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Best of All-Time Online Course

Mountains 101

University of Alberta via Coursera


Mountains 101­­ is a broad and integrated overview of the mountain world. This 12-lesson course covers an interdisciplinary field of study focusing on the physical, biological, and human dimensions of mountain places in Alberta, Canada, and around the world. Specifically, we'll study the geological origins of mountains, how they’re built-up and worn-down over time; we’ll learn about their importance for biodiversity and water cycles, globally and locally; we’ll explore their cultural significance to societies around the globe, and how that relationship has evolved over time; and we’ll learn how mountains are used, how they’re protected, and how today they’re experiencing rapid change in a warming climate.

At the end of each lesson, Mountains 101 will also provide learners with some smart tricks -- Tech Tips -- to safely enjoy time in the high alpine environment: from how to pick the best footwear for hiking to making smart decisions in avalanche terrain.

We’ll be delivering your online lessons from valley bottoms to mountaintops, from museums and labs, to alpine huts and other spectacular alpine sites, and we’ll do so with the help of a whole host of experts.

We invite you to join us for this online adventure! The mountains are calling...


Lesson 1: Why Mountains Matter
-In this introductory lesson, you will learn why mountain environments are relevant to people all around the globe. We’ll also define just what a “mountain” is in order to show why it is useful to think about mountains from various perspectives. TechTip: Your feet are your vehicle

Lesson 2: Origins
-In Lesson 2, we discuss why mountains are located where they are. How did they get there? We’ll explore the physical origins of mountains, theories of mountain building, and how our changing ideas about mountains and their genesis have shaped our engagement with them. TechTip: Dress for success

Lesson 3: Climate
-Mountains influence climate and weather at both global and local scales. In Lesson 3, we will examine how elevation affects atmospheric processes, and discuss an ecological manifestation of mountain climate: the alpine tree line. TechTip: What goes in your pack?

Lesson 4: Bodies at Altitude
-Lesson 4 explores some of the physiological responses that allow humans to visit higher altitudes, as well as the unique genetic adaptations that permit long-time exposure to the world’s high places. TechTip: Stay found – preparation

Lesson 5: Water Towers
-Lesson 5 focuses on mountain hydrology. We'll discuss the ways that water moves through the mountain landscape, how water shapes and changes mountain landscapes, and we'll introduce some hazards associated with water, such as glacial lake outburst floods. TechTip: Stay found – in the field

Lesson 6: Glaciers
-Lesson 6 focuses exclusively on glaciers, their physical composition and processes, how they form and move, and how they modify the landscape. We’ll also examine how our changing understandings of glaciers have shaped the ways people have engaged with mountain landscapes over the past few centuries. TechTip: Stay safe – from falling

Lesson 7: Imagination
-In Lesson 7, we examine some of the ways people have imagined mountains throughout time, and try to place those ideas and attitudes in their respective cultural contexts. Appreciating the diversity of views – their reception in oral traditions, art, literature, architecture, and other cultural forms – gives us some context for the more dominant ways we think about and celebrate mountains today. TechTip: Stay safe – winter challenges

Lesson 8: Hazards
-Mountain hazards are the focus of Lesson 8, specifically snow avalanches, landslides, and volcanoes. We will examine the physical processes that lead to instability in mountain landscapes and consider how risks associated with hazards can be managed. TechTip: Stay safe – avalanche safety (know before you go)

Lesson 9: Mountain Biodiversity and Adaptations of Plants
-In this Lesson 9, we discuss the ecological and evolutionary processes that account for the remarkable biodiversity of species living in mountain environments. Then, we explore some of the unique adaptations that plants have for coping with extreme conditions, including cold, intense solar radiation, and short growing seasons. TechTip: Go farther – camping

Lesson 10: Animal Adaptations
-Animals living in mountains have evolved morphological, behavioural, and physiological adaptations to survive under extreme conditions. In Lesson 10, we will focus on how several species deal with the cold and conclude with a peek at the adaptations of fish living in mountain lakes. TechTip: Go farther – cooking

Lesson 11: Use and Preservation
-How are mountains used? How are they preserved? In Lesson 11, we examine the often conflicting demands of using mountains, and preserving and managing the integrity of mountain environments, cultures and economies. TechTip: Go softly – mountain ethics

Lesson 12: Future Mountains
-In Lesson 12, we will look forward and consider some possible future scenarios for mountains. How is our changing climate affecting these places? What are the indicators of change? What lessons can we learn from the past and present to inform decisions for tomorrow?

Taught by

Zac Robinson and David Hik


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4.9 rating, based on 491 reviews

Start your review of Mountains 101

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    (Much of this review has already been published at the Institute for Mountain Research's site, Mountains 101 is a great introduction to the growing young field of mountain studies by one of the best academic programs. True to its...
  • Pat Bowden completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    If you enjoy the great outdoors, stunning scenery or learning about a variety of plants, animals and geological processes, this course could be for you! Not only does it explain how mountains are formed and degraded, it also teaches us about glaciers,...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This is the single best MOOC I've ever taken. The instructors and those behind the scenes put in mind boggling amounts of effort in order to source inspirational and engaging images and videos of mountains, to design interactive and unique assessment...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I really enjoyed this course. I have taken other MOOCs and this was definitely up there in quality. I've read a lot of the reviews and I agree with almost all of them. There are some areas that could be improved: Quizzes, pdfs of course notes, tech...
  • Lisa Mccarthy

    Lisa Mccarthy completed this course.

