ERDP Development Grant: Engaging Distance Learners with No Economic Background in an Online Health Economics Course?

In July 2017 I attended a teaching health economics workshop which was part of the biannual conference of the International Health Economics Association in Boston, USA. This was funded via an ERDP Development Grant.

At the conference I presented some findings around ‘Engaging Distance Learners with No Economic Background in an Online Health Economics Course’ from an online module that I teach ONC8021 which is part of the MSc in Oncology and Palliative Care.

Below is a brief summary of the presentation:

Background: Many students who decide to undertake a distance learning course need to balance their learning with jobs and other commitments.  This impacts on when and how they engage with online materials.

Aims: This presentation will outline two methods for engaging health professionals with no previous economics experience enrolled in an online health economics module as part of a Master’s programme in Oncology and Palliative Care.

Methods: Many of the students would access the material in chunks to fit around their busy schedules rather than on a weekly basis as per the layout of the course.  This meant that discussion boards were not a useful tool to foster engagement.  To create a collaborative learning environment that fit in with the needs of the students, I developed a wiki exercise and sequential group work.

Results: The economic evaluation wiki exercise allowed students to contribute to completing a basic example of an economic evaluation of comparing four different methods for screening for colon cancer when their schedule permitted.  The health care market group work gave each individual two weeks to complete their part in identifying market failure in the market for health and offering solutions to overcome these failures.  Students were able to engage with their classmates by discussing the material and submitting an assignment at the end of the 6 week group exercise whilst still having a flexible timeframe for their learning.

Conclusion: Alternative methods of engagement to discussion boards are successful for health care professionals taking an online health economics module.

Practice Points:

  • Different engagement strategies are required for distant learners
  • Effective engagement using alternative methods for online students improved student performance and feedback
  • All material and methods for group work cannot necessarily be transferred directly from a classroom to an online environment

From this presentation I have become involved in the Teaching Health Economics Special Interest Group which is part of the International Health Economics Association.  The aim of this group is to provide a mechanism for developing a global community of health economics educators that would collaborate to promote quality health economics training and to support one another in this endeavor.

Thanks to this ERDP funding I was able to help network at an international level and become a part of a community promoting best practice at the global level.

Dr Heather Brown, IHS

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