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The Basis of Life: Understanding Human Cells

Discover the building blocks of life and investigate the structures and functions of plant, human, and animal cells.

Cell structure

Explore the cell anatomy of all living organisms

Cytology, or cellular biology, is the study of cells and gives us a fascinating insight into the basis of life itself.

On this two-week course, you’ll delve into the cellular structures of plants, animals, and humans, learning about the processes all living organisms must do to survive. You’ll gain an overview of cell anatomy and function, equipping you for further study in the health sciences.

Examine multicellular and unicellular organisms

You’ll be introduced to key terminology including prokaryotes and eukaryotes, identifying their features with examples.

You’ll also differentiate between plant and animal cells, exploring how growth in animals and plants occurs through different processes at a cellular level.

Discover the function of cell organelles and their impact on life processes

Organelles are specialised parts of a cell that perform unique jobs. You’ll learn about different organelle functions and how they help cells operate within the organism.

Building on your knowledge of multicellular organisms, you’ll investigate their hierarchical structures. You’ll identify the functions of different cells on a micro-level, and more broadly within tissues, organs, organ systems, and the body as a whole.

Learn about cell survival and cell transport processes

Cells need nutrients to survive, as well as being able to remove waste.

Using videos and quizzes, you’ll discover active and passive transport processes, including diffusion, osmosis, and exocytosis, learning how nutrients and waste are transferred across the cell membrane.

You’ll finish this course able to identify the types of cells found in living organisms and their key functions and processes. Using this knowledge, you’ll be able to kickstart your studies in health sciences and further your knowledge in cytology.


  • Week 1

    Introducing cells

    • Welcome to Week 1

      Welcome to Week 1. This week's topics are what cells are, types of cells and where they fit into living organisms. Let's go!

    • Introduction to all things living

      Cells are the building blocks of living things, but what defines a living organism? We look at functions living organisms must carry out to survive, different types of organisms and how they are structured.

    • Types of cells

      What's the difference between plant and animal cells? Investigate plant and animals cells in this activity.

    • Recap this week's learning

      Recap with a review of this week's learning and take a quiz. Let's go!

  • Week 2

    Cell processes

    • Welcome to Week 2

      Welcome to Week 2. This week's topics are parts of cells and what goes on inside cells. Let's go!

    • Cell structure and function

      Dive into a cell and find out what organelles are and what they do.

    • Cell processes

      Cells need to move materials across the cell membrane to survive. Look at how they transport materials in this activity.

    • Recap this week's learning

      Review this week's material and the course overall, and share your top two new learnings.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Identify types of organisms and cells
  • Describe the relationship between cells, tissues, organs, organ systems and the organism
  • Explain the structure and function of cell organelles
  • Describe cell functions and processes

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for those planning to study the health sciences, as well as those already studying who wish to further their knowledge of cells, structures, and processes.

Who will you learn with?

Kia ora
I am Andrea Shaw and I'm passionate about Biology. I teach Anatomy and Physiology with a focus on revision techniques at Whitireia and WelTec in New Zealand. I look forward to working with you.

Who developed the course?

Whitireia New Zealand

Established in 1986, Whitireia is a wholly-owned Crown entity subsidiary company of Te Pūkenga, known for its high student success rates and culturally diverse student body.

What's included?

This is a premium course. These courses are designed for professionals from specific industries looking to learn with a smaller group of like-minded individuals.

  • Unlimited access to this course
  • Includes any articles, videos, peer reviews and quizzes
  • Certificate of Achievement to prove your success when you're eligible
  • Download and print your Certificate of Achievement anytime

Still want to know more? Check out our FAQs

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join:

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