This free online course explores how life on earth has been shaped by five mass extinction events in the distant past. At present, biodiversity is facing a crisis, with the prospect of a sixth extinction event today.
Explore the five mass extinctions of the past
Each week there are discussions with scientists about how their research informs us about the biodiversity of our planet including the very first life forms; fish and tetrapod diversification; the radiation of reptiles and dinosaurs; and the rise of mammals.
We focus on the five previous mass extinction events that have shaped the biodiversity of our planet. The fossil record reveals evidence of species that went extinct during these mass extinctions and the new opportunities created for the surviving biota to diversify.
The threat of a “sixth extinction” today
Turning to the present and the anthropocene period, we look at how human behaviour is now beginning to impact the Earth’s ecosystems.
We consider the threat of the so-called ‘sixth extinction’, finding out how our actions are reducing biodiversity and threatening the survival of many species.
Learn with one of the world’s leading paleontologists
‘Extinctions: Past and Present’ is created by the University of Cape Town, and filmed on location at South Africa’s Iziko Museum, West Coast Fossil Park, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, and the Table Mountain National Park.
You will learn with Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan – an acclaimed paleobiologist, author of a range of academic and children’s books on fossils, and former South African Woman of the Year. In 2013 she was awarded The World Academy of Science’s Sub-Saharan Prize for the Public Understanding and Popularization of Science.
The course is suitable for anyone with an interest in science or environmental issues. No previous experience is required. While scientific names are used, to for example identify extinct life forms, knowing these is not required to follow the course. We do offer glossaries and explain terms as we go along so you will be able to follow the themes of the course.
MOOCs stand for Massive Open Online Courses. These arefree online courses from universities around the world (eg. StanfordHarvardMIT) offered to anyone with an internet connection.
How do I register?
To register for a course, click on "Go to Class" button on the course page. This will take you to the providers website where you can register for the course.
How do these MOOCs or free online courses work?
MOOCs are designed for an online audience, teaching primarily through short (5-20 min.) pre recorded video lectures, that you watch on weekly schedule when convenient for you. They also have student discussion forums, homework/assignments, and online quizzes or exams.
A well thought out, brilliantly presented course by the experts who enthused on their topics. All were positive that we humans could prevent the 6th extinction and gave us practical things we could do. Excellent photographs, graphics and charts and nice clear explanations which this non-scientist found easy to follow.
I have taken many courses over the lifetime of futurelearn. Many have centred on the environment and the changes we are facing. This course has been by far the most informative and hopeful. The course leaderAnusuya Chinsamy-Turan from the University of Cape Town has brought together brilliant minds covering many of the aspects which are stressing our planet and leading us towards the 6th exctinction. The past 5 exctinction events over the lifetime of earth are covered in such a way that everyone can understand. And although the crisis we are currently facing is not glossed over the 6th exctinction is something we can all do something about if only because we are the ones causing it unlike the past 5 extinctions caused by nature and the universe.
I highly recommend this course and I look forward to the next potential course coming out of the birthplace from which we all are connected.
What a wonderful MOOC! I have taken many MOOCs to date and this has certainly been one of the most fascinating and thought-provoking. Despite being new to the subject I found myself being drawn into the whole idea of extinctions, past, present and future by the enthusiasm and interest generated by the course leader and her excellent expert guests. They made the subject come alive with discussion and apt illustration, and I felt compelled to read around the topics covered and do further research, which is surely the aim and marker of a good MOOC.
My only disappointment was being unable to 'complete' the course fully because two of the tests required an update, which I am reluctant to do, as the idea of a free course is very important to me. However, a splendid course, which I will continue to use as inspiration for further reading and more thoughtful use of our planet's precious environment and resources.
An excellent and highly informative course detailing the five mass extinctions, with reference to bacterial, fossilized faunal and floral species. Additional material pertaining to journal articles and other reputable references have also been included for those who wish to learn more, with an added bonus of video transcripts of interviews with various biologists and conservationists. This course provides the learner an opportunity to contribute to various discussions, including our current crisis, climate change. In conclusion, 'Extinctions: Past and Present' has been educational and fun, covering all areas within the subject range. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I have just finished the course ‘Extinctions’ which gives a concise history of the biology of Earth and of the 5 major extinctions which, in the past, wiped out a large percentage of the species of plants and animals which inhabited Earth at the time.