    This was an AWESOME course! I am a high school biology teacher and love hiking. I thought I knew a fair bit about mountains, but I learnt so much on this course. The scenery is amazing, the lectures are really clear and really interesting. I found that...
  • Thomas E M Doria completed this course, spending 1 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    This is by far the best free online course I have studied through MOOC, and I have done several in a range of different subjects. The subject of the course is of course fascinating, and essential learning in these times. The course relates mountains...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    By and large this is the best online course that I have ever taken. The videos are of high quality and the content is well planned and organized. I have a background in biology and environmental sciences and even though there were many things that I was...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Mountains 101 was very well done. Zac and David obviously know and love the mountain environment and that enthusiasm, combined with the information in the course, made me look forward to seeing each video. The broad approach, from science to culture,...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    It was more than expected content wise , fact wise . And more than that i need to mention that it was AMAZING AMAZING facts of mountains beyond what i knew before. The magnificent glaciers, volcanoes, elevation varieties, habitats, flora, fauna, lakes...
  • Mary Harding completed this course.

    I loved this course. I enjoyed David and Zac's teaching styles as well as the graphics and video clips. The professionals interviewed were informative and well spoken. I chose not to race ahead with the course, but rather to savour each lesson. I shared...
  • Anonymous
    5 stars. As a free course/or not free for a 100-200 level college student, I found it to be excellent and I didn't want it to end. The instructors were great, the tech & survival tips, the field trips, the world mountains map interactive all very good....
  • Anonymous
    There is so much to learn about mountains. I had no idea when I began the course the depth and variety of topics was going to be presented. It was taught in a logical way so new knowledge was based on what was previously taught. The two instructors,...
  • I will not complain and fully welcome any assessment that this is one of the best, if not the best, MOOCs in existence. I am simply in awe of the subject matter, the presentation of the material, and the heartfelt dedication that obviously went into creating...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    One of the most engaging online courses I have taken. The presenters were well-spoken, and spoke in terms I could understand. Not once did I feel lost in academic jargon. Complicated concepts were broken down and well explained. I think the course was well organized and presented in a logical sequence. I learned a lot, much of which I feel I can use in my work as a professional tour guide in the Rocky Mountains. I am using this course as Certified Professional Development in the Interpretive Guides Association, here in the Canadian Rockies. I am saving all the course notes for future reference. I would recommend this course to anyone seeking to connect with mountain landscapes in their corner of the world.
  • Profile image for Redvers Frederick
    Redvers Frederick

    Redvers Frederick completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    I can honestly state that this mountains 101 course is the best course I have ever completed in my life and that includes completing a B A Honours Degree in Sociology and History This course was extremely interesting. I especially enjoyed the modules...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Great course. I took it as an "elective" to relax from some of my other online learning pursuits, and it was great. The course is well presented and given at a level of casual understanding. I would say that previous knowledge would be useful but not...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course spread over 12 weeks introduced me to a range of different topics from a wilderness/mountain point of view. This included physical geography, geology, biodiversity, ecology, climate change, indigenous and modern cultural impacts on mountain regions.

    For me it filled a gap and provided a complementary course to enhance reinforce knowledge gained from other courses in the fields of ecology, climate change, geology, physical geography and paleontology et al.

    The course does not require extensive preknowledge and can be taken "for interest" as well as a supplement to more advanced studies. There is something for everyone here.

  • Christy completed this course.

    Mountains 101 is phenomenal. The professors and the material are both thoroughly engaging, and I looked forward to watching the lectures and working through the class material each week. The class exposes you to a wide range of ideas and information, which really build one's knowledge and familiarity with historical, present, and future perceptions and issues related to mountains. The professors have done a tremendous job bringing in other diverse voices to complement their knowledge, and I appreciated that they included scientists, academics, First Nations people, and Parks Canada staff in the course. The typed outlines each week are a great way to continue to review the class materials.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I've taken up mountain running recently and have become a mountain lover. The moment I was informed about this course I registered with an intention of expanding my knowledge about the environment I spend so much time in. Now that the course is completed I feel I am familiar with lots of aspects concerning mountains -historical, geological, environmental and so much more. I' ve also grown aware of so many details on plant and animal life on the mountains that I had never even imagined. The elaborate definition of the world around us -volcanoes, avalanches, glaciers, even the birth and growing of mountains- have given me an understanding of how the earth works. The course was really worth attending and strongly recommended.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Great Course! Instructors were exceptional, material interesting and guests added to the experience. The length of the lessons and being able to pace the course individually were appreciated. I liked the map work and the tech tips, too.

    I am a senior, and took some physical geography courses at the U of A years ago towards my BA in Recreation Administration. This brought a lot of those learnings to the forefront of my mind and added more currently relevant information. The scenery in the background was wonderful - could identify many of the places from my hikes and travels in the Canadian Rockies. A great way to spend home time during Covid. Inspires me to perhaps take some more of the MOOC courses.

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