Affective Learning in Medical Neuroscience (a Massive Open Online Course)

by:  Ellen Vos-Wisse, Marina Buryak, Indira Biel and Kevin Park (course Mentors Medical Neuroscience)

brain caress
Brain Caress – Jonathan Andrew

Taking a well-designed MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) can have a life-changing effect, such as one can read about in the following article:
Eric Ferreri (October 11, 2016):
Len White on building an online community – one hashtag at a time

Prof. White met an unfamiliar young man outside his office one day. The man knew White through the MOOC Medical Neuroscience. The course inspired the man so much that he left his native China (where he was a medical student) to come to the US seeking neurosurgery opportunities. He was outside Dr. White’s door that day simply to express his gratitude.

“He realized he wanted to become a neurosurgeon, and he did not have that idea before he took the course,” prof. White says. “It was a powerful moment.”

Affective Learning

In education Bloom’s Taxonomy is used to analyze the learning process. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives. The three domains cover  learning objectives in cognitive, affective and sensory domains.  Affective learning pertains to attitudes, emotions, motivations, and feelings. MOOCs often have strong learning goals in the cognitive domain. Consequently learning goals in the affective domain are less apparent.

Research on learning goals in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)  has been published by Kun Li (Online Course Builder at Duke University, Center for Instructional Technology) and Kim Manturuk (Manager of Program Evaluation at Duke University).

Kun Li and Kim Manturuk (June 19, 2017):
Pathways for Affective Learning in Massive Open Online Courses.

 Affective Learning Pathways in MOOCs

Researchers have concluded that instructors who want to influence attitude should build both a teaching presence and what they termed a “social presence” into the course.

In educational research it has been found that students are more motivated when they participate in a video-based online study group; hence social learning strengthens the learning process.

Li and Mantaruk state that MOOCs can generate affective learning by four pathways:

  • Sharing instructor enthusiasm
  • Engaging with controversial topic
  • Exposure to diversity
  • Experiencing innovative teaching approaches
Social presence of Prof. White in Medical Neuroscience

In the opinion of Mentors of Medical Neuroscience the social presence of the teacher is not only important in attitude change but also very inspiring in the cognitive learning process.

Prof. White tries to give learners a personal experience by the setting of the lectures. In
Leonard White (July 8, 2015):
Medical MOOCs: Lessons Learned from the Trenches of Medical Education
The EvoLLLution
we read:
“From the inception of my MOOC, I’ve tried to give students the experience of a private tutorial—as if they have come to my office for help or scheduled a meet-up somewhere on campus. To achieve this aim, I never record a live lecture just so that it can be repurposed for the MOOC[..] I have also avoided “green screen” (weather-person) videographic techniques, because I want students to see me in context (simulating the private tutorial experience). So behind me in the picture-in-picture window, students see my laboratory, my academic office, my living room, my backyard, the Duke Forest, and enough of campus to get a feel for the general environs of Duke University.”

The Medical Neuroscience Learning Community

The building of an online learning community has always received a lot of attention in the course. In one of the tutorials Prof. White advises learners to “learn socially” tutorial video Your Part! at 11:04). Medical Neuroscience has a very active learning community. See the page on the learning community on this supportive website (built by a learner and now Mentor) of the course and the video Social Brains in Medical Neuroscience from a learners perspective. There is an active Course forum, a Facebook page and when Google Hangouts were technically possible there have been very useful meetings from Prof. White and learners.

