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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



4.9 rating, based on 590 Class Central reviews

4.9 rating at Coursera based on 2341 ratings

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,...
  • A great class! I got the recommendation for this class from the Class Central cohort initiative! I am glad I joined this class and completed it. Well, this is one of those classes that I will keep visiting again and again and certainly keep learning...
  • This course is fantastic: - It has passionate instructors: thank you, David and Zac! - It has a fascinating subject: I'll see mountains differently from now on. - It's beautifully produced: well edited, nice music, crisp sound, beautiful image. -...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • Beautiful course giving you a multidisciplinary view of mountains.

    Very well worked out lectures with fine video, infographics, explaining concepts, intermittent quizzes, and more.

    The weekly assignments are of the right level of difficulty, you need some thinking/studying to come to the right answers but you will succeed I you studied the material well.

    I had the opportunity to do the course in a Class Central organised study group, with weekly scheduled lectures, a rich discussion forum and live sessions with the instructors. I hope Class Central will continue providing these extras, these are extra motivators for the course and enrich the learning experience significantly.
  • 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...
  • Ravi Srinivasan completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Unparalled breadth for a MOOC. Loved the onlea mountain finding tool. A very well put-together course. Top 3 of all time MOOCs
  • Anonymous
    I really enjoyed this course. As a retired natural resource professional, the great and diverse treatment of mountain topics put me in touch with the attraction of mountain environments early in my life. I learned a lot, despite having a pretty good grounding in some of the subject matter. The diverse course elements definitely added to depth of learning. Participation by Parks Canada is a plus.
  • Anonymous
    My family has traveled to the US and Canadian Rockies since the late 1980’s. We have loved each experience- this course has enriched my knowledge and enhanced my appreciation for these lovely areas. An upcoming trip to Yoho National Park incentivized me to learn more. This course is fabulous. Thank you.
  • Anonymous
    Nice course. Explained everything about the different aspects of mountains and their physical, cultural importance in detail. Loved the examples and the mountain maps and also the trekking and hiking tips which made this course informative and interesting at the same time.
  • Anonymous
    A very well instructed course with clear learning objectives before each module and nicely paced information. The course begins with a module on why mountains matter and then builds upon that, looking at may aspects including their cultural, recreational...
  • Top, top, top!

    Excellent. Very well designed, great professors, awesome filming, and so on!

    The best!

    Take it, you will love it.

  • 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!
  • Michel Baez
    Muchas gracias por el curso lo disfrute mucho me ayudo a reforzar lo que he visto durante estos 10 años de montañismo en Chile !
  • Anonymous
    I am a retired biochemist and volunteer at Glacier National Park in Montana. This course has helped me on several levels. Personally, it was a great opportunity for someone who graduated from university in 1974 to prove to myself I can still learn!...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • Julien
    A great great experience. I spent quite a long time to complete the course because of variable availabilities but every time it was a pleasure to dive into mountains again with David and Zac.

    I discovered news mountains across the world and a lot of very interesting countent about how those ecosystems work and evolve.

    I encourage anybody to take part of this adventure in order to get more aware about mountains and to see them and act in a new way then.

    Every year now, I will celebrate the 11 of December, (in the mountains when possible !)

    Julien from France.
  • 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....

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