Improving Health Literacy Through Self-Directed Learning

As noted in a previous post, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to creating materials for health education. However, I think that creating materials that support self-directed learning is one good approach.

What is self-directed learning?

In self-directed learning (SDL), learners own their own learning process and determine their own learning needs, goals, and priorities. Instructors act as facilitators to support learners as they gain increasing familiarity with a learning environment and develop increasing independence. SDL can occur any time and any place. Informal learning is a type of SDL. However, SDL also can occur in more formal settings or with more formal structures. For example, SDL can be complemented by an elearning course.

The four dimensions of SDL

According to Candy (1995), there are four dimensions to self-directed learning:

  1. Personal autonomy
  2. Self-management
  3. Learner control
  4. Independent pursuit of learning

Metacognition plays an important role in SDL since learners monitor and adjust their own learning strategies. This doesn’t imply that we let learners sink or swim.  Instructors play an important role in modeling and supporting metacognitive processes.

The importance of motivation

Presenting the facts clearly and correctly is not enough when developing educational materials relating to health (though it’s an important part of it). Motivation plays an important role.

When it comes to health education, it’s probably safe to assume that many arrive motivated when they access learning resources/Web sites, but learning resources may not do a great job of keeping them motivated. Instructional materials have to link what is being taught to learners’ personal goals. All the basic considerations relating to motivation apply including:

Although the principles described by Pink are generally applied to workplace learning, they’re readily  adapted to learning outside of the workplace, and more specifically to learning about health, as summarized below.

Autonomy
People like to be able to do their own thing, especially when they’re learning because they want to. Health resources need to provide a variety of ways for learners to obtain information and experience learning (e.g., through presentations in different media styles, through storytelling, scenarios, games, problem-based learning, etc).  Forcing a learner to proceed linearly through learning materials generally will not be successful, though learners may appreciate having some linearly organized materials as an option.

Mastery
People like to get better at what they’re doing; they like the satisfaction of mastering challenges.  Health resources need to support concrete skill development. For example, health Web sites should help individuals adapt resources for their own use in doctor visits, facilitate  more effective online research skills, and help them develop their own personal learning networks for health (which includes access to both experts and peers).

Purpose
People like to see the meaning behind what they’re doing. Health resources need to be relevant and enduring in a variety of settings (e.g., supporting problem-solving skills as well as providing access to knowledge).

Your learners are diverse

As you might imagine, people will have different levels of readiness for self-directed learning. Readiness can depend on a variety of factors such as age, culturebasic health literacy skills, and the learner’s experiences with the health care system (e.g., the learner’s perception of the value of his or her voice and understanding in changing outcomes).

It may seem impossible to address all of the varying needs in a single course/Web site and odds are you won’t be able to completely.  However, by providing tiered levels of resources (e.g., for those with beginner, intermediate, and advanced skills), supporting  a system of peer and community-leader mentoring (e.g., through discussion forums), and using scaffolded course/site design, you can make some headway.

More about scaffolding in the next post.

Reference
Candy, P.C. (1991). Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

3 responses to “Improving Health Literacy Through Self-Directed Learning

  1. Pingback: Supporting Self-Directed Learning | Instructional Design Fusions

  2. Pingback: mHealth and Patient Education for the 83% | Instructional Design Fusions

  3. Pingback: A STEPP Approach to Health Literacy and 25 Resources to Get Started | Instructional Design Fusions

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