• University of Bath

Understanding and Teaching Evolution

Learn key concepts in biological evolution and find out how to integrate them into the classroom.

4,372 enrolled on this course

Understanding and Teaching Evolution

Find out how to teach evolution to 7–16 year olds

How does evolution happen? Can we observe it in real time? How do new species come about and how long does this take?

When you think about evolution, you may think of Darwin, but modern genetics has transformed our understanding of how evolution happens. This course uses this new genetics-centred approach to explain key concepts in our scientific understanding of evolution.

The course starts with the genetics of inheritance and variation, how natural selection and adaptation leads to speciation, followed by macroevolution and geological time, ending with human evolution.

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 21 seconds Hello. I’m Laurence Hurst. I’m the Lead Educator on this programme. I’m standing here today next to the pond at the University of Bath with a large number of different plants and animals surrounding me. But in addition to those, there are many organisms that we can’t see, many too small to see. But what they all have in common is that they are all the product of evolution. But what is evolution? How does evolution happen? And how fast can evolution happen? These are some of the questions of this course. Often, when we think about evolution, you might think about Darwin.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds Our understanding of evolution, however, is now very different and it’s different in no small part because, unlike Darwin, we now understand genetics. Most particularly, we understand DNA and the chemical basis of inheritance, and therefore the chemical basis of the process of evolution. So this course is unusual insomuch as we will start by considering, not Darwin, but by considering genetics. Genetics has informed not only how we understand evolution, but also it has given us new techniques to enable us to understand evolution. Currently, the world of evolution is being transformed by an increase in data, data generated by machines like this. This is a DNA sequencing machine.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds It’s currently estimated that about 90% of all genetic information that we’ve ever known has been accumulated only over the last two years, in no small part because of machines like this. Because of this huge amount of data, we can now ask questions about evolution that were previously unimaginable, and we’re discovering questions that we never even thought to ask about. So it is both concepts and the data that is revolutionising our understanding of evolution, and all of that is centred on our new understanding and data about DNA. We’ve designed the course in no small part for 14 to 16-year-olds to accompany their GCSE courses in biology in the UK context. But it’s not for them and them alone.

Skip to 2 minutes and 52 seconds We’ve also designed it for the teachers, so there are teacher packs to accompany the talks that we will give. But, much more generally, it is for anybody interested in this new genetical view of evolution. The course will start by looking at changes within a species, these mutations increasing or decreasing in frequency. But then we’ll go on to ask different questions, questions about what it is to be a different species, and how new species can form. Moving beyond the questions of how species form, we have questions related to why different groups have different numbers of species within their groups.

Skip to 3 minutes and 32 seconds So, for example, there are over 10,000 species of birds, but the DNA tells us that the closest living relatives of birds are crocodiles, and there’s only a handful of different species of crocodiles. The final topic that we will look at is to look at a species that we find particularly interesting. And that’s to say, us. I hope you enjoy the course, and thank you for watching.

What topics will you cover?

  • Inheritance and Variation
  • Natural Selection and Adaptation
  • Speciation
  • Macroevolution
  • Geological time
  • Human evolution

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. 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...

  • Reflect that by biological evolution we mean that many of the organisms that inhabit the Earth today are different from those that inhabited it in the past.
  • Describe how species can change and adapt through naturally occurring genetic variations that are inherited.
  • Understand that natural selection is one of several processes that can bring about evolution, and that natural selection and adaptation can occur over large geological times.
  • Assess fossil evidence for human evolution in the context of the living great apes and modern humans.

Who is the course for?

The course is aimed at primary and secondary school teachers, students, parents, and anyone interested in understanding evolution.

Who will you learn with?

I am the Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at The University of Bath. I have won prizes for both teaching and research. I especially enjoy giving talks in schools.

A member of University of Bath’s cancer research group, Dr Momna Hejmadi has also received awards for excellence in teaching and has carried out work in open education resources.

Who developed the course?

University of Bath

The University of Bath is one of the UK’s leading universities both in terms of research and our reputation for excellence in teaching, learning and graduate prospects.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps, but you can complete them as quickly or slowly as you like
  • 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

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Learner reviews

Learner reviews cannot be loaded due to your cookie settings. Please and refresh the page to view this content.

Join this course

Start this course for free, upgrade for extra benefits, or buy Unlimited to access this course and hundreds of other short courses for a year.

Free

$0

Join free and you will get:

  • Access to this course for 5 weeks

Upgrade

$64

Upgrade this course and you will get:

  • Access to this course for as long as it’s on FutureLearn
  • Access to this course’s tests as well as a print and digital Certificate of Achievement once you’re eligible

Unlimited

$279.99 for one year

Buy Unlimited and you will get:

  • Access to this course, and hundreds of other FutureLearn short courses and tests for a year
  • A printable digital Certificate of Achievement on all short courses once you’re eligible
  • The freedom to keep access to any course you've achieved a digital Certificate of Achievement on, for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn
  • The flexibility to complete your choice of short courses in your own time within the year

Find out more about upgrades or Unlimited.

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...

You can use the hashtag #FLevolution to talk about this course on social media.