When you have a question about your health, where do you turn first?
Chances are the answer is: online. In fact, about 1 billion people use Google for their health-related questions every single day, which is about 7% of all Google search traffic.
But the challenges of finding information this way are becoming clearer by the day. A quick Google search on "diet for kidney disease" returns 2.5 billion results. The good news: it’s everything you could possibly need. The bad news: it’s everything you need plus billions of distracting, stressful results you most certainly do not need, not to mention how easy it is to overlook the fact that the first 4 results are advertistments.
The challenges we face.
The internet makes information easily accessible, but in today's ads-driven, everything-on-demand maelstrom, that comes with a few challenges.
First, it is often hard to separate relevant information from misinformation, disinformation, or information that is accurate but not actually relevant to your personal situation.
Second, even relevant information is often not presented at your personal level of understanding, especially in new and complex topics like your health. If you don’t have foundational knowledge, new concepts can be difficult to incorporate. (This topic, health literacy, will be addressed in depth next week)
Third, even when presented at the appropriate level, our attention can decrease if we spend too long focused on a single topic or resource.
Finally, even when you obtain information (for example, you get a perfect score on the test about what you just learned), we naturally forget that information over time. It’s not just you, it’s how we’re wired.
As this list of challenges suggests, a possible solution is not in the content itself, but rather in the delivery of that content.
Based on what we know about billions of people and decades of research, we can imagine a better way to solve these challenges. It would look something like this:
Knowing what you need: we would need a process for filtering information that is most (and least) relevant to you. To filter in what you need; and filter out what you do not. Then, we would need a way to assess your level of health literacy and combine this knowledge with the relevant information we have already filtered. At this point we will be able to start building a relevant foundation of knowledge just for you.
Knowing what you know: to overcome our brain-based challenges, we can use proven techniques from learning science to deliver the information to you in a way that “sticks”. Spaced microlearning (5 to 10 minutes at a time) keeps information within your working memory and attention span. We will follow this up by testing and target retraining (what you know, what needs more work) to ensure that your foundational knowledge is solid as we add layers of knowledge on to it.
Find your middle ground.
Imagine how much different your response would be the next time you had a question about your health. Without endless searching, you would save time, stress, and feel more in control between your doctor’s visits. The bottom line is we should not have to choose between accessible information (online) and relevant information (at your doctor’s visit).
There is a possible solution in between these extremes, one that is accessible and relevant, and it is made possible by personalizing the delivery of information for each of us. We have ourselves an accessibility problem with a delivery solution, and learning science is the key that will help us get there.
Our next few posts will dive further into learning science: the what, how and why it all works plus practical strategies you can use to learn faster, remember more and feel more confident along the way.