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.

Instructional hours: 10


Location: Online
Format: Self-paced within deadlines set by instructor
Duration: 4 weeks
Tuition: $370
Can be applied to:
Plain Language Certificate

Upcoming Offerings

Register for a course at any time, with the option to apply to a program later.

Start Date
Seats Available
Start DateTue, May 7, 2024
  • Tue, May 7 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, May 14 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, May 21 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, May 28 (self-paced all week)
InstructorIva Cheung
Seats Available0
Start DateTue, Sep 24, 2024
  • Tue, Sep 24 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Oct 1 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Oct 8 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Oct 15 (self-paced all week)
InstructorIva Cheung
Seats Available23
Start DateTue, May 13, 2025
  • Tue, May 13 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, May 20 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, May 27 (self-paced all week)
  • Tue, Jun 3 (self-paced all week)
Seats Available4

What you will learn

After completing this course, you’ll be able to do the following:

  • 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 you will learn and be evaluated

Prepare to spend 6-10 hours per week on coursework, including:

  • Readings
  • Assignments
  • Online discussions

You will be evaluated on:

  • Participation in discussions
  • Quizzes
  • Assignments

Learning Materials

Course fees do not include textbooks. We recommend you purchase your textbook as soon as you’ve registered. We will provide additional course materials online.

Recommended text:

Osborne, H. Health Literacy From A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, 3rd Edition. Aviva Publishing, 2022. ISBN 978-1636181752. Also available as e-book.

You can also purchase previous editions of this textbook for the course.

Technical Requirements

For online courses, you will need a computer with audio and microphone that is connected to the internet. Canvas is the online system that will be used for the course. For more information and online support, visit Online Learning.

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.