Q: What is a MOOC?

A:  A “Massive Open On-line Course.”

Have you ever taken one?

I’m enrolled in one right now:  “Exercise Physiology:  Understanding the Athlete Within,”   taught by Professor Mark Hargreaves from the University of Melbourne.  I think it is the fourth MOOC I’ve ever taken, and it is the first one that has any direct relation to my profession.  The course began last week, and I was able to do most of my lecture viewing this past weekend.  While my kids are enjoying their summer vacation at an overnight camp, I’m back in school!

Before I get much further, I suppose I should spend a moment describing, at least in my terms, what a MOOC is, most especially for those folks that ticked “No” in the poll above.

Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs) have been around now for a few years.  I believe there are several providers, the largest ones being Coursera and edX.   One can better understand the nature of a MOOC by deconstructing the phrase itself:  MOOCs are typically ‘massive’ (they have large enrollments);  ‘open’ (they are typically free, and enrolling is a matter of  simply ‘signing up’); ‘on line’  (you’ll need internet access); courses (they are educational sessions which last for several weeks, and include syllabi, lectures, assignments).

edX describes itself on its twitter home page thus: “A global community committed to bringing quality education to everyone across the globe through an innovative MOOC platform–founded by Harvard and MIT.” Likewise, Coursera was founded by professors from Stanford.  Obviously, some high-powered academic institutions are involved in this educational experiment, and other institutions from Johns Hopkins to the University of California, San Francisco have joined the founding universities and are contributing to the expanding MOOC offerings.

Even the BBC is getting in on the game.

There is a lot of  media buzz about the promise MOOCs hold for lowering the barriers to high quality education for many. In my own limited experience, I have found the MOOCs I have taken to be well worth the investment in time.  One course on mathematical game theory I took with my son, who has math skills that have begun to outstrip what his school can provide.  Another I took to learn more about the American Civil War.

This one I am taking to buff up my knowledge of Exercise Physiology.  I am first and foremost a clinician, and my areas of research are clinical.   My exposure to basic exercise physiology is from distant undergraduate biology courses.  When medical students and others in training ask me about osteochondritis dissecans of the knee, for example, I can guide them through the examination;  the reading of images; the decision between undertaking a course of conservative therapy vs. a surgical one.  But if they want me to go into great depth about the matrix composition of hyaline cartilage, I’ll be stretching my knowledge.

Most of the research we offer in our journal’s pages emphasize the clinical aspects–as opposed to the basic science aspects–of sport and exercise medicine.  Of necessity, however,  there can be healthy doses of exercise physiology in a study on rhabdomyolsis (“A cluster of exertional rhabdomyolsis affecting a Division I football team”) or a study on exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC)–check my blog post on LeBron James and EAMC.  I’d like to reconnect some synapses in my middle-aged brain and better understand muscle adaptations to exercise and other related topics. I think it will help me be a better clinician and a better teacher.

How convenient, then, to take a MOOC–I watch the lectures when I can; do the assignments on-line; I can even interact with fellow classmates on the course’s Facebook page.

No CME but, conversely, no dollars spent. (spoiler alert:  at CJSM, we have CME modules coming your way….but that’s a topic for another blog post).

Take a moment to check out Coursera and edX.  At previous times I have checked, the course offerings have included such relevant topics as medical biostatistics.  There is an upcoming course, for instance, on Understanding Research for Health Professionals that looks good.

And if you have had some experience of your own taking a MOOC, why don’t you share your thoughts on the comments page?

Study away!

About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

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