The shift to a knowledge information society has given rise to a need for lifelong learning programmes. Such programmes are especially relevant for public health professionals, whose dynamic field of practice is subject to changes due to rapidly developing technologies, evolving expectations of the labour market and new health treats. Lifelong learning programmes for public health should address topics like planning, organisation, leadership, teamwork and research methods, and schools of public health should introduce innovative educational approaches that enable professionals to learn from the experiences of others.

This paper describes the rationale for the development of a European online problem-based course on leadership for public health professionals in Europe, the first pilot evaluation and its impact on the final shape of the course.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an excellent approach for a course focused on lifelong learning, because it stimulates constructive, collaborative, and self-directed learning from authentic problems that are relevant to professional practice, and thereby facilitates the transfer of knowledge. Blended learning, which combines face-to-face and online learning, provides new opportunities for working professionals, enabling participation in international student teams and attendance of lectures by international experts without the need to travel. This makes blended problem-based learning a highly effective and efficient learning strategy for continuing professional development.

The paper presents a structure for an online pilot leadership course underpinned by a review of the literature and developed and implemented by an international collaboration of four European universities. The curriculum consisted of eight sessions. Each session was developed and offered by a different university center. Two first sessions were delivered face-to-face and the other sessions were online. The seven-step approach of Maastricht University was suitable for a blended mode of PBL. Twelve public health professionals for NHS took part in the course and final evaluation. They found it difficult to use online communication tools for learning and professional activities. Based on the results of the pilot the leadership course was adapted. The training at the beginning was extended with information on behaviour during online sessions. Online practice sessions were integrated before the course. The problems were reformulated and build around a common theme.

Educational institutions who would like to embark on a similar project, should consider complexities related to coordination, development and implementation of such a complex educational practice.