Open Access Research article

Collaborative learning about e-health for mental health professionals and service users in a structured anonymous online short course: pilot study

Emily J Ashurst1, Ray B Jones1*, Graham R Williamson1, Tobit Emmens2 and Jon Perry1

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Health, Education and Society, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon, PL4 8AA, UK

2 Research and Development, Devon Partnership NHS Trust, Wonford House Hospital, Dryden Road, Exeter, EX2 5AF, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2012, 12:37  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-12-37

Published: 31 May 2012



Professionals are interested in using e-health but implementation of new methods is slow. Barriers to implementation include the need for training and limited awareness or experience. Research may not always convince mental health professionals (MHPs). Adding the 'voice' of mental health service users (MHSUs) in collaborative learning may help. Involving MHSUs in face-face education can be difficult. We had previously been unable to engage MHPs in online discussion with MHSUs. Here we assessed the feasibility of short online courses involving MHSUs and MHPs.


We ran three e-health courses, comprising live interactive webcast, week’s access to a discussion forum, and final live interactive webcast. We recruited MHPs via posters, newsletters, and telephone from a local NHS trust, and online via mailing lists and personal contacts from NHS trusts and higher education. We recruited MHSUs via a previous project and an independent user involvement service. Participants were presented with research evidence about e-health and asked to discuss topics using professional and lived experience. Feasibility was assessed through recruitment and attrition, participation, and researcher workloads. Outcomes of self-esteem and general self-efficacy (MHSUs), and Internet self-efficacy and confidence (MHPs) were piloted.


Online recruiting was effective. We lost 15/41 from registration to follow-up but only 5/31 that participated in the course failed to complete follow-up. Nineteen MHPs and 12 MHSUs took part and engaged with each other in online discussion. Feedback was positive; three-quarters of MHPs indicated future plans to use the Internet for practice, and 80% of MHSUs felt the course should be continued. Running three courses for 31 participants took between 200 to 250 hours. Before and after outcome measures were completed by 26/31 that participated. MHP Internet self-efficacy and general Internet confidence, MHSU self-esteem and general self-efficacy, all seemed reliable and seemed to show some increase.


Collaborative learning between MHSUs and MHPs in a structured online anonymous environment over a one-week course is feasible, may be more practical and less costly than face-face methods, and is worthy of further study.