links
    2. Some homework consisted of writing opinions (OK) and then assessing other students' opinions (+/-); the problem with the latter is that, on many occasions, there were no other students' entries, or some of the entries were nonsensical (e.g., random characters). I would suggest that you remove the nonsensical entries and that you resuscitate old entries (or a few entries that the teachers could write) for new students to practice their critical skills.
  • Anonymous
    This course far exceeded my expectations. The instructors were engaging, the material was challenging but fascinating, and I looked forward to every module. It has left me with a strong desire to further explore this topic.

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