Why is a Healthy Ageing MOOC important now?

views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham

“This MOOC is timely as older adults have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO have urged those in a position to do so, to take the opportunity to ‘build back better.”


2020-2030 is The World Health Organisation’s ‘Decade of Healthy Ageing’. It is an action plan to improve the lives of older people, as well as the people who look after them. By 2050 there will be over 2 billion older adults in this world and around 80% of them will be living in low and middle-income countries. The plan highlights the urgent need for multi-sector collaboration including government, civil society, academia, and others, to address this changing demographic. By working together, we can enable older adults to live with dignity and equality in a healthy environment.

But what do we actually mean by ‘Healthy Ageing’? The WHO states, “Healthy Ageing is the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age.” The WHO tells us that healthy ageing is ‘about doing the things you value for as long as possible’. It’s not just about living longer, it’s about making our years of life healthy ones so that we can do the things we want to do. In other words, healthspan (rather than lifespan) is likely to be most important for the majority of older people.  However, there is a discrepancy between the trajectories for life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of years lived in poor health; in the UK, this currently stands at 16.1 years for men and 19.1 years for women. Just think – if you are a woman living in the UK, the final two decades of your life may be spent in poor health. This is a major cause for concern. In the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences we have designed a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in collaboration with Future Learn, ‘Healthy Ageing: concepts, interventions and preparing for the future’. The course covers what we mean by healthy ageing, ways of maintaining optimal functional ability in older age, and how we envisage the development and progression of healthy ageing research on a global scale.

The purpose of the MOOC is to engage in knowledge transfer through a new online digital education tool. This tool is based on an evidence-based digital educational framework to enhance research and evidence-based teaching, in this particular case, in the field of healthy ageing. Importantly, it will be free to access and it will be wide reaching; we hope to attract 15000 learners from over 150 countries

The idea for this MOOC grew from a research collaboration with the University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil. Colleagues at USP expressed their desire for us to repeat a series of face-to-face workshops delivered at USP in 2016. Given that we wanted to create a valuable and sustainable learning resource with longevity and (ultimately) global reach, delivering the workshops in the form of a MOOC represented a more cost-efficient and sustainable option. Since then we have expanded our approach and have built a MOOC, which we hope will have global reach, including learners living and working in/ with lower and middle-income countries (LMICs).

This MOOC is timely as older adults have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO have urged those in a position to do so, to take the opportunity to ‘build back better’. We have also learned to appreciate, never more so than over the past year, the enormous transformative potential of digital learning and the opportunity now to build on new-found experience.

Sign up to the "Healthy Ageing: Concepts, Interventions and Preparing for the Future" course which will be launched on 28 June 2021.