Parkinson's UK had already taken the strategic decision to move away from purely face to face delivery of training when they approached an Opening Educational Practices in Scotland (OEPS) for help. Their new approach included online training, cascade training and volunteers delivering face to face education. By moving to online and cascade courses, Parkinson's UK anticipated a more cost-effective training programme with a much wider reach. By reversioning one of the cascade courses into an online course the organisation would also be able to reduce assessment costs.
Parkinson's UK's decision to work with OEPS was based on an awareness of the existing expertise within The Open University (OU) as well as the kudos of being associated with the OU brand. In addition, OEPS was able to offer a more effective platform, OpenLearn Create, to host any online materials they developed. While Parkinson's UK had a Moodle platform, it was limited in terms of its interface with different devices, for example, content did not always display correctly when downloaded onto mobile phones.
By working through a series of design workshops with OEPS, Parkinson's UK developed their first open, online course, Understanding Parkinson's. The course, which was launched in May 2016, incorporated existing training material, as well as new content including videos, images, animation and quizzes. As videos of real people talking about their experiences had always been a particularly effective aspect of Parkinson's UK's training, additional videos were produced for Understanding Parkinson's with support from the audio-visual staff at The Open University.
The online course included a greater level of self-reflection than the original training course. In addition, successful completion of integrated assessments led to a digital 'badge' (with the option to download a certificate of completion) which dispensed with the need for an external examining agency. (The original training course had been accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Agency.)
As anticipated, 'online' has meant wider and deeper reach to the full range of health and social care professionals across the UK, including pharmacists and groups in hospitals. Previously, Parkinson's UK could only offer training, or persuade organisations to take up training, where there was a critical mass to make face-to face sessions worthwhile. Now, with the course constantly available on the internet (i.e. there are no start or finish dates), training can be taken up by any interested party at any time regardless of whether they are participating as an individual or in a group, or whether they have the approval of their manager or not.
Although the organisation did not fully understand the concept of 'open' at the outset, Parkinson's UK now see that it has led to unforeseen benefits. One major advantage of making their course material open is the additional reach they have to health and social care lecturers in universities, through providing material that can be copied and adapted for teaching. This is particularly important to Parkinson's UK who had always wanted to reach lecturers but had struggled to engage them.
With hindsight, Parkinson's UK realise they could have better thought how to track the reach and impact of the course. Hosting the course on the OU platform, OpenLearn Create, combined with data protection issues has meant the organisation can't access the data of those who have registered, or ask participants to complete a follow up survey. As a result , Parkinson's UK are currently unable to determine the professional background of participants, the impact of the course on their practice or whether participants, particularly lecturers, are making use of the fact the course material is open. An adjustment to the statement on the organisation's use of participants' data at the outset would have overcome this issue.
Parkinson's UK are also grappling with the issue of accreditation. While the online badge offered on successful completion of Understanding Parkinson's can be used towards an individual's Continuing Professional Development, Parkinson's UK do not currently endorse individuals who have gained a badge as they have no proof that that particular individual undertook the course.
The organisation is, however, developing a toolkit for organisations whose staff have taken the course which would encourage a follow up session to discuss changes to practice. The idea for the toolkit followed an evaluation of those who piloted Understanding Parkinson's which showed that, on completion, participants wanted the opportunity to explore their own practice in more detail.
Following the launch of Understanding Parkinson's in May 2016, Parkinson's UK has gone on to develop two further open online courses with OEPS, Parkinson's Bone Health and Parkinson's End of Life Care.
Claire Hewitt, the Education Adviser of Virtual learning programmes at Parkinson's UK who worked with OEPS to create the courses, says she now feels 'very confident' about developing open courses on her own. Claire is currently writing a project plan to capture and share that internal learning with colleagues, although she recognises that creating and editing open, online courses will become much easier with OpenCreate, the software being developed by The Open University, that will help anyone to create interactive new courses by using their own content or through adapting existing material and courses.
The online course, Understanding Parkinson's, is now compulsory for front-line staff at Parkinson's UK, offering a more engaging means of understanding the organisation's main subject matter than a training manual. In addition, since its engagement with OEPS, staff at Parkinson's UK have also started to consider how the organisation could make better use of material with a creative commons license and what other resources might benefit from being open. For example, Claire Hewitt recently asked a colleague who was drafting a PDF on evaluation and practice to place on their website whether he had considered making the content open.
Having seen the advantages of developing open, online courses, Parkinson's UK is now actively looking to share their experiences with other national disability charities.