After the success of Understanding Dementia and Preventing Dementia, in 2019 the University of Tasmania came up with another excellent non-technical medical course, Understanding Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Not only did Understanding MS make it to the top of Class Central’s Best Courses of 2019 list, it also appeared in the Most Popular Courses of 2019 and the 100 Best Online Courses of All-Time lists.
Why Take this Course?
A friend of mine has been living with MS for around 25 years. Another friend’s daughter was told she may have MS. I took this course in late 2019 to gain a better understanding of the medical basis of the disease as well as the realities of living with life-long symptoms.
The course also gave me new insight into the progression of the disease. How someone with MS may have no worsening of symptoms (particularly with current medications available) over a period of years. Alternatively, they might experience a rapid decline in their capabilities as the disease progresses. Or anything in between.
The course takes around 2 hours per week for 6 weeks. It’s completely free including a basic certificate, or you can pay for an enhanced certificate which lists the topics covered and hours of study. This could be particularly useful for health professionals who may be able to use the course for Professional Development Hours. And you don’t need to be working in the MS field to find the course useful. Many medical professionals encounter patients with MS during their normal roles, especially as people with MS often also have other medical conditions. Allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and even massage therapists are likely to encounter people with MS. This course gives you an excellent understanding of just how the disease affects the body as well as the emotional impact of a diagnosis.
After a short introductory section, each week brings a new in-depth look at a different aspect of MS.
- Biology and Pathology
- Symptoms and Diagnosis
- Demographics and Risk
- Risk Factors
- Disease Management
- Living with MS
A final concluding section explains how to collect your certificate and encourages participation in a feedback survey. There’s also a link to review the course on Class Central.
Why is the disease called Multiple Sclerosis?
The first module explains what happens in the body. For reasons currently unknown, the immune system attacks the central nervous system, causing lesions (scleri) to appear on neurons in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. These lesions lead to a variety of symptoms, which vary with time and from person to person. Because there are multiple scleri, the disease is called multiple sclerosis.
Engaging Course Materials
Simple animations and a useful activity tool called Body Central teach us the major parts of the brain and nervous system and how MS affects them.
Throughout the course, MS professionals discuss their particular field of expertise in a very approachable way. Several people living with MS and some carers also share their stories in videos related to each module’s work.
While MS is presented in an objective way, the personal stories cover a range of experiences. One person living with MS tells us that she denied the existence of her condition for about a year. Another calmly tells us that his diagnosis was “devastating” as he contemplated an unknown future. A third says that the diagnosis was a relief, compared to some other health conditions that he feared. But his next observation makes it clear that relief was only one of a range of emotions he felt. Later in the course, we hear stories of flexible working conditions and workplace support. Some people were able to transfer to more suitable roles so they could continue working.
Useful links to various MS societies and other online resources based in various countries are included.
At least one interesting discussion topic is featured each week. Participation is optional, but the discussion boards were active in the session I took. Most weeks also included an activity tracker so learners could track any health condition of their own (not just MS). As well as having a log of your condition for your personal reference, you can take it along for discussion with your doctor.
One discussion participant mentioned an interesting blogger (Devin Garlit) so I made a search. This post really brought the challenges home for me.
How the Course was Developed
Several months after releasing the first session of the course, the creators published a paper in JMIR (Journal of Medical Internet Research), presenting a detailed description and assessment of the development process of the Understanding MS MOOC. As an avid MOOC learner, I found the viewpoint from the production side interesting to read.
This review first appeared at Online Learning Success.