Accessible online courses provide essential training for nutrition and health professionals worldwide
Thousands of nutrition and public health professionals around the world have expanded their skills and knowledge through free or low-cost online continuing education courses developed by faculty in the Division of Nutritional Sciences ( DNS).
Two separate courses—one on infant and young child feeding for a global audience, and another on policy, systems, and environmental (PES) approaches to improving nutrition in the United States—address critical topics such as undernutrition, maternal and child health and childhood obesity.
“These online courses are an effective and efficient way to deliver training,” said Christina Stark, a retired DNS senior associate who played a key role in the development of both courses. “The goal has always been to provide nutrition practitioners with the knowledge and skills they need to build their capacity to work with the public.”
Two recently published studies of the courses testify to the importance of this type of education for nutrition and health professionals working in communities.
A study on the international journey, published in the Winter 2021 issue of the Journal of Continuing Education for Health Professions, found that healthcare professionals working in low- and middle-income countries have an unmet need for up-to-date infant and child nutrition information and skills, and that this type of online training is effective in meeting this need.
The other study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in December 2020, found that the online course on Using PSE Approaches to Improve Nutrition in the United States helps introduce these concepts to nutrition educators and shows practical ways to implement them.
Enrollment for both courses exceeded expectations. The international course – created in partnership with UNICEF and offered free of charge – welcomed more than 5,500 registrants in the first year, a multitude more than the 200 expected. Some 14,500 people from 181 countries have signed up over time. Additionally, over 30% completed the entire 14-module course. (Free online course completion rates are typically 7-8%.)
Total enrollment for the US-based course, which charges a modest fee, is approaching 1,000. Participants represent a variety of community nutrition programs, from nearly all 50 states and Guam. Course completion over the past 3 years has exceeded 45%. In the year beginning March 2020, enrollment jumped 70% over the previous 12-month period, proving the need and importance of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic .
“It’s a testament to the value of the training as a whole,” said Joan Doyle Paddock, state coordinator for the expanded food and nutrition education program and senior extension associate at DNS.
One of the keys to the success of both courses: DNS researchers assessed the needs of their target audiences before launching either course. “We were trying to find an affordable, accessible, and efficient way to deliver the content,” Stark said. “We have previous research showing that online professional development is effective, and we know our audiences would be hard to reach with in-person training alone.”
“Programming for Infant and Young Child Feeding”
Training on Recommended Breastfeeding and Child Feeding Practices was launched in 2012 as a free online course available to public health practitioners worldwide.
The course was first delivered on the Cornell NutritionWorks online platform and is now offered through UNICEF’s continuing education platform – AGORA. It teaches the latest information on breastfeeding, complementary feeding and women’s nutrition, as well as how to implement programs to share this information with mothers and children and track improvements.
Feedback from course participants has been very positive. Patricia Adoch is a nutrition educator with Food for the Hungry, a non-governmental organization working in a refugee camp in northern Uganda. She completed the course in 2018. After completing the course, she wrote and recorded a song to promote breastfeeding among the refugee population.
“I want to thank [Cornell and UNICEF] for offering me a free online study,” she wrote in an unsolicited email to Cornell in 2021. “I now promote breastfeeding from the start, exclusive and continued breastfeeding until two years.
“Make the healthy choice the easy choice”
The Nutrition Sciences Division launched “Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice: Online Training in Environmental Policies, Systems, and Approaches” in July 2018 with the goal of helping nutrition educators across the United States United to develop the skills to address policies, systems and environments. (EPS) that influence our ability to make healthy food and activity choices.
The course focuses on this dilemma: even when people know the recommended nutritional advice, they often struggle to make healthy choices because of their environment or the food and nutrition policies in place. Accessibility to healthy and affordable choices can be particularly challenging.
“Suppose you tell students to avoid sugary drinks, but they go to the vending machine at their afterschool program and it’s full of sodas,” Stark explained. “It makes things difficult. If a nutrition educator can work with after-school program staff to help them implement a policy of restricting sugary drinks from vending machines, it facilitates student behavior change. Likewise, encouraging people to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables from their local farmers’ market is not practical advice if they don’t have transport to get to the market, she said. declared.
The six-module training teaches nutrition educators how to initiate PSE changes that will improve nutrition and general well-being in a community, especially for low-income individuals and families. This process involves identifying community interest and goals, engaging partners, developing an intervention, and then evaluating and revising that intervention.
The course is available to anyone on eCornell, but was primarily designed for nutrition educators involved in two federal programs: the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, or EFNEP, and the Complementary Nutrition Education Program, or SNAP-Ed. People can enroll at any time and have one year to complete the course.
Abigail Rose is a SNAP-Ed educator from the University of Illinois Extension who was new to her job when she completed the course in 2020. “The course was very informative and I liked how we were able to apply what we were learning in the workbook,” she says. “Overall, I found the course very beneficial and ultimately helped get PSE work to start clicking into my brain!”
“The course was groundbreaking when it launched because there wasn’t a lot of continuing education available on this topic,” Paddock said. “It’s a mindset shift for nutrition educators and a way to look at community health from a new perspective. Educators have to invest a lot of time to change policies, systems, or environments, but the hope is that they make lasting changes that benefit people in their communities.
For more information or to register for “Infant and Young Child Feeding Programming”, go to https://agora.unicef.org/. For more information or to sign up for “Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice”, please visit https://ecornell.com/pse.