Instructor enthusiasm in Medical Neuroscience

Prof. White is very passionate about the brain. Students are inspired by that and share that enthusiasm  in their work on assignments. One example is the “Touch Pathway for the face by Jonathan Andrew (see figure above) which clearly shows Prof. White and his affection for the human brain. Brain images produced in the course are enthusiastically shared by the learners, take a look at the examples below. (see more examples on the page visualize your knowledge on this website).

sock brain
Sock Brain
cat brain
Cat Brain
Innovative teaching approaches in Medical Neuroscience

Li and Manturuk had access to the evaluation of the course by learners. An innovative element in our course is that Prof. White  films many lectures in the laboratory using actual human brains. Li and Manturuk share students’ views:

  • “Really interesting course. I loved the videos ‘in the lab’ with the human brains. I’ve never seen them before.”
  • “I enjoyed a lot the anatomy classes with brain specimens, this was new for me in online courses. I also enjoyed a lot prof. White’s [the instructor] approach of explaining experiments showing the methodology and explaining very clearly the data. The course was [a] great experience for me, and I plan to apply a lot of what I’ve [seen] here in my future work as a professor.”
  • “This was an excellent course; it was well [organized], well run, and employed solid pedagogy. I enjoyed the lectures and lab demonstrations and especially [appreciated] the tutorial notes and images… I don’t believe MOOCs are a panacea for higher education’s woes and I don’t believe they are appropriate for everyone, but I am glad I have been able to participate in such a great one so that I know what can be accomplished.”

Li and Manturuk conclude that MOOCs can be a source of innovative teaching and  a pathway for affective learning.  “In every MOOC that Duke has offered, many learners volunteered unsolicited examples of affective learning. These typically fell into one (or more) of the following three categories: (1) the course gave them a more favorable attitude toward a subject that they previously found uninteresting or difficult; (2) the instructor personally inspired them; or (3) they were motivated to make a positive life or career change.”

Finally the authors of this post conclude that the course Medical Neuroscience is a good example of the power of affective learning in a MOOC. In short it inspires a solid, international community of learners in an online medical study.

affective learning in medical neuroscience
Affective learning in Medical Neuroscience – Kevin Parks

Welcome Duke University medical students to Medical Neuroscience

Welcome to our on-campus students in the Duke University School of Medicine

On 3 January 2017, the first medical students at the Duke University School of Medicine (Durham, North Carolina USA)will start a four-week course that covers cellular neurobiology, systems neurophysiology, clinical neuroanatomy, and cognitive neuroscience.

brain and behavior
“Brain and Behavior”, by Kevin Parks

The name of the course is “Brain and Behavior” and is part of the required preclinical science curriculum for medical students at Duke. Professor White is the instructor in this course. They will work through all of Medical Neuroscience, with some additional content on cognition and biological psychiatry, before their final exam on January 30th.

We (the Medical Neuroscience Learning Community) would like to welcome those students to the Course Medical Neuroscience and to the supportive website Learn Medical Neuroscience. Moreover, we hope to meet the on-campus students on the Medical Neuroscience discussion forums with questions and reactions to posts of other students. Especially we would like to see their images of their learning experience and the images they produce of neurobiological structures posted with #GetNeuro on Instagram appear on the image carousel on the page Learning Community.

Blended learning

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Review Medical Neuroscience

Review the course

Learner Recommended courses on Coursera
Learner Recommended courses on Coursera

You have a chance to recommend the course to other learners. That is you can review the course Medical Neuroscience on a course review site. That way you can make clear to potential learners that this free course has great quality and depth. Because good reviews help students to find the course it is a good idea to add  your review as well.


Continue reading “Review Medical Neuroscience”

Social Brains: using social media to learn Medical Neuroscience

Prof. Leonard White Presents on “Social Brains” at Duke Teaching Showcase

By Courtney Lockemer, Communications Manager for Online Duke

On October 11, Dr. Leonard White presented on the Medical Neuroscience MOOC at the Duke University Center for Instructional Technology 2016 Showcase. The event, which is known on Duke’s campus as the CIT Showcase, is a free one-day conference run by the university’s teaching and learning center that celebrates creativity and innovation in teaching. Over 200 faculty and staff from Duke and nearby higher education institutions attended the conference.

