Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 9 - April 2012
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Tobacco training course without the exam pressure makes learning fun


By Mel Lefebvre


Starting a new job always has its challenges, especially when one is entering the acronym-loaded world of tobacco control. I was provided a gentle landing when taking up a new role as Editor-in-Chief of Tobacco Info and Info-tabac, thanks to an online training course that prepared me to engage in casual tobacco-related conversation with my new co-workers, in addition to demonstrating how impressively far-reaching the tobacco control community is.


The four-module course, offered by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit (OTRU), gives students a full-scale overview of tobacco: its effects on our health, techniques the tobacco industry uses to make itself more appealing, prevention and cessation techniques, and an in-depth look at program evaluation. The course is divided into manageable segments, full of real-life illustrations of struggles with tobacco and enjoyable quizzes and exercises that lets users’ minds wrap around the fundamentals of tobacco control.


“It’s a course that’s meant to train people in the Canadian health community – people starting out in tobacco control or those who need background information for a clinical setting,” says Michael Chaiton, OTRU’s senior research associate. “It’s meant to cover the pillars of tobacco control: prevention, cessation, protection, and we offer a fourth module in evaluation.”


The course isn’t restricted to those in tobacco control. Interested students need simply register and begin after receipt of a confirmation email. It’s free and accessible any time online, in English and French, and there is no time limit or obligation to complete all four modules.


Over 7,000 participants have enrolled in the course since its inception in 2006. “We were surprised to see how much interest there was for knowledge on tobacco. We weren’t expecting this many people would take it,” says Chaiton, who initially hoped the course would reach between five-hundred  and one thousand people. The ease-of-access and multimedia approach OTRU used to create the course contributes to a learning environment that puts an emphasis on the learning process rather than the pressure to get a good final grade, which was a relief coming from a competitive academic background.


The training modules were a project led by Joanna Cohen, a principal investigator at OTRU and the director of the Institute of Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. According to Chaiton, Cohen was “Really interested in teaching and training, and there was a real need for a course – a means for health professionals working in the tobacco field. It can be overwhelming coming in and having to jump in the conversation. It can’t be expected for people to take a whole course or do a masters.”


The course presents professionals with a concise and appealing way of becoming acquainted with a field of such enormity and gravity, which was greatly appreciated coming from a personal perspective of simply detesting cigarettes without knowing all the facts.


Chaiton and the OTRU team are hoping to get the course accredited, which would help interested students fulfill academic credentials while giving the program more permanent footing. It might also help with one of the program’s biggest challenges: securing the funding needed to improve and update the course based on user feedback. “It’s a need of the community,” says Chaiton. Without the OTRU course, learning how to navigate the field of tobacco control may have been an intimidating experience rather than a welcoming one.

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