Ian is a nurse in the Shetland Islands who rarely has the opportunity to attend training events. Lee lives in Hong Kong and cares for a relative who has oesophageal cancer. Robyn is a nursing assistant in Adelaide, Australia who wishes to learn more about cancer care. Sue is a clinical services manager in Belfast with a responsibility for providing training for nurses in her In-Patient Unit.
What they have in common is that they are all learners enrolled with a cancer education website developed by two members of Warwick staff.
CancerNursing.org is the product of voluntary efforts by Ray Irving and Stuart Sutherland, e-learning consultants in Warwick Business School. Since the launch of CancerNursing.org in March 2003, over 1600 learners from over 30 different countries have signed up to take free online courses on the site.
The site is currently enrolling over 300 learners from across the globe every month. However, its origins are much more local and small scale. Ray Irving describes how the project began:
"My brother Mark is a cancer nurse specialist, and part of his role is to raise awareness and understanding of oesophageal cancer amongst nurses in his locality. Mark told me how staff shortages make it really difficult to get nurses off the wards for training. In an almost throwaway remark, I asked him why he didn't provide the training online. Six months later, CancerNursing.org launched, with its first course on oesophageal cancer, authored by Mark and a team of nurses and consultants from the Northern Oesophago-Gastric Cancer Unit in Carlisle, one of the UK's leading treatment centres.
Within a week of its launch CancerNursing.org had a global reach, with over 300 learners from 4 different continents taking the first course in the first 7 days.
Within each course on the CancerNursing.org site, learners have access to a range of learning resources. Learners can:
- view course content (comprising text, graphics, frequently-asked questions, and a glossary of key terms);
- record their responses to cases and learning activities within a personal learning log;
- test their understanding and receive feedback in self-assessment tests;
- use an 'Ask the Expert' facility to send questions to subject experts;
- generate a 'Record of Achievement' for use within personal development portfolios.
Stuart Sutherland describes how the response to the site has driven its development:
"Feedback from learners has been tremendous and has led to many additions to the site. Nurses are telling us that the ability to learn flexibly and at their own pace online is a real benefit. And a large number of subject experts from across the world have volunteered to author further courses for the site.
"10 new courses are currently under development and we've now got authoring and peer-reviewing teams spread around the world, collaborating online to develop courses. For example, a team developing a course in endoscopy are from the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US. The desire of nurses and other health professionals to learn and to share their expertise through authoring materials has absolutely blown us away."
In the New Year, the founders plan to establish CancerNursing.org as a registered charity so that it can raise money to cover its costs and allow it to develop. A small board of trustees comprising internationally renowned cancer researchers and nurse educators from the Universities of Birmingham and of Central England, and Matthew Snowden, manager of Warwick Business School's distance learning MBA programme, will oversee its affairs.
In the meantime, learners continue to provide feedback about the site. The following glowing comment from a nurse in New Zealand is not untypical:
"What can I say? The Cancer of the Oesophagus course is absolutely amazing and most convenient to be able to do over the Internet! The information learned on this course will be of benefit when looking after any cancer patient. I urge anyone who has an interest in cancer nursing to do this course. It is fantastic."