Mental Health for the Masses

Ricardo Muñoz thinks that MOOCs get a bad rap. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses, Internet-based higher education available to anyone in the world, regardless of age or qualifications, and usually for free. MOOCs have become very popular in recent years, and now attract millions of students who want to learn art history or calculus or abnormal psychology with some of the world’s best professors.

Critics focus on MOOCs’ dismal attrition rates. While millions of eager students may sign up, they say, most of these drop out. They point to examples, including one MIT MOOC, in which 155,000 enrolled but only 7,157 passed the course. That’s a paltry 4.6 percent completion rate.

This is true, says Muñoz, professor and founding director of the Institute for International Internet Interventions for Health (i4Health) at Palo Alto University, and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco. But this argument misses the more important point, he insists. It’s a major achievement for 7,157 students to complete a college course–reading, lectures, papers, everything–in a single semester. Indeed, it would take 40 years for that many students to complete the same MIT course if it were offered in the traditional way.

This is why Muñoz and his colleagues are using MOOCs as a model for their Massive Open Online Interventions, which they call MOOIs. MOOIs are mental health and substance abuse interventions, scientifically validated and available online to unlimited numbers of consumers. As with MOOCs, most of these consumers can be expected to drop out, but some will stay–and get well. Since many of these would otherwise have access to no services at all, MOOIs could be a valuable resource for global health. The drop-out rate should be seen as a natural part of the process, Muñoz argues, not as a weakness.

Muñoz has been thinking and —> Read More