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Online Course

Mountains 101

All-Time Top 100

University of Alberta via Coursera

  • Provider Coursera
  • Cost Free Online Course (Audit)
  • Session Upcoming
  • Language English
  • Certificate Paid Certificate Available
  • Duration 12 weeks long
  • Learn more about MOOCs

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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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Reviews for Coursera's Mountains 101 Based on 334 reviews

  • 5 stars 91%
  • 4 stars 9%
  • 3 star 0%
  • 2 star 0%
  • 1 star 0%

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  • 1
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 promise as an introductory and interdisciplinary course, the class builds slowly from a basic foundation and draws from many different disciplines. The course begins by defining mountains in geological and topographical terms, while always keeping their signicance to human cultures in the mix. One possible definition of…
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Pat B
by Pat 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, the water cycle, and why mountain habitats change as the elevation increases. Mountain ecosystems are visited and adaptations of plants and animals to life in the cold, rugged landscape and sparse atmosphere are described. Various specific mountains are featured in the discussion of mountains in folklore and legends. The effect of climate change …
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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 tips, background photo locations, etc. Pop quizzes were kind of weird. Asking me questions about what you're going to discuss, and then making me get the right answer before I can proceed? Kind of a strange teaching methodology.

I am quite familiar with travel in the mountains and fairly on top of mountain ecology but I wasn't as…
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Thomas D
by Thomas 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 and their nature to the current issues surrounding the global ecosystem, climate change etc., giving a very sound elementary education in how this all works, as well as covering every aspect of the alpine environment from how it's formed to what lives there, how and why. But the main reason I rate the course so highly is that the production valu…
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Mary H
by Mary 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 what I learned with my dog-walking partner, who may now take the course herself. I appreciated learning about so many aspects of mountains from their geology to their glaciation and to the cultures of mountain people around the world. I will use the information I learned in my work. I have a biology and geography degree from long ago as was delighted to be reminded of what I already knew and to learn information that is new from when I was in school. The course was well put together. I may even take it again! I would certainly enjoy a second course on the same topic. Well done and thank you. Oh yes, and I liked the tech tips too.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
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.

Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Christy C
by 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.
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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.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
David D
David 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!
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
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.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Mike S
Mike 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.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
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.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Melissa A
by Melissa completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
Loved Mountains 101. A true survey course covering from mountain geology to art to human physiology to climate change. Great visuals photos videos charts. Profs Zac and David were great, as were the many guests from different universities and from Parks Canada. You can tell that a lot of work went into putting the course together, including fun extras like the interactive map of locations visited and the tech tips at the end of each session. While the course is introductory, there is a level of detail that will challenge you if it is not your field, e.g. Geology, in my case.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Anonymous completed this course.
At first I wasn't sure if the course content would be beyond me in the sense that my studies were in a completely different field. I was pleased to see that not only was the course material fascinating and comprehensive, but presented in an appropriate pace and offered many opportunities for self learning and learner engagement. I am a member of a hiking group and ever since I've completed the course, I've been telling all my hiking friends that they should take this course, it's that good!

Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Sally J
Sally completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
This course is an intellectual and visual masterpiece! The information about the variety of systems in which mountains are involved changed the way I will look at and think about mountains forever. The stunning images made me crave another trip to a mountainous area. I loved that the course emphasizes a global view past, present and future and wish that our President (US) would be forced to take the course! Thank you all for your dedication to mountains and to students around the world.
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Anonymous completed this course.
This is one of the best courses I have ever experienced in all aspects from the extensive course syllabus, logical and clear execution of lessons, great exercises, nice lesson summaries and a lot of good references. The sound and video quality is top and the superb photos and videos adds a lot - you can follow this course just to see beautiful landscapes! If you enjoy spending time in the mountains and/or have interest in geography, flora and fauna, do not miss this course!
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Alberto P
by Alberto completed this course.
This Mountains 101 course is certainly worth taking it. It gives you an idea of all aspects that concern Mountains, it's enjoyable and easy to follow also for non-native English students. Teachers are indeed very good and their passion for mountains is transmitted to the students.

It is well organized, has an area on Tech Tips on mountains and one on where mountains are.

I'm really looking for a Mountain 201 course.

Thanks Professors David and Zac!
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Anonymous completed this course.
An excellent course!

It's a very comprehensive study of mountains from different perspectives. It's an interdisciplinary course combining disciplines like geology, hydrology and glaciology , to name a few.This is a great example of how best interdisciplinary courses can be.

Videos are excellent with beautiful images. The backdrops where the presenters present are equally beautiful.Presenters are knowledgeable and present the content with very simple and clear explanations. Wherever the content is difficult, it's made simpler by breaking it into parts. Tough concepts…
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Anonymous completed this course.
Mountains 101 was a very interesting and informative course outlining just about everything you'd like to know about our worlds mountain ranges. Diverse topics cover not only geology, but history, cultures and how the weather has shaped our mighty landscapes. Each week had the right amount of info with questions to keep you challenged. Highly recommended for anyone but especially those who love to get outdoors in the worlds spectacular playgrounds.
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Anonymous completed this course.
If you are thinking to yourself, 'can I really take a university level course, actually enjoy it and then have what it takes to complete several lessons on (((Mountains))) - Then you have found the right place to start - the lessons are gripping - the video's are truly beautiful & incredibly dynamic!

Zac & David are the type of teachers, that will make you hungry for more - I can hardly wait for the next lessons on Mountains to begin.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
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