A massive open online course (MOOC) can be used to teach physiotherapy students about spinal cord injuries: a randomised trial

J Physiother. 2015 Jan;61(1):21-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jphys.2014.09.008. Epub 2014 Dec 11.


Question: Does a massive open online course (MOOC) based around an online learning module about spinal cord injuries improve knowledge or confidence among physiotherapy students more than if physiotherapy students are left to work through the online learning module at their own pace. Which method of presenting the content leads to greater satisfaction among the students?

Study design: Randomised controlled trial with concealed allocation and intention-to-treat analysis.

Participants: Forty-eight physiotherapy students in Bangladesh.

Intervention: Participants randomised to the control group were instructed to work at their own pace over a 5-week period through a physiotherapy-specific online learning module available at www.elearnSCI.org. Experimental participants were enrolled in a 5-week MOOC. The MOOC involved completing the same online learning module but experimental participants' progress through the module was guided each week and they were provided with the opportunity to engage in online discussion through Facebook.

Outcome measures: The primary outcome was knowledge, and the secondary outcomes were perceived confidence to treat people with spinal cord injuries and satisfaction with the learning experience.

Results: The mean between-group difference for knowledge was 0.7 points (95% CI -1.3 to 2.6) on a 0 to 20-point scale. The equivalent results for perceived confidence and satisfaction with the learning experience were 0.4 points (95% CI -1.0 to 1.8) and 0.0 points (95% CI -1.1 to 1.2) on a 0 to 10-point scale.

Conclusion: The MOOC was no better for students than working at their own pace through an online learning module for increasing knowledge, confidence or satisfaction. However, students in the MOOC group highlighted positive aspects of the course that were unique to their group, such as interacting with students from other countries through the MOOC Facebook group.

Trial registration: ACTRN12614000422628.

Keywords: Clinical trials; Methodology; Rehabilitation; Spinal cord injury.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bangladesh
  • Computer-Assisted Instruction / methods*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Online Systems*
  • Physical Therapists / education*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / education*
  • Social Networking
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Students, Health Occupations*
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ANZCTR/ACTRN12614000422628