An online course that offers blogs and e-journals as well as lectures, tutorials and more informal getting-to-know-you sessions for healthcare professionals has earned four academics the title of E-tutor of the Year.
The masters course, which covers the nature and scope of primary healthcare in a range of cultures and contexts, has helped to bring together professionals from across the world, according to the four winners.
Geoff Wong, Petra Boynton, Jill Russell and Deborah Swinglehurst have won this year's competition, organised by the Higher Education Academy and sponsored by The Times Higher , for their work in developing the MSc course in international primary healthcare at University College London.
The course is one of the longest-running online programmes in the country and is about to begin its seventh year.
Dr Boynton, a psychologist, told The Times Higher that the international aspects were fundamental to the course's success.
"We have fascinating discussions," she said. "Students from the West and from developing countries get the chance to compare and contrast their healthcare systems and research methods."
International contacts made through the course can also impact directly on the students' work, according to the course leaders.
One Norwegian student studied leprosy in India for her dissertation, using the course's global network to make contacts, while a British GP working in Abu Dhabi said that the support of the online course community was a lifeline.
"Primary care practitioners are often professionally and geographically isolated," said Ms Russell, a social scientist and health policy expert.
"We're trying to create a community of practitioners across the world."
Bringing more developed nations into contact with developing countries in this way is also a fundamental benefit of e-learning for the four winners, helping to prevent the brain drain of talented individuals to more developed nations, and enabling healthcare professionals to use their knowledge and experience to benefit the local community.
"It's not about imposing the Western model," Dr Boynton explained. "It's about encouraging our students to learn from each other and feel empowered."
The UCL team will be sponsored to attend the annual conference of the Association for Learning Technology in Manchester University next week, as well as receiving a cheque for £1,000 from The Times Higher.