Key Traits of Effective Health Education Curriculum

November 6, 2019

Physically healthy people lead richer, more satisfying lives than their less healthy peers, according to a study by the U.S. government’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. That’s why health education is a primary component of any school or university’s general health science program.

A key objective of most health education curricula is to arm students with the necessary information and appropriate skill-sets to lead healthy and productive adult lives. These programs also provide foundational material for future health science professionals, helping prepare today’s students to serve as tomorrow’s doctors, nurses, and therapists.

A school’s health education curriculum is its main tool for providing students with information regarding the management and improvement of their personal health, as well as for helping instill them with a greater sense of social responsibility. Instituting and maintaining an effective health education curriculum, therefore, helps schools and colleges improve their students’ lives and futures.

What Are the Characteristics of an Effective Health Education Curriculum?

1. Provides students with easily accessible and repeatable information that focuses on health goals and behavioral outcomes

The best curriculum takes students on an educational journey that begins with what they already know and ends at a pre-identified destination. However, knowing about healthcare cannot replace actually leading a healthy lifestyle. So, when considering the ultimate aim of the course, health science curriculum developers need to determine both informational and behavioral outcomes.

Consequently, measurements and evaluations need to include both academic and behavioral assessments. By establishing the students’ academic destination in advance, an effective health science curriculum allows the instructor to determine appropriate markers of improvement throughout the course.

2. Helps teach risk factors associated with unhealthy practices, such as the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs

Students need to learn the benefits of health-enhancing activities, such as exercise or sleep, along with the positive outcomes of eliminating unhealthy activities. Currently, three million Americans aged 18-24 regularly smoke tobacco, a practice that directly causes 480,000 deaths each year.

A strong curriculum could help students see the negative effects of smoking and other risky behaviors. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health does this by offering for-credit coursework in tobacco control, and a number of K-12 schools are offering educational experiences about tobacco that include games, videos, and multimedia learning projects.

3. Derives its information from research-based and theory-driven sources

The best health education programs employ educational strategies proven to address the causes of unhealthy behaviors and nurture the skills needed to implement healthy ones. These programs use accepted behavioral and educational theories, such as the theory of planned behavior or the theory of change models.

The theory of planned behavior helps students understand links between beliefs and behaviors, while the theory of change helps inspire desired behavioral changes in a social context. By constructing their educational tools on proven research and theory, curriculum developers help instructors avoid learning activities that lack pedagogical benefits.

4. Addresses components of physical and social health while building core competency skills, such as self-efficacy and social responsibility

To adequately educate students on healthy living, a health education curriculum must do more than inform and inspire its participants. The curriculum must also equip students with the necessary skills to recognize healthy and unhealthy influences and to deal with those influences in effective ways. To do so, the curriculum needs to help students develop clear communication skills, personal goals, and effective self-management techniques.

Students also need to develop confidence and persuasion skills that can help them resist social pressure to engage in unhealthy behaviors. They need to gain the self-knowledge required to limit their exposure to situations that may result in undesirable outcomes. In an educational environment, instructors should have access to formal assessments to determine how well students have captured those behavioral components.

5. Incorporates a variety of culturally diverse teaching and learning methods

In modern America, students come from a wide array of linguistic, cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds. These backgrounds, combined with diverse skill sets, sexual orientations, and lived experiences, mean a single classroom can contain a wide variety of social identities. An effective health education curriculum, therefore, should create an inclusive learning environment by fostering a disability-inclusive approach, facilitating solutions to challenges through dialogue, and correcting stereotypes and biases.

Not only can a culturally sensitive curriculum improve the student experience, but it can also promote a more culturally aware healthcare workforce for the future. Issues stemming from a failure to accommodate diversity continue to plague healthcare, and future professionals in the sector can help solve this issue by understanding its impact early in their educational experiences.

6. Employs powerful, proven learning strategies that engage all students

Student-centered learning is effective learning.

“When a classroom operates with student-centered instruction, students and instructors share the focus,” say educators at Concordia University-Portland. “Instead of listening to the teacher exclusively, students and teachers interact equally. Group work is encouraged, and students learn to collaborate and communicate with one another.”

Student-centered learning strategies incorporate creative expression, personal sharing, and thoughtful engagement with new arguments. For example, student-centered learning could mean determining certain standards after meeting with students and community leaders in the healthcare field. The goal, in this case, would be to discover what is important in both students’ opinions and real-world settings.

7. Includes ongoing, robust professional development in health science education for teachers

Effective health science courses rely on engaged, knowledgeable instructors. Health educators at all levels need access to teacher guides, regularly updated course material, fresh articles on relevant topics, and professional development experiences. Teacher training events can provide outstanding opportunities for educators to learn from each other, ask questions, and provide feedback on the curriculum. Even skilled, experienced educators can find teaching rough without ongoing support, encouragement, and resources to help spur them on.

A health science education program can serve schools by equipping students with the skills they need to live healthier personal lives, as well as by introducing future workers to opportunities within the healthcare field. An effective health education curriculum focuses on behavioral choices as well as scientific knowledge, helping to cultivate a field of healthcare professionals that will take care of both patients and themselves.

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