Ebola tackled in new FutureLearn Moocs

Two massive open online courses that aim to educate people about the rapid spread of Ebola have been launched by UK universities

December 2, 2014

The courses, one from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and another from Lancaster University, examine different aspects of the virus, with the former aimed at health professionals and students, and the latter targeted at the general public. Both are hosted by The Open University-sponsored Mooc platform, FutureLearn.

Ebola in Context: Understanding Transmission, Response and Control, developed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, features director of the school, Peter Piot. His early research work helped to identify the virus, and he has also encouraged staff and students to volunteer in West Africa, saying they have a “moral responsibility” not only to study the Ebola virus and design containment strategies but also to lend their muscle to the current relief efforts.

The course materials include contributions from those who took up Professor Piot’s challenge, and took part in the frontline response in the affected region. The Mooc examines the science behind the Ebola outbreak, and covers topics including the principles of infectious disease transmission; the social context of the epidemic; treatment and control measures; and the challenges of implementation and innovation in an emergency.

Judith Glynn, lead educator on the course, said: “Many colleagues from the school – both staff and research students – are now volunteering in Liberia and Sierra Leone…we hope this course will be of interest to a broad audience, as well as workers in the field, and will also inspire people to learn more about infectious diseases, health systems and public health.”

The Lancaster University Mooc, Ebola: Symptoms, History and Origins, is a general introduction to the disease including its cause and its history. According to FutureLearn, it is a “crash course” in the essentials of understanding the Ebola virus and what has been happening in West Africa since early 2014.

Derek Gatherer, the lead educator on the course and a lecturer in the Division of Biomedical and Life Sciences at Lancaster, said: “We aim to give a comprehensive introduction to the Ebola virus, including the basic virology, clinical aspects, public health, the experimental drugs and vaccines that are being tested, and the origins and evolution of the virus.”

Nigel Smith, FutureLearn’s head of content, said the courses demonstrated the ability of Moocs to respond to “fast-moving current events”. Both Moocs begin in early 2015.


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