Doane University spent years building its online education through investments in infrastructure and staff, an effort undertaken by many colleges and universities seeking to expand their footprint across the country and around the world.
Nebraska’s first private college recently became the first institution in the state to join edX, a network of massive open online courses — better known as MOOCs — that began as a collaborative project between MIT and Harvard.
More than 130 universities and other organizations have partnered in edX since its founding in 2012, helping it reach more than 14 million learners taking free or low-cost courses at their own pace worldwide.
As Doane was seeking advice on how to boost its signal and reach a greater audience, edX was looking to grow its member stable with a small, Midwestern university, said Doane President Jacque Carter.
“It was the right time for us to come together,” he said. “They were looking for someone like Doane and we were looking for a platform that would help us expand outside Nebraska.”
Despite being a relatively unknown name outside the state, and despite being one of edX's smallest member institutions, DoaneX — as it will be known inside the consortium — has already found a niche with an international audience in its first course offering: a lifestyle medical course.
With health care costs continuing to increase, more doctors are advocating lifestyle changes for patients with heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis, even cancer, to prevent and treat those illnesses.
Lifestyle medicine, which promotes therapy through a plant-based diet, more exercise, better stress management, and sleep and other lifestyle changes, has gained momentum around the globe as patients and health care providers look for ways to cut costs.
Amanda McKinney, a former practicing physician who now teaches health sciences through DoaneX, said offering continuing medical education and professional certificates to doctors through the university’s MOOC has been a boon in the days after it was announced.
Shortly after going live on Jan. 17, more than 150 people had enrolled in DoaneX’s Professional Certificate of Lifestyle Medicine program, with two-thirds of the enrollees registering from countries outside the U.S.
By Jan. 19, the set of three courses teaching lifestyle medicine’s core principles, how to treat patients using those principles, and coaching patients to make lifestyle changes, had drawn 740 students, McKinney said.
Only about a quarter of those enrolled in the courses, for which they can earn credits toward their annual education requirements, are Americans, with about 60 countries represented in all.
“I didn’t think we’d have this many so quickly,” McKinney said. “But this is an international phenomenon, and is one aspect of (continuing medical education) no one has done before.”
Doane has plans to expand its lifestyle medicine course offerings, McKinney said. The university is also looking at how it can introduce new education opportunities on the platform, according to the president.
“We want to make sure we’re offering something that is complementary and maybe unique for the consortium and not duplicate something other schools are doing,” Carter said.
Higher education is moving toward bundling the traditional degree programs at brick-and-mortar institutions with online course offerings, he added, perhaps one day affording students the flexibility to craft their own degrees.
But for now, Carter said he’s thrilled Doane is able to turn the attention of physicians and others interested in lifestyle medicine across the country and around the world toward Nebraska in a partnership benefiting not just the university, but also the state and region.
“It creates a window people can look into and see the higher-education system in the Midwest and in Nebraska is strong and healthy and can bring forward ideas and thinking that is absent from other places in the country,” he said.