Online education is increasingly used to train health professionals, but little is known about how variations in cost affect use of elective training. We assessed whether offering registration for free increased the number of modules consumed in both absolute terms (# modules consumed per person, pp) and relative terms (# modules consumed per # modules registered).Methods:
We analyzed results of the ‘natural experiment’ on learner's use of the OSU Center for Integrative Health and Wellness online elective curriculum, Introduction Herbs and Dietary Supplements Across the Lifespan, in which costs varied based on monthly discounts for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of selected professional associations.Results:
Over 7 months there were a total of 905 registrants for 8553 modules. Most (847/905, 94%) registered for free; they completed 1505 (18%) of 8344 modules for which they registered. Fewer (58/905, 6%) people paid for registration; they completed a significantly higher percentage 90/209 (43%, P < 0.001) of modules for which they registered; those who paid full, non-discount rates had the highest completion rates (62%, P < 0.001). Free and paid registrants completed about the same average number of modules per person, pp, (1.8 pp free vs.1.6 pp paid).Conclusion:
Although it may not contribute to financial margins, offering free online elective training addresses the institutional mission of increasing the number health professionals trained and the number of modules consumed compared with charging for training. Additional research is needed to determine the impact of pricing on educational outcomes and ultimately on patient care.