Harvard: Online Learning Has a Role in Public Health Education

Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Dean Julio Frenk believes public health education should be modernized to meet the needs of a changing 21st century world — and that new vision of public health education will include an online component.

Frenk unveiled a new vision for public health education that blends online, in-person, and in-the-field learning into a modular experience that individuals access at different times in their lives, writes Alvin Powell in Harvard News.

Frenk, who was speaking at during the school’s Second Century Symposium: Transforming Public Health Education held at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at the Longwood campus in Bosto, said the Harvard School of Public Health developed a new strategy based on this new survey of both public health’s and education’s changing landscapes.

The event was held to mark 100 years since the school’s founding in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers. It attracted 500 participants from more than 100 colleges and universities in 17 countries.

As part of its plans, the Harvard School of Public Health will launch a new doctorate program and revamp its master’s in public health program.

“We here, most of us at least, are immunized against preventable diseases. We are less likely to die of coronary heart disease, more likely to understand the risks of tobacco, we have better sanitation, cleaner water, healthier babies, safer cars, food, and workplaces than when this institution originated a century ago,” President Drew Faust.

“It gives us a sense of opportunity and also responsibility. It makes me want to ask what will we all do in the next century that can rival the work — or, we hope, exceed — what was accomplished in the last.”

Faust said that an access to health care will be a major challenge for the coming decades. She also said that education of the health officers of the future is equally important, along with discoveries of new ways to fight diseases.

“A lot rests on us as institutions of education,” Faust said. A good sign, she said, is growing interest by undergraduates in global health, which has become a popular secondary concentration — declared by some 250 students.

According to Frenk, the school’s rethinking comes at a time of a broader reconsideration of higher education, driven by advances in cognitive science and in advancing technology.  He described a shift in thinking about higher education toward a more “open architecture” where people move in and out of educational institutions at different times in their lives.

Frenk described a continuum of education for public health leadership in which students engage in more traditional education, return as fellows or in expanded executive education programs as they advance in their careers, and return again to teach and share experiences as senior leadership fellows.

Online education is rapidly becoming part of modern educational world, and Frenk described a philosophy toward online learning that abandons the “which is better” discussion that has pitted online against on-site models. He outlined complementary roles, with online learning more appropriate for transmission of basic knowledge and in-person contact critical as learning expands beyond that.