Revolutionary digital courses remove the barriers to education for people across the world

A new and exciting way of learning which is free and accessible to all is transforming education at the University of Sheffield.

Breaking down barriers to education

The School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) is pioneering the University's first Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which will give people of all ages the opportunity to take part in a unique, high quality, flexible and innovative learning experience.

Almost 1,000 people from 52 countries across the globe, including Brazil, Ethiopia and France, have already signed up to the first three MOOCs entitled Healthy Sustainable Diets, Health Inequalities and Health Technology Assessment.

There are no prerequisites for registering for any of the courses and education or academic background is not important – budding learners simply need an internet connection. Unlike other MOOCs, the University has established a unique platform for lecturers to share reading material, interactive quizzes and academic papers with learners online – making the course much more engaging.

Dr Michelle Holdsworth, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at ScHARR, said: "Our MOOCs offer a stimulating virtual learning environment which will give people from across the globe an interactive taster of the high quality education we have to offer. We hope that the flexible and engaging nature of the courses will nurture a community spirit amongst learners which will show them what higher education has to offer.

"Learners will be able to participate in webinars in real time and interact with fellow pupils and academics, as well as being able to pause the online tutorials and watch them at whatever time suits them – whether that is in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.

"The success of ScHARR's online Masters Programmes in Health Technology, Public Health and Emergency Care, which began in 2011, means that we already have the expertise and specialist programmes in place to offer an exceptionally high quality course which is free to all on an international scale."

The MOOCs will run for four weeks and participants will be required to invest between three and five hours of study per week.

The first course; Healthy Sustainable Diets, will begin on 17 June 2013 and will be run by ScHARR Research Fellow, Dr Angie Clonan, and Dr Holdsworth. As a result of the huge interest and demand for the initial MOOCs, a varied programme of courses are already been considered for 2014.

Dr Clonan said: "MOOCs are a new and exciting way of learning which are open to all and best of all they are completely free. All you need is an internet connection and a positive attitude. The initiative will bring learning to life and remove the barriers to education for people across the world – no matter what stage of life they are at."

Massive Open Online CoursesShe added: "ScHARR conducts research into a wide range of health related research from alcohol, to obesity, nutrition and physical activity. We also have a range of expertise in public interventions such as cost effectiveness analysis and clinical trials. This is reflected in the diversity of modules offered on our Masters of Public Health course which is also available by distance learning and now our MOOCs."

The University of Sheffield has today (2 May 2013) joined the British Museum, British Council and 16 other leading UK universities in collaboration with Futurelearn – the first free, open online platform for engaging and entertaining courses.

MOOCs are just one way that the University of Sheffield are pushing digital boundaries. Earlier this week (29 April 2013) the Department of Physics and Astronomy launched a virtual open day allowing prospective students the chance to experience a greater interaction and learn more about courses, campus life and the community in a pioneering way.

Browsers are able to ‘walk’ the corridors of the department’s Hicks Building to see computing and work spaces without physically setting foot inside the building. The images boast enough detail to read the title of a book on a shelf.

Key buildings across the University campus such as Firth Court, Information Commons and Bartolome House are now open to virtual visitors after the most comprehensive collection of buildings were uploaded onto Google Street View.

University of Sheffield Philosophy and Psychology graduate, Edward Miller, winner of the Sheffield Business Planning Competition, took the pioneering pictures.

He said: “The imagery can be found by searching for Information Commons in Google and clicking on the 'See Inside' button on the right hand side of the results.

“We will be releasing a number of buildings into Street View in different phases. We hope that the first phase will include buildings such as Jessop West, Firth Court and the Soundhouse and in the second phase the Students’ Union and the Management School."

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching at the University of Sheffield, Professor Paul White, said: "The digital world is the future. Online education provides a means for the University of Sheffield to engage with learners from around the world and in circumstances we would otherwise never be able to reach out too. The courses are an important way for more people to access the high quality education that the University of Sheffield delivers."

Additional information

For more information about the University of Sheffield's first MOOCs visit

For more information about the Virtual Open Day visit

The School of Health and Related Research
The School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) is a centre of excellence in research, teaching and consultancy across health services research, health economics and public health.

The main focus of ScHARR is multi-disciplinary public health and health services research with core strengths in the application of health economics and decision science.

The University of Sheffield
With nearly 25,000 of the brightest students from 117 countries coming to learn alongside 1,209 of the world’s best academics, it is clear why the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading universities. Staff and students at Sheffield are committed to helping discover and understand the causes of things - and propose solutions that have the power to transform the world we live in.

A member of the Russell Group, the University of Sheffield has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2011 for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007), recognising the outstanding contribution by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

One of the markers of a leading university is the quality of its alumni and Sheffield boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students. Its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, Siemens, Yorkshire Water and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad.

The White Rose University Consortium (White Rose) a strategic partnership between 3 of the UK's leading research universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York.

Since its creation in 1997 White Rose has secured more than £100m into the Universities.


For further information please contact:

Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859