Dr. Matthew Davis launches free online course on understanding the Affordable Care Act

October 3, 2013

Answering questions raised by the latest reform to the U.S. health care system—the Affordable Care Act—is the goal of a new University of Michigan free online course created by Dr. Matthew Davis, professor of medicine and public policy. Dr. Davis, with backing from the U-M Medical School, launches the course titled "Understanding and Improving the U.S. Healthcare System" on Oct. 7 on Coursera.

Coursera is a massive open online curriculum, or MOOC, that U-M helped launch last year. It provides free courses on a wide variety of subjects for learners from any background.

"We are in an era when health policy and health care reform is front and center, not only in doctors' offices but on street corners," Davis said.

After studying national data on fourth-year medical students across the country, Davis found that their confidence about health policy issues was far below their confidence about clinical learning and clinical skills.

"For physicians to be functioning at their best, they need to know how the health care system is supposed to work," Davis said. "In this course, students will learn a lot about the Affordable Care Act and how it builds on 50 years of history."

Davis said he wants to engage the learners to think about how they can play a role in improving the system at the personal level—as patients, health care providers or in other capacities. He's expecting enrollment to exceed 15,000 people for the six-week course.

The average class size for U-M Coursera courses is nearly 50,000, said Gautam Kaul, a finance professor at the Ross School of Business who teaches the popular Introduction to Finance course on Coursera. Kaul also serves as special counsel for Digital Education Initiatives at U-M.

"Consistent with our goal of showcasing the richness of our educational offerings and providing access to people all over the globe, our menu of classes is probably the most diverse among all our peers," Kaul said.

U-M offers courses on topics ranging from science fiction to Internet security.

"We have a strong presence in the now huge MOOC market," Kaul said. "For example, with about 80 top global universities partnering with Coursera, we have had about a million students enrolled in our offerings out of a total enrollment of 17 million."

The health system-focused course, produced by U-M grad Michael Rubyan, takes a fresh approach each week including week five, which includes live interaction online between students and instructors. Rubyan, a documentary film producer, earned his master's in public health from U-M in 2012.

The course's six episodes use documentary film techniques including filming on location capturing the university's most beautiful spaces and resources, one-on-one interviews and a talk-show format discussion. The course also includes a 45-minute documentary segment that integrates archival footage of 11 U.S. presidents detailing their health care reform efforts over the past 65 years.

Davis also has tapped the expertise of several colleagues across the U-M campus from the medical and health policy fields for interviews. The course is one of six being developed by U-M's Medical School, according to Timothy O'Brien, who oversees online course development.

"It is still part of an exploratory phase for us. This is a new frontier and we are utilizing Coursera to try to determine what makes sense for us in education," O'Brien said. "We are keen to apply what we learn about how students learn online to our on-campus efforts."