An essential component of any outbreak response is communication of accurate information. The spread of false information and misinterpretation of public health messaging can have serious and damaging consequences. Implementation of public health measures to reduce the spread of disease outbreaks, often require individual interpretation of risks and mitigations. Success of public health interventions can be influenced by how well the disease and its control measures are understood by those affected. MOOCs present a number of opportunities to support shared understanding of public health interventions and uncertainties during disease outbreaks.

In February 2020, The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine partnered with FutureLearn to develop a massive open online course (MOOC) on the coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) disease outbreak with the primary aim of countering the growing spread of misinformation on the pandemic. In line with its mandate to support capacity building for outbreak response in low- and middle-income countries, the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team (UK-PHRST) led the development of this course - tailoring its content and style to maximise its accessibility to audiences in low- and middle-income countries.

Two iterations of the course have now been completed with experiences from the first informing how the second course was run. Over 200,000 course enrolments from 186 countries were observed and close to 100,000 comments were shared between course participants and educators. The course was well received with 98% of students completing the end of course survey reporting that the course either met or exceeded their expectations. 98% also reported that they gained new skills and 84% reported having applied their learning from the course. The high level of expressed gratitude from students during the courses suggested a potential gap in opportunities for free online courses to support education and individual decision-making during disease outbreaks.

Our experience with this MOOC also suggests that open education, building individuals’ own capacity to question, to query the data, reports and guidance on disease outbreaks is needed. And that MOOCs are complementary to the circulation of accurate information, providing a sustainable approach to countering the spread of misinformation.

How to use the framework

This framework has been developed by the UK-PHRST to share learning from its development of the MOOC, COVID-19: Tackling the Novel Coronavirus. Links to tools and templates used in the development of this MOOC are included at relevant points in the framework as examples.

The framework details a stepwise approach to the development and delivery of a MOOC in the context of a disease outbreak. Before attempting the steps, it is important to have agreed the topic of study and course aim(s). The course aim(s) are often based on an identified need that has led to the decision to develop the MOOC. For example, the aim of the MOOC, COVID-19: Tackling the Novel Coronavirus was to address spread of misinformation on the COVID-19 at the time.



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