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The title of this course is Health Literacy for Social Work Professionals. It will be an introduction and overview of health literacy to social work professionals working in the health care arena. The content will cover four key aspects of health literacy: the problem, societal impact, contributing factors and strategies for enhancing health literacy. The purpose of the course is to inform health social workers about the problem of low literacy, affected parties, societal impact and provide proven strategies to enhance client health literacy and foster client empowerment.

Topics include:

What is Health Literacy and what is its Society Impact?

Key Factors of Health Literacy

Health Literacy Strategies for Empowering Clients

Learning Outcomes

Learners in the course will be able to:

Define key concepts of health literacy (Intellectual Skill and Verbal Information)

Identify factors contributing to low literacy (Intellectual Skill and Verbal Information)

Identify strategies to assess client health literacy (Cognitive Skill and Intellectual Skill)

Create strategies to use with clients (Cognitive Skill and Intellectual Skill)

Apply strategies to enhance health literacy (Cognitive Skill and Intellectual Skill)

Choose to use strategies in their work with clients (Attitude)

Needs Assessment

Instructional Problem

Low literacy is a major social concern in the United States. The responsibility of increasing health literacy is shared by health professionals, consumers, the government and society. Social workers share a significant amount of the burden. There is a need for an educational training program for social work professionals who lack the health literacy knowledge and resources needed to work effectively with clients.

Nature of what is to be learned

Social work and human service professionals will effectively learn about the key facets of health literacy and health literacy strategies to use in work with clients to empower them to increase their health literacy.


Course participants are community-based health social workers or human service professionals working as health care managers or coordinators. At minimal they have at a Bachelor’s degree in social work or human service related fields. Most have master’s degrees in social work (MSWs) or human services. They are employed at a large managed care organization in New York City that provides home-based care management to people with chronic conditions. Participant length of time employed in the field may vary, but all are familiar with working on computers, navigating and using the internet and social work interventions. They are taking the course as part of a pilot program the agency is offering in an effort to increase health literacy among their social work staff and clients. Participation is voluntary and those who enroll are motivated to do so.

Instructional Content

The content for this course was design using a constructivist framework. It is student-centered and incorporates active learning and problems solving strategies. The course is made up of four units that follow the same format. With the exception of the first unit which is an orientation to the course, each unit will: start with case study that will continue throughout the course, be followed by overview of the learning objectives for the unit using a mini-lecture format. Each unit will have a few learning and engagement activities specifically, viewing and reading materials in the form of videos, articles and presentations. The units will also have discussions through a course discussion blog and a health literacy tool building activity. Units 2-4 will contain an additional ongoing health literacy strategy building activity and in unit 5 they will role-play in a virtual learning environment. All units conclude with a reflection activity.

Explore the instructional problem and solution

Through various activities, learners will explore the effects of low health literacy when strategies and interventions are not used when working with a client. They will assess “clients” presenting with low literacy, the importance of health literacy interventions, effective strategies to use and their role in the process.

Course Goals

The primary goals for this mini-course is for social work practitioners to gain understanding of health literacy, underlying issues, the societal and individual impacts. Develop and use effective strategies provided in the course and apply them in real world situations in their practice with clients.

Performance Objectives

By the end of the course, learners should be able to:

  • Describe and define key concepts of health literacy and differentiate them from concepts that are not health literacy.
  • Discuss the role of culture and communication in health literacy.
  • Identify and use proven health strategies to formally assess client health literacy needs.
  • Effectively communicate health literacy content with clients.
  • Select appropriate strategies to work with clients with low literacy.
  • Implement inventions using proven health literacy strategies.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of health literacy interventions.

Task Analysis

Unit 1:


1. Learners will actively engage in orientation activities.

2. Learners will understand how to navigate the course

3. Learners will understand course prerequisites

4. Learners will understand how to create avatars and navigate a virtual learning environment

Unit 2

What is Health Literacy and its Societal Impact?

1. Learners will understand health literacy and the societal impact

2. Learners will understand the social worker role in identifying clients health literacy needs

3. Learners will develop an informal health literacy assessment tool

Unit 3

Key Factors of Health Literacy

1. Learners will understand the impact of culture and communication on health literacy

2. Learners will understand ways to communicate with diverse and low literate clients

3. Learners will develop a communication health literacy tool

Unit 4

Health Literacy Strategies for Empowering Clients

1. Learners will understand client empowerment health literacy strategies

2. Learners will identify two strategies to educate clients about health literacy

3. Learners will evaluate how health literacy strategies are being used at their agency

Curriculum Map

Please click on the following link to view the curriculum map for this mini-course. File:Agomes curriculum map final.pdf

References and Resources

Center for Health Care Strategies (2013). What is health literacy? Retrieved from

Androus, M. & Roth, M. (2009). Health literacy: A literature review. Pharmacotherapy, 22(3): 282-302.

Davis, T. C., Wolf, M. S., Bass, P. F., Middlebrooks, M., Kennen, E., Baker, D. W., Bennett, C. L., Durazo-Arvizu, R., Bocchini, A., Savory, S. and Parker, R. M. (2006), Low Literacy Impairs Comprehension of Prescription Drug Warning Labels. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 21: 847–851.

The Institute of Medicine. Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion Report.

Joint Commission. (2007). Improving health literacy.

Liechty, J.M. (2011). Health literacy: Critical opportunities for social work leadership. Health and Social Work, 36(2):99-107.


Course Home Page Health Literacy for Social Work Professionals

Class Home Page ETAP 623 Spring 2015 taught by Byrne