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University of Alberta

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 553 reviews

Start your review of Mountains 101

  • 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.

    (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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • Emily M completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Very well planned and fascinating course. While the curriculum only covered the tip of the iceberg as a 101 class, it was enough to get me interested in certain subjects to go research them on my own. I like that the course had a section of Suggested Reading in the notes, it was nice to be able to have a direction to go when I wanted to do additional reading on the different subjects. Great course, had a lot of curriculum that I was pleasantly surprised to see! Also as an added bonus, the videos were gorgeous: lots of beautiful mountain landscapes. Made it very enjoyable to watch!
  • 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
    This is the best online course I have taken. Interesting, well presented, great structure. The videos are done extremely well with great narration, and the well-researched material is presented in a way that someone without previous knowledge could...
  • 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,...
  • Profile image for Rabindra Adhikari
    Rabindra Adhikari
    This is one of the best courses I have studied. As a Nepalese national, I feel so privileged about the mountains. This course not only covers the biophysical dimension of mountains but also a very crucial socio-economic and cultural aspect that makes...
  • 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.

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