BILLIONAIRE US philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates are backing research by Glasgow Caledonian University.

In a link up with Ivy League University Harvard, the Glasgow academics plan to research how people study online.

The scheme has been given £15,500 from the Microsoft magnate's charity to investigate how millions of people worldwide study on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Professor Allison Littlejohn, Director of the Caledonian Academy, gained experience teaching on a MOOC course in 2011.

She said: "It's is a new type of environment and so we want to understand how health professionals go about learning while working in that context.

"We need to find out what they do to learn and are specifically interested in how they self-regulate their learning."

"Work roles are evolving rapidly so learning for work has to be personalised and self-regulated. Yet, organisations have not taken advantage of social technologies to support self-regulated learning.

"MOOCs present a potentially useful way forward, but little is known about learning in these environments."

Glasgow Caledonian University will work with Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Catalyst.

The research results will be used to improve access to high quality learning for professionals in countries where opportunities to study are limited.

It is hoped this would then help MOOCs have a huge impact on improving healthcare provision.

Researchers will explore how health staff go about their learning while studying on the course, which is available online rather than through classroom-based lectures.

The study will end in April 2014, with results reported to the Gates Foundation in December this year and May 2014.

Several high-profile initiatives have been set up in the US and UK over the past two years to deliver MOOCs.

US providers boast more than five million students.

Edinburgh and London International Universities already have around 500,000 students studying 10 courses.