A few months ago, I wrote a post about the new development of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and what disruptive innovation they might have on higher education. While noting that academic biomedical and health informatics sat at the intersection of the two industries having the least amount of disruptive innovation - healthcare and higher education - I did note that MOOCs could have an impact, if they ever came to our field.
Well now they have, and it turns out that one of my projects is playing a major role in their development. The Health Informatics Forum, an international blogging and social network site for informatics, has started to turn the entire ONC Health IT Curriculum into a MOOC. They recently posted Unit 1 of Component 1 on their site, with announcement of plans to add a new component every four weeks.
How successful will this effort be? There will certainly be value in providing learning materials to the entire world. But there are some caveats. First, as those of us in the ONC Health IT Curriculum project have noted, the materials are designed more for educators than learners. While they provide a rich amount of learning substrate, like all good education they require more, including a teacher, a structured learning process, and ideally fellow learners. In addition, any professional educational experience also requires a connection to the real world through practical opportunities, such as internships. Furthermore, in any rapidly changing field, such as health IT and informatics, the curricular materials must be regularly updated and otherwise improved. It will be interesting to see how sites like The Health Informatics Forum address this latter challenge, particularly as the field evolves. (For example, the Stage 2 meaningful use rules as well as new HIPAA regulations are due out in the next few weeks. As of now, neither of these are covered in the ONC curriculum.)
One final caveat is that the total quantity of these materials represent about 20 college-level courses. This means that any one person will require a great deal of time and effort to work through all of them. By the same token, there are a number of advanced informatics topics that are not covered by the ONC curriculum, such as secondary use of data, natural language processing, and analytics, to name a few. Still, I will be eager to see how this all works out, and hope to lend my expertise to increase its likelihood of success.
It turns out that The Health Informatics Forum is not the only organization that has utilized the totality of the ONC materials as a large learning experience. Two other organizations have done this as well, one of which charges a fee, which is allowable under the Creative Commons license under which the materials have been released:
- Expansion of Coursera
- Early experience of Coursera
- Early experience of edX
- One professor's concern about the impersonal aspects of online learning - I actually disagree that online courses need to be impersonal, but I do agree there is no better form of education that the close interaction between the teacher and learner.
But our courses at OHSU are anything but MOOCs. They feature direct interaction from our faculty. Furthermore, students can participate in and get credit from structured practicum and internship experiences. This leads one to wonder whether MOOCs might become a means to deliver higher education rather than complete experience in and of themselves. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see the outcome of this natural experiment in education.