Removing the barriers to education through digital learning

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We're using technology to give people from around the world access to our high-quality education.

Our School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) has been offering three Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), helping to remove the barriers to education and making learning accessible to all.

A MOOC is a free course of study made available over the internet. There are no pre-requisites to signing up other than having access to a computer with an internet connection.

Academics in ScHARR have been running courses on Health Technology Assessment, Sustainable Diets and Health Inequalities that have all proved highly successful.

Despite revolutionising education and enjoying a huge surge in popularity, MOOCs have generally had low completion rates, averaging just seven per cent. However, ScHARR is helping to buck the national trend as over 25 per cent of people studying the Health Technology Assessment MOOC completed the course – nearly four times the national average.

Overall in 2013 nearly 4,000 people registered their initial interest in ScHARR'S three MOOCS from 125 countries across the globe including India, Canada and Australia. Six hundred people went on to finish a MOOC, and some of these have since signed up for further study. For example, seven learners who completed the Health Inequalities MOOC registered for a ScHARR Masters in Public Health.

Chris Blackmore, Academic Lead for Teaching Innovation in ScHARR, said: "ScHARR's MOOCs have enabled thousands of learners to find out more about health-related topics and to connect with one another, and with staff in the school.

"From our available data and feedback, it appears that participants have really enjoyed the opportunities to engage with a global community of learners, and this will hopefully lead to further opportunities for us to collaborate with them - as students, teachers or partners in research."

A survey of ScHARR MOOC learners showed a high degree of satisfaction, especially regarding the contact with staff.

One Health Inequalities learner said: "From the outset I have been really impressed with the ScHARR team's efforts to engage with learners and make them feel welcome - I appreciate how much additional effort this must have been and thank you for it."

Following the success of the ScHARR MOOCs, the University has teamed up with FutureLearn, the first UK-led MOOCs provider, to launch Discover Dentistry – an entertaining and illuminating course which explores the impact dentistry has on our lives. A second MOOC - Literature of the English Country House is also planned.