New Report: Analysis of Student Backgrounds in Medical Neuroscience MOOC

In the Spring 2014 semester, Duke University offered the second session of Medical Neuroscience, a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) available on the Coursera platform.  The class is taught by Leonard White, Associate Professor of Community & Family Medicine and Neurobiology.  Medical Neuroscience is a very challenging course; an in-person version of the course is taught to first year medical students.  This is considered to be a graduate-level course and students typically need some background in the topic.  The commitment required in this course is also significant; students reported spending an average of over 10 hours a week on the course, which lasted 12 weeks.

Because this is an advanced-level course, we wanted to evaluate whether students needed to have significant formal training in the subject matter in order to be successful learners.  One of the challenges associated with MOOCs is that, unlike in a traditional university-level class, students have a wide range of prior knowledge.  Some students are working professionals in the area, while others are completely new to the topic.  In order to design courses optimally, it is important to evaluate whether students are equally successful regardless of prior training.  To accomplish this, we compare how medical doctors and non-doctors performed in Medical Neuroscience.  The complete details of our analysis can be found in the full report, available HERE.

While we expected there to be significant differences between doctors and non-doctors in terms of their learning gains and course experiences, we found this was generally not the case.  The doctors and non-doctors were equally as likely to report learning gains and positive benefits from taking Medical Neuroscience.  We therefore turned to some of the qualitative data in the post-course surveys to understand why.  The most likely reason is that the non-doctors were already knowledgeable about the topic of neuroscience.  For example, we found that many non-doctors were taking the course as part of their formal medical education:

I’m a medical student, and went through our neurology course at the same time. Your videos and material were far superior, and I relied on them to an extraordinary amount, as did many in my class.

Taking this course in conjunction with undergraduate studies in medical sciences at a local university was incredible.

Furthermore, we found several students who, while they had no formal training in neuroscience, they had a passion for the subject and had previously self-trained in this area. One such student wrote:

This course finally gave me the neuroscience training I’ve wanted ever since I had a brain hemorrhage at age 12 and became completely fascinated by neuroscience. I became a violinist instead of a neurologist, but I’m having a blast becoming an armchair neurologist!

Download the full report HERE, or copy and paste the following URL in to your browser: