A MOOC for Implant Dentistry?

A MOOC for Implant Dentistry?
It’s been almost a week since enrolment opened for our MOOC, the first Massive Open Online Course in Implant Dentistry! As excitement grows, so does the daily list of mails and messages from all parts of the world crowding my inbox. Supportive comments from friends and strangers, suggestions, ideas, curiosity and questions, a whole lot of questions..! 

… one question that strikes me as particularly interesting: “Will I learn to place implants in your course…?”

 Indeed,  an interesting question! …now let’s see if I can come up with an equally interesting answer!– What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is one of the most exciting educational developments of this century, the child of the marriage of Open Access with e-learning, all broadcasted live by the social media. The idea is relatively simple: make quality education accessible to everyone, anytime for free. In essence this idea has always been there, it’s only that now we have the technology to materialise it, at least to a significant extent. I believe the seed was planted when several top Universities decided to open up and share their curricula with the rest of the world, in several bold “Open Courseware” initiatives.

    Sharing content does not mean the sharing of education, yet this first step was in essence a giant leap, as it broke barriers of all sorts, from pure suspicion and protectionism, copyright and intellectual property issues to the simple innocent questions of the type “but if I put everything online who will come to my lectures?” What Open Courseware clearly demonstrated was that opening up your education and sharing with the world can actually make your institution stronger and benefit your programmes and your academics in many ways. After that experience, a MOOC became a natural next step, as soon as the technology matured. This time it was not just the content that was shared, it was the whole learning environment and the educational experience.  Just like any other course, a MOOC is based on a well structured learning environment, which allows not only delivery of content, but also supports all sorts of learning interactions and many different types of assessment. However, all this exists in a virtual learning space, as a MOOC is a fully on-line course. Unlike previous on-line courses however, the MOOC is reaching a massive scale of learners, usually counting to the thousands.

As with every other type of courses, the MOOC has also a distinct form and educational “culture”, much of which is directed by the potential and limitations of the technology that is utilised. In that way, a MOOC will typically utilise short bits of content as “mini-webinars” or short demos, coupled with hyperlinks to recourses, and supported by synchronous or asynchronous interaction with peers and tutors. It can all be matched to self- peer- or classical assessments and assignments and it strongly emphasises on the development of on-line learner communities, which very often will outlive the course.

– Is a MOOC proper for Clinical Disciplines?

Initially, MOOCs were introduced to cover topics of general interest, where a large participation could be expected. It is no surprise that the first successful MOOCs addressed topics of generic theoretical nature. History, Philosophy, Economics, Applied Sciences, were among the first big hits. Gradually, as success stories paved the way, MOOCs emerged for more selective audiences, professional development  and niche topics such as Architecture, Mathematics, Computer Science, Law, Epidemiology and more.

Clinical topics however remained outside the reach of this medium for a long time, as MOOCS were perceived by many to be unsuitable to address themes with a clinical focus. As of today, the only MOOCs I could identify with a clinical focus were 2: an introduction to Cataract Surgery and a course in Urology.

So now we’re coming close to the core of the question we started with: is a MOOC a good medium to teach Implant Dentistry?  …And will you learn to place implants in the HKU MOOC?

On the first question, the answer is yes, I do believe that a MOOC is a great medium to teach Implant Dentistry. The second question however requires a bit of work to address…!

– From Teaching to Learning

Learning today is no longer perceived as the acquisition of information and skills, memorising of lists and learning how to use instruments. Especially within clinical health sciences, learning marks in essence a significant and permanent change, a change of mind! A change in our understanding, a change in our attitude and change in our abilities, which enables us to better serve our patients needs, but also deal with ill-defined problems and even produce new knowledge. In that sense, learning is seen through the lens of developing competences. These competences will drive our learning and will become the bricks that will build the wonder-tower of our professional practice.

 one of the greatest challenges

we face today, is that implant dentistry

is often perceived as

“knowing how to place implants”. 

 Dental implants is a wonderful scientific and technological achievement, which allows us to serve patients in ways never possible in the past. However one of the greatest challenges we face today, is that implant dentistry is often perceived as “knowing how to place implants”. In reality, the surgical placement of dental implants is only one isolated set of skills, while the most significant competences are actually prior and after this point. Today, the majority of problems or failures we encounter with implants, is not because the operator was not able to surgically place the implants, but the origins are usually in deficient understanding of either biology or technology and consequent improper treatment planning.

Overemphasis on surgical placement is a widespread trend today and it has lead many clinicians to the wrong direction. When it all becomes just a matter of “learning to place screws”, weekend courses,  usually industry-driven start to become the norm. Such courses at the “I’ll show you how to…” level are what we would call “product training” but they are not education.  Unfortunately, many young graduates, having had little exposure to what implant dentistry is all about during their undergraduate studies, often fall pray to “quick and dirty” courses which focus into teaching how to place implants rather than how to practice dentistry, with implants. And this is where the role of a MOOC could be critical.

– A MOOC for Implant Dentistry?

When we conceived this course, we did not aspire to teach dentists how to place implants. Instead, we envisioned an unbiased,  comprehensive course in dentistry, which will  address the full extent of knowledge and skills a clinician needs to practice modern rehabilitative dentistry with dental implants. A scientific University course  could unfold the whole complexity of implant dentistry and present it’s rightful place in modern practice, its potential together with the limitations. At the end of this course, the student will know that Implant Dentistry is no rocket-science, but not a matter of “learning to place implants” either. Above all, we aspire to help the student understand what it takes to properly implement dental implant in clinical practice and which are the steps he needs to plan in his personal pathway to become a competent practitioner of implant dentistry. What more, we aspire to offer a global community of learners to support each student in this learning pathway of transformation.

“ So will I learn to place implants in your course?” To rephrase this question in educational terms, it could actually ask: “Will I be competent to place implants after attending your course?”

The answer is No. If you have never placed an implant, this course will not make you competent in that. It will give you a good understanding of how implants are placed, but it will not get you ready to take up the blades and the drills. It’s an online course after all and no on-line course will make you competent in a clinical skill. No matter what is promised, you can’t learn to swim from YouTube if you’ve never been to water.

This course however will show you why placing implants is not all that matters and it will teach you the essential knowledge and skills that you will require before and mainly after you place implants in order to secure successful treatments and satisfied patients. Furthermore, this course will offer you support in your first steps and create a network of people around you who would be able to share experience, knowledge and education with you. And as your experience grows, so will the benefits increase from attending this MOOC.

“it’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.

It’s what you know for sure,

but you are wrong”.  

 Mark Twain said, “it’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure, but you are wrong”. Similarly, teaching of Impant Dentistry has suffered from oversimplifications, overestimation and underestimation of all sorts. In essence however, Implant Dentistry is exactly what the word describes: it’s first and foremost, Dentistry! It’s solving the patients problems and satisfying their need for aesthetics and function  in healthy and sustainable conditions. And this is what we will be teaching in this course: how to practice high level Dentistry, while appropriately including dental implants. It’s will be fun  🙂 Looking forward to seeing you all @ the first Massive Open Online Course in Implant Dentistry!

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