Background: Massive open online courses (MOOC) have potential to educate a global audience in understanding the foundational methods of evidence-based healthcare.
Objectives: To describe our experience of providing individuals worldwide with an educational opportunity to learn about systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
Methods: Faculty and staff at Cochrane United States offered a MOOC entitled 'Introduction to Systematic Review and Meta-analysis' through Coursera, an educational technology company that launched in 2012. The course is open access and free of charge, and learners can enroll to become eligible for a verified certificate for USD 49 ('signature track'). We prepared nine one-hour video modules, which learners viewed and completed over a six-week period. We also prepared two peer-graded assignments. Two teaching assistants facilitated the discussion forum. At the end of the course, learners completed an anonymous survey that Coursera generated. The inaugural course took place between 13 July and 22 August 2015.
Results: Over 12432 learners from 161 countries enrolled in the inaugural course. Most learners (80%) were based outside of the USA, and 44% were connecting from emerging economies. There were 669 participants (5%) on the signature track. Many learners used the discussion forums to find potential collaborators for their own systematic reviews; others shared further in-depth readings with their peers. A large proportion of survey respondents found the course 'extremely or very helpful' for advancing long-term careers.
Conclusions: MOOCs provide open access and virtually free education to a large-scale audience. Our experience with this inaugural course has led us to offer the course on a high-frequency basis (beginning 21 March 2016), now self-paced but structured by suggested deadlines to help keep learners on track. We will also ask to have our course available with subtitles in other languages. By increasing accessibility to information about how to conduct systematic reviews, we aim to impact synthesis and critical reading of the available evidence, and thereby promote an evidence-based approach to heath care.