Personalized and community supported health education

How to teach a billion people to self-treat their illnesses

Tarmo Toikkanen
Aug 8, 2016 · 5 min read
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Personalized Learning Paths

The main challenge in providing support for healthy behavior is that since a disease may befall anyone, the people who need help with self-management of their condition are very heterogeneous. Some may be medical professionals, while others may not be literate. Therefore, effective education must conform to very different needs and settings.


A key goal of any health education programme is to have as many of the patients keep following the treatment protocol, and not drop out or slack off. Most research studies in self-treatment education focus explicitly on motivation, and often use techniques that are possible in research settings, such as patient self-selection to participate, motivational interviews, intensive monitoring, and other means, which might not be available in normal day-to-day health education programs (see e.g. [6]).

Rollout: Top-down and Bottom-up

A viable method of providing education and support to a whole nation is the top-down method or the snowballing method, where first a few high level professionals are trained into a core team. They then proceed to train health professional teams in various districts and areas, who in turn will train the rest of their health staff in their location, who in turn will provide education and support to patients. This model has worked well in many situations, including rolling out diabetes care and education in Ghana.[3]


Health education has the challenge of effecting permanent habit changes in a wide and heterogeneous population. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes are affecting a growing portion of the global population, so self-treatment must be available to everyone. Combining generic content with personalized coaching and tutoring is effective, and continued monitoring and support is needed to keep patients motivated to continue their self-treatment. Getting support from family members and local communities are a crucial part of the social support each patient needs. The LifeLearn Platform aims to provide technology-enhanced ways of bringing personalized training, continued support and feedback to every patient, as well as helping grow communities for teachers and learners alike. LifeLearn will provide gamification mechanics to all its skill paths, and will support feedback and reporting by the patient that can also be used in self-monitoring of illnesses and reporting to the health organization or to friends and family. Patterns in reporting can be used to customize the learning path in various ways. LifeLearn will build on MyData principles, allowing the user to choose what information they share with whom.


1. Fireman, P., Friday, G. A., Gira, C., Vierthaler, W. A., & Michaels, L. (1981). Teaching self-management skills to asthmatic children and their parents in an ambulatory care setting. Pediatrics, 68(3), 341–8. Retrieved from

About the Author

Tarmo Toikkanen is Chief Learning Scientist at LifeLearn Platform. He has over a decade of research experience in the fields of learning environments, participatory design, and educational psychology. His passion is to save the world by helping people learn and teach in better ways. This article is part of a series to explain LifeLearn Platform’s ideas on learning.


Sharing Economy of Skills

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