Social Brains in Medical Neuroscience

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MOOCs for Medical Education

Medical Neuroscience, a MOOC for Medical Education

By Ellen Vos-Wisse and Courtney Lockemer, Communications Manager for Online Duke

Story of a MOOC

Previously on this website an article was published: The Story behind “The Story of a MOOC” . Courtney told us about the process of the creation of this free Medical Education online, the course Medical Neuroscience. She also presented an infographic about the creation of the course.

Since then the situation has evolved. The course Medical Neuroscience does not only run once a year anymore but multiple times a year, learners can start every month. And this MOOC has found a valuable place in Medical Education around the world.

New Infographic

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Community Mentors for MOOCs

by Claire Smith – Community Manager Community Team at Coursera

Mentors and the learning community

One of the most obvious differences between the in-person and online learning experiences is the communication between learners. Social interaction is an important aspect of learning. Therefore online courses have replaced the classroom with forums, as a way of providing that much needed social element.

Another challenge of MOOCs is that the instructor simply cannot provide support to thousands of learners all at once. This, again, is a place where forums can really help.


At Coursera we found that simply providing a space for learners to interact and help one another was not always enough. There often needs to be a spark that seeds the discussion.  Also, some reassurance that someone is there to respond is welcome. Forums need  moderation to make sure the forums remain a safe and welcoming space for all.

Therefore we reached out to our community, to our learners who were already the most engaged, and those who had done really well in their courses. We  invited them to volunteer as Mentors. We were, and continue to be, overwhelmed by the positive, enthusiastic response and the supportive community which formed as a result. We’re thrilled to be able to continue expanding the program to support more and more courses! Continue reading “Community Mentors for MOOCs”

Hangout nr. 2 Medical Neuroscience, August 20th 2016

Hangout nr. 2, Medical Neuroscience on-demand

Google Hangout nr.2. For all sessions (3 running at the time)  on the new Coursera platform. The Hangout was on August, at 2 pm Eastern Time. Below you find a link to the video of the Hangout on YouTube and a short overview of the subjects addressed with the time slot that part of the discussion starts


by Ellen Vos-Wisse course Mentor


Addiction relative to foods

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Medical Neuroscience starts online and on campus today

by: Leonard E. White, PhD, Durham NC (U.S.A.)

The next session of Medical Neuroscience begins today (August 29, 2016). We look forward to welcoming to our course another group of wonderfully diverse and passionate learners from all walks of life and all over the world. One particular corner of the world that will contribute some number of students to the course is Durham North Carolina (U.S.A.), home to Duke University.

Continue reading “Medical Neuroscience starts online and on campus today”

Medical Neuroscience in Class Central’s Top 50 MOOCs of all time

Class Central’s Top 50 MOOCs of All Time

There are close to 6,000 MOOCs from 600+ universities around the world. Class Central is a website with an overview of MOOCs and reviews by learners that have taken courses. Learners can reviews and make an informed decision weather a course suits them.

Class Central has made  a list of Top 50 MOOCs of All Time to help potential learners for an online course . Thousands of reviews written by Class Central users form the foundation of that ranking.

Medical Neuroscience ranks in the top 13 science courses!

visualize, Medical Neuroscience, prof. L.E. White, Learn Medical Neuroscience
“Visualize your knowledge”- prof. Len White

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Google Hangout Medical Neuroscience, July 20th 2016

First Medical Neuroscience Hangout on the new platform

-by Marina Buryak- course Mentor

The first Google Hangout for both sessions on the new Coursera platform occurred on July 20th, at 2pm Eastern Time. It kept lively with stirring questions and great conversations. The following are summaries of Dr. White’s and asker’s words.

Hangout Medical Neuroscience July 20 2016


How it all starts and the concept of soul

Ahmed, a Sudanese medical student living in Khartoum,  expending on a forum discussion, asked how signaling starts. For example, what factors initiate the signals to make the brain alive vs. dead? How does the soul interact with the brain?

Continue reading “Google Hangout Medical Neuroscience, July 20th 2016”