Plain Language in Health Literacy

Health literacy refers to the set of skills people need to find, understand and use information to maintain good health. People with low health literacy—roughly half of all adults in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand—have more hospitalizations, poorer overall health and higher mortality rates compared with people with adequate health literacy. Unfortunately, much of the available health information is highly technical, jargon filled and inappropriate for those with low health literacy.

Applying plain language principles to simplify technical medical language and clarify health-related documents can make health information more accessible to all users. This course will not only help you use plain language to create effective health communications for your intended audience but will also highlight important cultural and ethical issues to consider as you develop your message.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - Iva Cheung $370.00 29 Register
Online - - TBD $370.00 30 Register

Instructional hours: 10


Schedule clarification: This course begins on the first date listed and ends six days after the last date listed. Between those times, you work at your own pace within the timelines set by the instructor.

What will I learn?

On completion of the course, you will be able to:

  • Define health literacy and explain how it relates to general literacy (as well as scientific, cultural and civic literacy)
  • Describe the main characteristics and interests of the people and organizations producing and receiving health information
  • Identify situations in which plain language can improve health literacy
  • Explain the ethical issues relevant to health communication
  • Find credible sources of health information and work with subject-matter experts to create your health message
  • Correct the most common problems in health communication that can make it intimidating and confusing.

How will I learn?

Prepare to spend six to 10 hours per week on coursework, including:

  • Weekly course modules accessed through Canvas
  • Group assignments
  • Independent writing assignments
  • Extra reading
  • Online research and discussion groups

Course materials will be available 24/7, and assignment deadlines will be posted well in advance, allowing you to set your own pace for learning.

How will I be evaluated?

Evaluation methods may vary, but you will be evaluated using standard university evaluation approaches, such as a combination of examinations, projects, labs, papers, case studies, assignments and individual and group participation. An A to F letter grading scale will be used. To qualify for a certificate, you must successfully complete the program courses with an overall minimum B average.

Textbooks and learning materials

You are responsible for purchasing the required course text, available in print or e-book format.

All other course materials will be provided online.

Required text:

Osborne, H. Health Literacy From A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message. 2nd Ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011. ISBN 978-1947937130 (e-book available)

Hardware and software requirements 

We deliver this course using SFU's online course management system, Canvas. You will receive course details and Canvas access instructions on the first day of the course. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.

New to online learning? See About Online Learning for helpful videos and additional information.

English language requirements

To succeed in this course, you will need an advanced level of written and spoken English. If you are unsure whether your English language skills are sufficient, we recommend you complete the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) with the following minimums:

  • Overall band score minimum 6.5
  • No band below 6.0
  • Writing band score minimum 8.0

Please note we can’t refund your registration fees after the course start date if you find your English language skills are not adequate.

If you have questions or concerns about your English language proficiency, we encourage you to contact your local IELTS Test Centre.

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