E-learning and its application in global health research is the topic of a special issue published today in Global Health Action.
The issue, comprised of 6 original articles and an editorial by Henry Lucas and John Kinsman, covers aspects of e-learning as diverse as the proliferation of mass online courses; technical and logistical barriers to e-learning; North-South collaborations and capacity development; and student experiences of having participated in blended learning courses.
Kinsman, a researcher at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University, Sweden, has been involved in e-learning research initiatives since 2011, when many saw the technology as a potential panacea to global health education challenges.
He says the Special Issue is important in that it offers a multi-faceted assessment of where e-learning – in a global health setting – stands today, and it presents insights that should help shape future e-learning initiatives.
“While we can’t look at e-learning as a cure all for global health research, what we’ve learned is that the value it offers is different than what we first imagined,” he added. “We need to see it as an additional tool with which to work.”
Among those who could potentially benefit most from the technology: women. In many countries, women have fewer opportunities to travel and study abroad, especially once they have children. “So the existence of a distance learning option presents an opportunity for them that wouldn’t be there otherwise,” he said.
“It is a very good option for when you can’t travel – but it’s not the way forward for all students. You simply can’t get away from the fact that we’re human; we like to be together and to learn from each other face to face.”
Other challenges explored in the issue pertain to the economics of distance learning. The costs have proven to be greater than initially expected. “This is not a cheap solution,” said Kinsman. “This said, the investment, which is significant, is on the front end.”
E-learning, he concludes, is a wonderful, if not flawless, tool.
The full Special Issue, titled Capacity building in global health research: is blended learning the answer?, can be accessed free in Global Health Action.