Want to up your game on covering clinical studies? Try a MOOC!


As you report on medical studies more and more, you probably start to notice patterns in the parts that you find confusing or difficult to parse. You start to realize where you need the most help in understanding a study, or perhaps you know you need to refine your skills but aren’t sure how.

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are a great way to sharpen some skills and learn some new ones. A variety of universities and companies offer MOOCs, an online course involving video lessons, reading assignments, message boards, tests and/or other aspects of a typical online course. The difference is that MOOCs are free (unless you want to pay extra for an official certificate showing you completed one), and many are self-paced or allow you take them even after the course has officially ended.

The two largest distributors of MOOCs are Coursera and EdX, both of which offers courses from universities such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and even overseas schools, such as the University of Cape Town. The instructors are actual instructors from those schools, either full professors, department heads, researchers or adjuncts. The lesson updates are emailed to you each week, and you can estimate the time you need each week (anywhere from an hour or two up to 15 hours) for that course.

Some require prerequisites or recommend certain base knowledge skills (such as calculus for more advanced biostatistics classes or “Epidemiology 1” before taking “Epidemiology II”). Many courses repeat a few times a year so you can catch it again if it’s not available now, and others allow you to take a course that’s already finished at your own pace. And of course, like Amazon and many other online shopping sites, pages featuring one course will usually show you similar or related courses you might also want to check out.

I skimmed through the offerings recently at Coursera and EdX for courses related in some form to medical studies and drug development. The list below is not comprehensive, and several of these are already in session or already completed, but they provide a sense of what kinds of courses are offered.

Epidemiology and medicine

Clinical trials and studies


Biostatistics and terminology

Here is a list of even more MOOCs that might be relevant to your beat.

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Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle is AHCJ’s health beat leader on infectious disease and formerly led the medical studies health beat. She’s the author of “Vaccination Investigation” and “The Informed Parent.”