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Published on 25.08.14 in Vol 16, No 8 (2014): August

This paper is in the following e-collection/theme issue:

    Letter to the Editor

    Massive Open Online Courses on Health and Medicine: Will They Be Sustainable?

    BMJ Learning, London, United Kingdom

    Corresponding Author:

    Kieran Walsh, FRCPI

    BMJ Learning

    Tavistock Square

    London, WC1H 9JR

    United Kingdom

    Phone: 44 447985755333

    Fax:44 442073836242

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    In this issue of JMIR, Liyanagunawardena and Williams have provided fascinating insight into the world of massive open online courses (MOOCs) as they have emerged over the past few years [1]. Their findings are clear: there is already a range of MOOCs available and they can be used for a variety of purposes in undergraduate medical education and continuous medical education for medical students, doctors, and health care professionals, with potential in health education amongst the general public.

    These are interesting findings and may represent a significant “next step” in the provision of online learning in health care professional education. However, some would say that the past ten years have been as much about the hype of online learning as about the real outcomes that it can actually achieve [2]. This phenomenon is not peculiar to online learning—it happens with virtually all new media when they are initially introduced to education. In past few years however, there has been a shift in thinking about this new delivery mechanism of learning. Exponents of online learning no longer claim that it can do everything or that it will replace face-to-face education, rather, they are starting to think about how it can be used strategically and how its advantages can be adequately harnessed. Such advantages might include its flexibility or increased access to learners. This new and sober atmosphere with regard to online learning in medical education means that it is probably a good time for the medical education community to look at how MOOCs can be harnessed to deliver better education.

    Certainly MOOCs satisfy many of the criteria that providers of medical education would like to achieve. They enable increased access, flexibility, and choice to the learner by offering learning at a time and place that suits the learner with substantial amounts of educational content. Another important component is that they are free to the learner. Free access is clearly important to many learners, but the current business model for the provision of MOOCs remains uncertain. Online learning is associated with significant costs, which cannot be ignored in the current economic environment [3]. How long will universities be able to make their content freely available throughout the world without undermining their basic business model, which involves charging learners for their courses? The answer to this question will likely help us draw conclusions as to whether MOOCs are just another passing technology fad or a sustainable long-term solution.

    References

    1. Liyanagunawardena TR, Williams SA. Massive open online courses on health and medicine: Review. J Med Internet Res 2014;16(8):e191 [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
    2. Sandars J. Cost-effective e-learning in medical education. In: Walsh K, editor. Cost Effectiveness in Medical Education (Masterpass S). Oxford: Radcliffe Medical PR; 2010.
    3. Cook DA, Triola MM. What is the role of e-learning? Looking past the hype. Med Educ 2014 Sep;48(9):930-937. [CrossRef] [Medline]

    Edited by G Eysenbach; submitted 19.08.14; peer-reviewed by T Liyanagunawardena, S Williams; accepted 24.08.14; published 25.08.14

    ©Kieran Walsh. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 25.08.2014.

    This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.