Teach through a variety of education methods

Assess knowledge and tailor information to audience

Question: "What is the best method for teaching groups of people? What teaching techniques should be used? How do you make sure that the information is clear and understood by all present?"

Answer: There are several ways to present information to a large group, says Barbara Hebert Snyder, MPH, CHES, president of Making Change, a health education consulting firm in Cleveland. The formal lecture method works well if combined with such teaching aids as slides, overheads, or videos to keep the attention of participants. To be more effective, everyone in the audience must be able to see and hear the information. Speakers should use a microphone to ensure everyone can hear.

Another option is to have a panel of speakers present information. The panel can be composed of patients living with the health problem being addressed, clinicians working in that area of health care, or a combination of both. A facilitator often fields questions from the audience and directs them to the appropriate panel member.

Group discussion is also a good teaching method. The audience can be divided into small groups by drawing color-coded items from a bag, counting off, or by self-selecting. Each group is given an issue or question to discuss. A facilitator monitors and helps the groups as needed, then asks for a report from each group to be shared with the others. A combination of these teaching methods are also effective. "There's no single best method," says Hebert Snyder.

Susan Karlins, MPH, director of health education at Santa Clara Family Health Plan in San Jose, CA, says, "It's a good idea to use a variety of teaching techniques so that everyone's individual learning needs are met. Also, be sure to include interactive teaching techniques." For example, a video might be followed by a focused discussion to make sure that everyone understood the key points. Studies have shown that people remember 10% of what they read, 50% of what they hear and see, and 90% of what they do, explains Karlins.

Whatever method you use to deliver the information, make sure you tailor the presentation to your audience. Before designing a curriculum, take time to conduct a brief needs assessment to determine what participants know about the subject being taught and what they want to know, advises Karlins. The assessment also will help you gain a better understanding of the knowledge level and attitudes of the audience.

"The needs assessment doesn't have to be formal, expensive, or time-consuming," says Karlins. For example, if the group education is a community outreach effort for the purpose of educating families about bicycle safety, then draft a few questions. They might include:

· What does "bicycle safety" mean to you?

· How important is bike safety?

· What do you want your children, friends, or family to know about bike safety?

· Are you aware of any laws about bike safety? If so, what?

Visit a clinic waiting room, find a few parents who have children who ride bicycles, and ask them to fill out the short survey.

It's also possible to do a quick assessment during a group class. In a discharge class for patients who have had major organ transplants, nurse educators at Fairview-University Medical Center in Minneapolis ask questions to find out what patients already know. They do this periodically, throughout the group teaching session, says Judy Peterzen, RN, BSN, a nurse educator at the Patient Learning Center.

For example, before the section on avoiding infections is covered, patients are asked to name some of the ways they can avoid infection at home. Asking questions involves patients and helps rejuvenate the class. Also, it gives the instructor an idea of how much the patients already know, says Peterzen.

Whatever teaching methods are used, organize the information so that only important information is covered. "Making sure that the information is relevant and meaningful to the audience keeps peoples' attention," says Peterzen.

Determine key messages or educational objectives that you want your audience to accomplish, agrees Karlins. Reinforce the key messages throughout the teaching session.

"Give participants hard copies of all slides, overheads, or lecture notes to reinforce the points and help them recall the information after the session is over," says Hebert Snyder. If the audience is bilingual, have handouts available in all relevant languages. Also, provide paper and pencils or pens so participants can take notes.

To make sure that no one in the audience leaves confused, leave time at the end of the class to work with individuals if needed. "We always build a little extra time into our classes to talk to people individually if they have anything they want to discuss," says Peterzen.