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Learn about evolution with online courses and programs

Advance your knowledge of the natural world by studying the origin of life. Learn about evolution with online courses delivered through edX.

What is evolution?

Evolution is a fundamental scientific concept that describes the gradual, long-term process of change in living organisms over generations. It is driven by two key mechanisms: natural selection and genetic variation. Organisms within a population exhibit genetic diversity due to mutations and genetic recombination, leading to variations in traits.

In the context of natural selection, certain traits provide individuals with advantages in their environment, increasing their chances of survival and reproduction. These advantageous traits are more likely to be passed on to the next generation, leading to an increase in their frequency in the population over time. This process gradually shapes the characteristics of species, adapting them to their specific ecological niches.

Over millions of years, evolution has given rise to the diverse array of life forms we see today. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection remains a cornerstone of biology, offering profound insights into the origins and development of species.

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Evolution course curriculum

Studying evolution can introduce you to a wide range of topics that can help you understand the mechanisms, history, and consequences of this fundamental biological process. Some key areas of study include:

  • Natural selection: Investigate how environmental pressures favor certain traits and lead to the differential survival and reproduction of individuals with those traits.

  • Genetic variation: Understand the sources of genetic diversity, including mutations, recombination, and gene flow, and their roles in driving evolutionary change.

  • Adaptation: Examine how organisms evolve specific traits to better fit their ecological niches, such as the evolution of camouflage, mimicry, or specialized organs.

  • Speciation: Explore how new species arise through mechanisms like geographic isolation, genetic divergence, and reproductive barriers.

  • Genomics: Use DNA sequencing to study the genetic basis of evolutionary changes and track the evolution of specific genes.

  • Human evolution: Explore the evolutionary history of our own species and the development of human traits and behaviors.

  • Ecological and behavioral evolution: Study how ecological interactions and behaviors have evolved, leading to complex strategies like cooperation, competition, and predation.

These topics collectively contribute to human knowledge about the diversity of life on Earth, the interconnectedness of species, and the processes that have shaped the natural world over millions of years. Evolutionary biology is a multidisciplinary field that draws from genetics, paleontology, ecology, and other scientific disciplines to paint a comprehensive picture of life's history and development.

edX offers online courses that allow learners to study a variety of topics including biology and other sciences. ‌Sign up for an accelerated boot camp, or enroll in a full degree program and start working toward a bachelor's degree, or (for more advanced learners) a master’s degree in a relevant subject. You can also explore executive education programs specifically designed for busy professionals.

Why learn about evolution?

Interested in how you can apply your knowledge of evolution in a professional setting? There are many related job opportunities for individuals with varied educational backgrounds, such as:

  • Biologist: Relies on knowledge of evolution to understand the diversity of life, study species interactions, and investigate the genetic basis of traits and diseases.

  • Medical researcher/geneticist: Studies the genetic underpinnings of diseases, drug resistance, and human health, allowing researchers to develop more effective treatments and strategies.

  • Agricultural scientist: Uses evolutionary principles to develop crop and livestock breeding strategies, combat pests and diseases, and enhance the sustainability and resilience of food production.

  • Conservation biologist: Designs strategies for preserving biodiversity, protecting endangered species, and restoring ecosystems, ensuring the long-term health of our planet's ecosystems.

  • Educator: Imparts the importance of evolution to students, fostering a scientific understanding of the natural world and the ability to critically evaluate biological phenomena and controversies.

Each of these roles will have different education and skills requirements. Before deciding on a specific learning path, research the positions you hope to pursue and align your coursework with your career goals.