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Understanding MS: the free, online course making a positive impact

31 August 2023

  • Understanding MS is a free online course that aims to improve your understanding and awareness of MS.
  • More than 39,000 people from 170+ countries have enrolled in Understanding MS.
  • Research has shown the course significantly improves MS-related knowledge, health literacy and confidence in communicating about MS.

Understanding Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an award-winning course that aims to improve your understanding and awareness of MS.

Developed by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania and proudly supported by MS Australia and MS Plus, this free online course has been an international success. Since its launch in 2019, more than 39,000 people from more than 170 countries have enrolled.

Course audience and content

Understanding MS is open to anyone across the world with an interest in MS, including people living with MS, their friends, families and carers, MS advocates, service delivery staff, support workers, medical and nursing professionals and allied health professionals.

The course integrates scientific information with lived experience from members of the MS community. Modules are taught using engaging videos and interactive activities, and summaries are written in a clear, accessible way with additional resources signposted.

Over six modules, the course covers the following topics:

  • Biology and pathology
  • Diagnosis and symptoms
  • Demographics and introduction to risk
  • Risk factors
  • Disease management and support strategies
  • Living with MS

The six-week course allows you to study at your own pace. The modules are all online, giving you the flexibility to choose when and where you learn. All you need is a phone, tablet or computer, and you can access the course any time, day or night, wherever you may be.

A positive impact on lives

To ensure that the course is doing what it set out to achieve, researchers at Menzies have carried out a number of longitudinal cohort studies around the first six iterations of the course evaluating its impact on participants.

They asked study participants to complete three surveys: one before the course opened, one immediately after it closed and one six months after the course closed. In those surveys, they measured a range of different characteristics or behaviours, including MS-related knowledge, and evaluated if taking part in the course affected any.

Seven studies evaluating the course impact on participants have since been published in peer-reviewed journals Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders and Health Promotion Journal of Australia. See ‘Further information’ below for details.

These studies provided a range of insights. Researchers found that completing the course significantly improved the following characteristics and behaviours:

  • MS-related knowledge
  • health literacy (among people living with MS)
  • self-efficacy (among people living with MS)
  • confidence communicating about MS

Importantly, these improvements were maintained six months after people completed the course, meaning that people remember what they learn in the course for some time after taking it.

Researchers also found that taking part in the course led to health behaviour change for many people. About half of the study participants reported that they had changed at least one health-related behaviour (exercise or diet, for example) after undertaking the Understanding MS online course. Where the change they reported could be measured, researchers found that almost 70% of those who reported a change showed an improvement.

From strength to strength

For more than a year, Understanding MS has ranked in the top 10 best free online courses of all time by Class Central, a company that aggregates and ranks online courses from providers worldwide based on user ratings.

More than 1,000 participants have reviewed the course on Class Central to date, with an average rating of five stars out of a possible five. And according to the latest data from the most recent iteration in March, 97.5% of those who completed the course would recommend it to others.

To ensure currency, the course is regularly updated. New content on haematopoietic stem cell transplantation, MS and pregnancy, MS and sleep and the increasing incidence of MS was added to the course in September 2022, and further new content is currently in development with plans to incorporate it later this year.

And, of course, research around Understanding MS and its impact is ongoing to ensure it continues to be relevant and beneficial for people with MS and the wider MS community.

Sign up now

The next course begins in September. If you are interested in taking part, you can enrol now.

Course at a glance:

  • Opens: 11th September 2023, 9:00am (AEDT)
  • Duration: 6 weeks
  • Estimated effort: 2 hrs per week
  • Completion certificate: Yes
  • Cost: FREE

Further information

The following studies evaluating the impact of Understanding MS on course participants have been published:

  • Claflin SB, Klekociuk S, Campbell JA, Bessing B, van der Mei I, Taylor BV. Association between MS-related knowledge, health literacy, self-efficacy, and quality of life in a large cohort of MS community members: a cross-sectional study. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders 2021;54:103158. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.msard.2021.103158
  • Bessing B, van der Mei I, Taylor BV, Honan C, Claflin SB. Evaluating the impact of the Understanding Multiple Sclerosis online course on participant MS knowledge, health literacy, resilience, self-efficacy, quality of life, and MS symptom severity. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders 2022;60:103717. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.msard.2022.103717
  • Claflin SB, Bessing B, van der Mei I, Campbell JA, Taylor BV. Gains in multiple sclerosis knowledge following completion of the Understanding Multiple Sclerosis online course are maintained six months after course completion. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders 2022;67:104085. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.msard.2022.104085
  • Claflin SB, Mainsbridge C, Campbell JA, Klekociuk S, Taylor BV. Self-reported behaviour change among multiple sclerosis community members and interested laypeople following participation in a free online course about multiple sclerosis. Health Promot J Austr. 2022 Jul;33(3):768-778. https://doi.org/10.1002/hpja.559
  • Claflin SB, Campbell JA, van der Mei I, Mainsbridge C, Taylor BV. Self-reported behaviour change among multiple sclerosis community members and interested laypeople six months following participation in a free online course about multiple sclerosis. Health Promot J Austr. 2023 Mar 9. https://doi.org/10.1002/hpja.716
  • Claflin SB, Campbell JA, Taylor BV. Healthcare utilisation and perceived healthcare accessibility and quality among people living with multiple sclerosis enrolled in an online course. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders 2023;73:104621. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.msard.2023.104621
  • Claflin SB, Campbell JA, Taylor BV. Confidence communicating about multiple sclerosis among enrollees in an online course. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders 2023;75:104751. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.msard.2023.104751
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Understanding MS: the free, online course making a positive impact