Adult Health Learning: A Critical Approach to Informal Learning about Health

Adult Health Learning: A Critical Approach to Informal Learning about Health

Leona M. English (St. Francis Xavier University, Canada)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8265-8.ch012
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This chapter develops the practice and theory of adult health learning, a unique and critical approach to informal learning about health in the community. The author takes the position that a collective analysis of power, ideology, and resistance is important to addressing inequities in health, and that the adult educator has a strategic role in facilitating informal learning and change around the many factors that affect health including geography, economy, employment, and transportation. The chapter details many of the contributions that adult education can bring to an understanding and practice of informal learning for health.
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Focus On Adult Learning And Health

Often it takes an event of catastrophic proportions to make citizens wake up to the social issues that are causing them to be sick or experience a less than thriving existence. This catastrophe might be high rates of cancer in a geographic area, an oil spill that kills marine life, or the sudden closure of a major employer such as a fish plant or a pulp and paper mill. Residents are often then stirred to determine the cause, investigate the effects and take action. They begin to see that without employment or without attention to the larger socio-economic and environmental context in which they live, they cannot be healthy. The motivation to learn and take action on these factors is accelerated by the disorienting event, and as a result community members begin to see the issues as part of the big picture of healthy living. Such transformative learning events are often catalysts for learning and for movement building. Yet, little of this learning involves schools or official teachers—indeed, it is mostly informal.

In other cases, high rates of cardiac disease or diabetes, as with the First Nations in Canada, might lead a community to get together to talk about and address obesity, death rates, diets, food security and employment (Read, 2009). In the storytelling that is often part of this response to a threat, residents build social capital and cohesion, analyse their issues and begin taking action. They come to see the quality of life in their communities as multifaceted and, yet, within their control. In many ways, they become aware of and responsive to the theory of social determinants of health (SDOH), or the notion that our health, whether individual or collective, is affected by an array of factors beyond basic biology or genetic makeup (Coady, 2013; Raphael, 2008b). At the heart of this awareness of the social determinants of health are adult and informal learning principles. These principles have long set the basis for understanding the importance of groups, community knowledge and dialogue. Within the social movement learning literature (English & Mayo, 2012; Hall & Clover, 2005; Hall, Clover, Crowther, & Scandrett, 2012), the social determinants of health play a fulsome role in the quest for a more vibrant life for all.

This chapter brings together many of these adult education insights and integrates them into an understanding of how healthy communities are created through a complex process of informal learning. The term adult health learning (AHL) is used to describe this approach which is grounded in a critical understanding of health learning and education that aims to transform and reform communities (English, 2012). The focus is on the everyday ways that we come to learn about health.

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