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Center for Health Literacy Promotion Blog

Promoting Health Literacy with Beginnings Guides Part 13 Motivation to Learn

Adults learn to solve a problem they have now
Motivation to learn depends in part on the person’s skills, and more on the information. Adults learn in order to solve a problem they have now. Another way to say it: literacy skills always are used for a practical purpose. 
 
I’ll never forget a brochure titled How to Care for Your Son’s Penis,  a topic many a new mom has wondered about and few have been willing to ask about.  So intended readers will be motivated to open the brochure. So far so good.
 
Health literacy...
the cognitive and social skills that determine a person’s motivation and ability to access, understand and use information is ways that maintain or enhance health.

Facts do not motivate
The brochure would fail a SAM review on many counts discussed earlier in this series, each of which puts a damper on readers’ motivation to read and learn and take action.  But here’s the big sin: the six-panel brochure uses five and a half panels to describe and illustrate the details of the penis, it structure, functions and properly named parts.
 
None of it tells the mom what she wants to know.
 
None of the dense narrative of facts motivates her to adopt the desired behavior -which is yet to be mentioned. In fact, this information is discouraging and disempowering.  It overwhelms the reader with the author’s knowledge, leaving her feeling like she can never learn what she needs to know to take care of her child. It makes her unnecessarily dependent on The One Who Knows. It takes up her time and leaves her with nothing she can use, no action she can decide to take or not.
 
How to... motivates
The last sentence on the back panel  of the brochure says, “The best course is to leave it alone.” 
 
There is no need for the rest of the brochure. That’s all she needs to know.  A clinician could tell her that in less time than it takes to hand her the brochure, and a lot less time than it would take her to wade through the irrelevant gobbledygook. 
 
We are motivated to read and learn from information that is clearly and immediately relevant; AND that describes in specific familiar concrete terms the actions that will solve the problem that motivated us to seek information in the first place.
 
As long as the desired behavior feels doable. On this point, the offending brochure gets a high score. “Leave it alone” is specific and doable.
 
SAM - the Suitability Assessment of Materials,gives a Superior rating to materials that describe and show specific behaviors and skills and that subdivide complex topics so readers feel confident and ready to take action step by step.  Like this page from Beginnings Parent’s Guide


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