Over 10,000 Take MOOC Course on Ebola Prevention


A free MOOC is being offered to help educate people on Ebola prevention.

Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online (ALISON), a global online education company based in Ireland, created the MOOC in an effort to educate people in West Africa on Ebola in hopes of preventing spread of the disease.  The latest update from the World Health Organization shows that 3,900 people have died from the disease so far.

Over 250,000 participants of the 4 million total are located in West Africa, with 100,000 located in Nigeria and 50,000 in Ghana, two areas to recently have outbreaks of the disease.  The company serves about 1 million learners across the African continent.

“It had occurred to me that while many of us know the names of diseases such as malaria, HIV, hyper-tension and diabetes, few of us know key information about how it effects you, how it is treated or controlled,” said Mike Feerick, the company’s CEO, in a blog post Tuesday.

Currently, 10,000 people have taken the Ebola course first offered through ALISON in August.  Most have completed the course on a computer, although some are participating on mobile phones, a new platform which allows online education providers to reach learners in rural communities as well as those who do not have sufficient Internet access.

The course, “Understanding the Ebola virus and how to avoid getting it,” explores the history of the disease, including previous outbreaks, as well as the history surrounding the current outbreak.  The course also discusses how the virus is passed, how it is treated, and occurring symptoms to watch for.  Most people who suffer from Ebola contracted it while caring for an ailing relative.

The course continues with a section on how to prevent the disease, such as placing sick individuals in quarantine, limiting travel, and disinfecting contaminated areas.  Participants must then receive an 80% or higher on a test in order to pass the course.

The whole course takes about 1-2 hours to complete.

“Using MOOC-type free learning platforms for public health education is not a new idea,” Feerick wrote. “The potential was particularly apparent to me after the SARS outbreak. As governments worldwide ran advertising campaigns on national TV and radio, I remarked that most of their target audience was not actually listening to those communications mediums. Again, the power of the direct connectivity of a large and freely accessible learning platform such as ALISON could be used here.”

Although the course has already reached a large number of people, Andrew Kelly, director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Center on Higher Education Reform, said that there could be access problems related to getting the knowledge to the right people.

“The people who have reliable Internet access and who are disciplined enough to take the course … are probably not the same people most at risk for contracting the disease,” Kelly says. “How are you going to reach the people who don’t have access to that information already?”

Spokespeople for edX and Udacity, two of the largest online education platforms in the United States, said the companies do not have any plans to offer similar courses.

A spokesperson for another online education provider, Coursera, said that the company does not have a class specifically on Ebola, but does offer multiple courses on public health issues, one of which is specifically on epidemics and infectious diseases through Pennsylvania State University.

10 20, 2014
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