Boston, MA — MOOCs have disrupted the elite world of higher education. Its traditional model of credits, tuition and limited enrollment has been both challenged and extended by these massive open online courses. They are available to everyone, usually free, and bring the insights of some of the world’s most prestigious institutions to, well, the masses.

It’s home schooling for adults. Voluntary homework. Learning without limitations – or recognition. And, people love it. 2.5 million have participated in a MOOC since 2011. edX, the nonprofit start-up from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, enrolled 370,000 people in its first weeks. The learning platform Coursera reached one million users faster than Facebook.

The MOOC model is mostly taped lectures augmented with self tests / evaulations and social interactions with fellow classmates. Because many of these courses attract tens of thousands of participants, interaction with the professor herself isn’t typically possible, although some create virtual office hours online or give students and opportunity to enter a lottery for an exclusive Google Hangout.

The core medium is the lecture itself. And, some are definitely better at it than others.

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Michael Sandel, who teaches the famous Socratic, 1,000-student “Justice” course at Harvard, has become something of an ivory tower superstar for his online lectures. His videos have been translated all over the world. In South Korea, they’ve been aired on national television. On a recent visit to Seoul, that video exposure not only earned him a 14,000-person audience in an outdoor arena, it also brought an unexpected invitation for an ivy league prof: he was asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a professional baseball game. MOOC madness.

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A more broadly recognized superstar MOOC is Salman Khan, an educator dedicated to “providing a high quality education for anyone, anywhere”. He’s delivered over 240 million lessons on Khan Academy. His memorable, short videos include more than 4,000 micro lectures in mathematics, history, healthcare, medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, economics, cosmology, organic chemistry, American civics, art history, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and computer science.

MOOCs are relevant right now because we’re moving toward a more competency-based world. You can get information anywhere. The world only cares about what you do with that information. Your degree means a lot less than your big ideas.

That sounds a lot like healthcare, doesn’t it? You can get the information anywhere. What matters is what you do with it. How willing you are to understand it deeply, use it to change your life for the better, and protect yourself against other challenges that could happen along the way.

The MOOC model could extend the good work of WebMD and the Mayo Clinic into deep, video-driven, interactive learning for people who suddenly need to become experts on anything from fighting an acute disease to managing a chronic one. The classes completed could even earn badges of achievement discounts with insurance, or access to different types of whole-health specialists.

Health MOOCs would change the experience of a new diagnosis by providing:

  • Mastery: Confidence that you know what your doctor knows – and what his colleagues around the world know, too
  • Connections: Social interactions with people in very similar situations to your own
  • Accessibility: Anytime access to education on any device in an engaging media people will want to watch
  • Bridges: Easy ways to overcome gaps in care with deep, consistent knowledge

With so many competing needs for time and money, could we really do it? Harvard has an interesting model that suggests we could. They’ve asked thousands of alumni to get involved with online learning as teachers, mentors and even graders. It’s an opportunity for them to give back to and participate in the institution. To feel the excitement of learning again.

Inside our research labs, our medical relations teams, our trusted advisory boards, are truly charismatic people. Speakers who could captivate the way Sandel has. Teachers who could help people become real advocates for their own health. Basically: the faculty of our first health MOOC.

Posted by: Leigh Householder

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for shaping the company’s perspective on the next era of healthcare marketing. Through thought leadership, strategic innovation workshops and new products and capabilities, Leigh focuses on identifying marketing approaches that will fuel that new era and generate significant growth for clients. Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for over 17 years. She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she had several leadership roles at one of our agencies, GSW. There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business. Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes. A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice, Leigh also was recognized as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.