This post was written by Willie Williamson, Online Course Associate in CIT who worked closely with the Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship Coursera course in Spring 2013, with input from Dr. Bob Barnes and Dr. Marilyn Lombardi.

We live in a world filled with awesome opportunities and tremendous challenges. Nowhere are these opportunities and challenges more abundant than in healthcare. The underlying tension in healthcare between “what is” and “what could be” represents the driving energy and purpose of the Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship course hosted this spring in Coursera. Dr. Bob Barnes (Pratt School of Engineering) and Dr. Marilyn Lombardi (Duke School of Nursing) demonstrated how innovation, particularly entrepreneurship, may lead to dramatic improvement in healthcare.

The course offered a systematic approach to identifying and delivering, in a sustainable manner, innovative solutions to complex healthcare problems. The instructors provided a framework for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs (i.e., those working within an organization who use entrepreneurial methods to achieve innovation) to explore innovations by using simple tools and processes that allow individuals and teams to identify areas of unmet need. Once identified, the students may begin the process of deploying their innovations into the healthcare market place.

The course had three basic objectives:

  1. To assist innovative entrepreneurs in bringing their products and services to market in an efficient and effective manner;
  2. To assist innovative intrapreneurs in implementing their products and services within their organization; and
  3. To help those who think they would like to become an innovative entrepreneur or intrapreneur in making a meaningful and effective career decision.

The course proved enormously popular with a worldwide audience. Course participants were from over 100 different counties. Nearly two-thirds of the learners (62%) were from outside the United States. The course drew a well-educated group of learners, with 92% having a bachelor’s degree or above. True to the intent of the course, more than a third of the participants (39%) were either already entrepreneurs or were planning to become one. Interestingly, 37% of the participants had no educational background or work experience in healthcare.

Student response to the class was overwhelmingly positive. Although a complex and multifaceted area of study, the instructors provided the learners with a fine balance among topics addressing innovation, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, and healthcare over the span of the six-week course.

Here are several representative student comments:

Providing concepts and examples without digging into a topic with too many details may be a good way of spreading knowledge and eliciting interest without burdening the mind of those who wish to gather a bird’s eye view on a specific subject. I would regard this course as an excellent introduction to a rapidly developing field.

In my opinion the most important feature of this course is that it not only explains the meaning of healthcare innovation and `entrepreneurship`, but also provides students with the set of practical techniques. Those techniques enabled me to start my own path in healthcare system. Since it was my initial goal, I’m really thankful to course team!

I really liked the “personal touch” that Marilyn Lombardi and Bob Barnes put into this course with their embedded videos and especially the “coffee talk” at the end of each week’s presentations. I felt as if I was there at Duke with them.

Thank you both so much, Professors Lombardi and Barnes, and congratulations on producing this great course! I hope all the positive feedback you get will inspire you to create other Coursera courses. You will have many “repeat customers” if you do!

Of particular importance to the students was the opportunity to engage in collaborative learning with their peers during the course. Among the 15,596 students active in the class at some point, 2,342 posted in the course’s discussion forums. These students made almost 10,000 posts and nearly 5,000 comments. One student wrote, “…I have taken a couple of Coursera classes and this is by far the most interactive discussion board I have seen.” Another student was equally impressed, “…the interactions on the forums were a real eye opener.” A student noted the value of the international flavor of the discussions: “These online courses are a fun and interactive addition to regular lectures, allowing collaboration with and input from students all over the world.”

Students also had the opportunity to explore the ideas by submitting two separate written assignments focused on their own project idea: a needs statements, and a basic market and stakeholder assessment, for peer review and feedback. Although these two documents are only the first stages of guiding an innovative idea to market, the instructors provided students with information, templates and examples which students could use after the course to continue to move forward.

The best measure of success may be students’ perceptions of the utility of the course in their future work as entrepreneurs and innovators in healthcare. As one student commented, “This course has provided an incredible template for success in launching innovation.” Another student observed:

Delivering affordable health care to India’s billion-plus people presents enormous challenges and opportunities for the medical community, insurers and other service providers. This is where we need healthcare innovations in our country. The course has been extremely enlightening and of great help.

A quantitative measure of the course’s perceived importance to students is the large number of students enrolling in the Signature Track in order to earn an identity-verified certificate of achievement. Of the 2,561 students active in the class during the final week, the HIE course had 531 students (21%) participating in the Signature Track, the most of any Duke Coursera course to date. Ninety-eight percent of these students passed the class, along with over 1,000 other participating students.

Ultimately, the success of the course will be measured by the actual outcomes of entrepreneurial and intrapraneurial innovations generated by the students. Of course, those will not occur for some time, but if the satisfaction of the students with their learning in the course is a valid indicator, Barnes and Lombardi have delivered a smash hit.

Amy Kenyon

Amy plans, implements and assesses faculty development programs for the improvement of teaching and learning, provides programs and resources designed to increase understanding of the teaching-learning process and manages personnel and other resources for the Center for Instructional Technology. Her interests are in course and program design, curriculum mapping, assessment, engaging teaching strategies for student learning, and e-textbooks, e-readers and open learning materials.

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