We were introduced to varied ecologies which flourished in the past, as continents drifted, oceans rose and fell and as the atmosphere continuously modified. We met strange and varied life forms and habitats both familiar and weird.
Many eminent professors told us about their research and the danger our planet is in from the 6th. man-made extinction.
This is a fascinating course, which I would recommend to anyone interested in life on Earth, climate change or the future of our planet.
Sadie Hirstcompleted this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
The course was taken with Future Learn. The course host - Anusuya, made a very serious subject engaging, enlightening and accessible. I have no prior academic learning in this area at all and although there are scientific terms, they are explained and there is a glossary too. There was excellent learner participation and contributions from Anusuya and clearly comments were being read and help given when needed. I learnt a lot from fellow learners too, who were much more knowledgeable than myself. I have lots of material to go back to, which I have bookmarked for further reading. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who has an interest in our earth's history.
I'm only a partially completed because I haven't taken 2 of the quizzes because I chose not to upgrade. That aside, the course has been an excellent introduction to the topic of the Six Extinctions with a lot of useful resources supplied by the course organisers and of course by the students themselves. Without the students contributions in the discussions and recommendations, the course would still be very complete, with the students addition, it became hugely entertaining and enlightening. My congratulations go to all who helped make this course so interesting and worthwhile digging into each week.
What a valuable, interesting and stimulating course! I loved all the thought-provoking discussions on the chat board and thoroughly enjoyed each well-presented talk and the associated material. Great kudos in particular to our course lecturer Prof Anusuya, and to the very informative guest lecturers; to Germán and Janet for help and encouragement and to the busy production team. This is a course that gives rise to much thought. Very well-worth doing!
Sally Chapmancompleted this course, spending 5 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
An excellent course. I have studied various aspects of past extinctions in other courses but the information in this course was mostly new to me. I now have a better and more detailed understanding of the subject. The lectures were all interesting and well presented, I enjoyed hearing from scientists who are presently involved in this field of study. Well done Cape Town and I will look for more of your courses.
Thank you very much Professor Anusuya, your colleagues, University of Cape Town and FutureLearn. Thank also to my fellow students. I really enjoyed this interesting and informative course. It has taught me a lot about the distant past whilst also focussing my mind on big issues for the present and future of our species and life on earth.
Millie B.completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
I studied some of this when I was at university, but even so I think it would be a great course for beginners. It gives you a short overview of what happened at each of the mass extinctions in Earth’s history, explaining why they happened (if we know!), and what the consequences were for life on Earth. The final week looked at the future of life on Earth and the current mass extinction (“The sixth extinction”) and was my personal favourite, as this is my field of interest.
This course attempts to explain 3 billion years or so of life on Earth, covering evolution and extinction in 5 brief weeks. Educators are busy commenting in the discussion forums but do not seem to correct uniformed speculation which is encouraged by the superficial instruction. I am concerned that students come away with too many false ideas.
I had to skip part of week 4 due to time constraints & I particularly wanted to do week 5, which was about the current extinction. Overall this was a great course, well presented. It took a logical step by step process through the extinctions to our present day problems. Well worth the time investment! Thanks.
Outstanding course! The enthusiasm and optimism brought to the course by the lead education is contagious. You can't help but have all the excitement you felt as a child for fossils and dinosaurs reawakened. And the guest speakers are all just as passionate about their fields. Don't miss this course!
I find it hard to speak too highly of this course. I found the content well pitched to an interested lay person like myself, and presented with a high level of professional commitment. Especially stimulating were the video interviews with a wide range of specialist scientists actively engaged with state of the art work in their fields.
Thanks for a wonderful course, very informative and offers a fantastic sense of perspective on our own 'blink and you'll miss it' existence on Earth while charting how devastating this brief stewardship has been for the other organisms we share it with.
This was a fascinating course , very well presented and with lots of interesting input from specialists. There is so much extra information that I feel I could repeat it several times and still be learning from it. Many thanks to Anyusa and her team. Definitely one to recommend.
Amazing course: Great interviews with passionate, informed people, and the loveliest warm and optimistic presenting Prof..you are going to learn lots and have a lot of fun doing it + you are going to "walk -out" of this course a slightly changed person. Take the course!