Learners' experience and perceived impact of a health literacy program in adult basic education: a qualitative study

Danielle M Muscat, Suzanne Morony, Don Nutbeam, Julie Ayre, Heather L Shepherd, Sian K Smith, Haryana M Dhillon, Andrew Hayen, Karen Luxford, Wedyan Meshreky, Kirsten McCaffery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives and importance of the study: Adult literacy programs aim to empower learners to participate more effectively in everyday life. This includes programs with health content embedded in curricula to target health literacy. Adult learners who attend these programs represent a heterogeneous population, but include a high proportion of hard-to-reach or socially disadvantaged groups in terms of age, ethnicity, educational background, language and prevalence of learning disabilities. In 2014, we conducted a cluster-randomised controlled trial of a health literacy program in adult basic education classes across New South Wales, Australia. This paper reports findings from a qualitative study exploring learners' experience of the course and its perceived impact on their lives, as well as their understanding and confidence about health.

STUDY TYPE: Qualitative interview study.

METHOD: We conducted semistructured interviews as part of the evaluation of the 18-week health literacy program, with participants purposively recruited from six health literacy classes (n = 22). Researchers trained in qualitative methods interviewed adult learners either face to face or over the phone using a topic guide. Data was analysed using the Framework method, a matrix-based approach to thematic analysis.

RESULTS: The majority of interviewees were female, lived in metropolitan areas and were from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Most had existing self-reported health problems and inadequate functional health literacy. Most participants described positive impacts of the health literacy course on their language, literacy and numeracy skills, functional health literacy skills, and health knowledge. They also reported being able to translate this into health actions including interacting with providers, accessing and using healthcare, and managing health and illness (e.g. making healthier food choices). Learners also described positive social outcomes of the course, including feelings of connectedness and interpersonal trust within a new network of learners, and reported sharing new knowledge with others in their communities.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings add value to existing limited evidence that has demonstrated the untapped potential of adult basic education to develop health literacy skills among socially disadvantaged groups. Learners valued the opportunity to share experiences in structured group learning, and reported confidence to transfer new knowledge into their home and wider social network.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere29231909
JournalPublic Health Research & Practice
Issue number2
Early online date29 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2020


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