Over the past two years, CareSearch has hosted Dying2Learn, a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about death and dying. We created the course hoping we could provide a community platform for open social discussion and connection on death, dying and palliative care – something that at times can be hard to strike up a conversation about in our day-to-day lives.
Since launching Dying2Learn, over 3,000 people have joined us online for the 5-week course to consider how society engages in death through language, media, and art, the role of medicine in death, and the growing need to ponder digital dying. In 2016 we were thrilled to have over 1,000 people participate, and in 2017 we were rather gob-smacked to have that number almost double! To us that spoke to a real need for online forums offering the chance to explore death and dying from social and community perspectives. Participating ‘MOOCers’ (a self-proclaimed title coined by those enrolled) held candid and meaningful discussions about death and dying and reflected on what it means for them and their communities.
But, can this community-driven online learning make a difference? Based on analysing the results of Dying2Learn in 2016, the answer to this question seems to be quite a resounding ‘yes’.
When MOOCers first enrolled in Dying2Learn, we asked them to respond to some questions about their death attitudes. Then, in one of the final activities in the course we asked them to answer the questions again, to see if there was any discernible change. We found that the people who chose to enrol in Dying2Learn were predominantly a cohort who already felt quite comfortable talking about death and saw death as a normal part of life. Despite this participation in the MOOC still significantly increased how comfortable they were in talking about death and dying, and seemed to reinforce and strengthen the view that death is a normal part of life. Importantly, all of the participants who initially ‘strongly disagreed’ that death is a normal part of life changed their opinion to ‘strongly agree’ by the end of the MOOC.
Within the Dying2Learn MOOC, we also included an optional research study for MOOCers to participate in if they wished. This study examined feelings and competence in coping with death using more detailed formal questionnaire scales that participants completed both at the beginning and at the end of the MOOC. Using these formal scales, we found that the MOOC participants at the beginning were already felt pretty competent in coping with death. Even so, by the end of the MOOC they showed further improvement in their feelings of competence in death coping. We also found that the more of the Dying2Learn course content they completed, the greater their increase in death coping and competence. We were also interested to find that improvements in death coping and competence happened for all participants – it didn’t seem to matter whether a person was a health professional or not – everyone benefitted from participating in Dying2Learn.
Many of the MOOC participants commented that being part of Dying2Learn impacted on them in their personal lives and for those working in a health-related field, their professional lives too. For example:
- “I loved the openness of everyone and the sharing of so many different experiences both personal and professional.”
- “Discussing death and dying without offending anyone was liberating and has prompted me to get all my ducks in a row.”
- “I now feel more comfortable starting death/dying conversations with family, and have started conversations as a result.”
As one of the facilitators for the course, Dying2Learn has also had both a professional and personal impact on me. The co-construction of learning and community-driven sharing of knowledge and personal stories occurring during Dying2Learn is the type of experience that stays with you and infiltrates through many aspects of life. For me, I’ve discovered that learning together as a community about death and dying teaches us much about life and living.
You can find out more about Dying2Learn and register for future courses at: https://www.caresearch.com.au/Dying2Learn
Dr Lauren Miller-Lewis, CareSearch Research Associate, Flinders University