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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 451 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.

    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,...
  • 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

    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...
  • 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.

    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.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I have learnt a lot from the course which I found very interesting. By taking a very broad approach to mountains a huge range of topics has been covered. It worked very well with having two presenters as well as a host of experts who provided additional real information. Generally the materials used for the course were well prepared and pertinent to the content. It is unashamedly Canada-centric but also brings in a lot of examples and scenarios from around the world. The world map tool was particularly effective since it showed how shaky my world geography is.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Throughly enjoyed this introductory course to mountains! Like many, I have always found mountains fascinating, and enjoyed the occasional hiking trips. This course opened my eyes to different parts of the mountains I have never thought about! From what defines a mountain, to the formation of a mountain, and the biodiversity of these places. Zac and David, and all the featured professors/professionals were such engaging educators, bringing all of us through this journey of discovering mountains. The visually gorgeous materials certainly helps too, especially during this time where we are all home-bound. Thank you for putting this course together, and I am looking forward to a Mountain 201!
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I live in Jasper National Park and figured this course would be a refresher for what I already know. It was not - it gave me an international perspective on mountains as intricate and intrinsic members of a world system. The science is faultless, the accompanying photography is jaw dropping and the layers of information took me from science to humour back to to science and through to rooted cultural understandings. Take this course, it will open the mountains up wide for you.
  • David Delorme

    David Delorme completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Presentation clarity, spectacular imagery and topic flow are all extremely well done. This makes participation a real pleasure!
    Personally I feel this is a course anyone could find worth well with some interesting takeaways. The questionnaires were all appropriate but kudos for the pdf handouts. This is rare that class notes are 'packaged', it does help the learning process, bravo!
    Perhaps one small suggestion is to cut into two, any videos that go over say, 12 minutes. It just seems daunting if one has to settle in for a 21 minute length presentation. But great work!
  • Mike Sherriff

    Mike Sherriff completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    I really enjoyed this MOOC. It is a good multidisciplinary overview of mountains, from weather/climate, to geography, people, hazards, future challenges, etc. The quizzes are challenging, but being a Coursera MOOC you get multiple chances. The scenery is fantastic and the presenters and guest presenters are great. If you enjoy mountains and want to learn a little more about them, I highly recommend this course.

    Each lecture has lecture notes (a summary) at the end. I pre-read for each week and it made the videos more enjoyable and the quizzes much easier.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I took this course because of the subject matter (mountains are one of my passions), and the number of recommendations. I can confirm that it is absolutely excellent in terms of both subject matter and presentation. The videos alone are second-to-none, and I found all the educators engaging and informative.

    If I could I would rate it 6 stars, and if I was 40 years younger I would try to get a job in Canada and move there to explore its outstanding natural landscapes.

    Many thanks to all concerned in devising and producing this course, you've done Canada proud.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Mountains 101 manages to be simultaneously gentle and rigorous. The concepts discussed and the sheer breadth of ideas covered in the twelves sessions are accessible (to everyone?) but never feel dumbed down or limited. Zak Robinson and David Hik share their wisdom and passion for mountains and for learning through their delivery and their welcome of so many experts from so many fields. Of course this is just the beginning, a 101 and there is so much more to learn. Finishing the course feels inspiring and rewarding. I spend a lot of my time learning: I haven't enjoyed it this much in a while.

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