Public Health Literacy and Community-Based Learning: Keys to Expanding Undergraduate Public Health Education


The national initiative, The Educated Citizen and Public Health, promotes that an understanding of public health issues is a central component of an educated public and is necessary to develop social responsibility. This initiative supports the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation that “all undergraduates should have access to education in public health.” Both of these movements are well-aligned with the philosophy of liberal education which recommends that baccalaureate students receive a wide breadth of knowledge, adaptable skills, principled values and a sense of societal responsibility. This chapter explores this new application of liberal education and its implications for key stakeholders in the learning community as it pertains to curriculum and pedagogy. First, the author defines and examines an integrative learning methodology for a course in the public health science of epidemiology. The author illustrates that an epidemiology course can serve as a conduit for creating a population of undergraduates who possess “life tools” based in a liberal education viewpoint that enables them to effectively respond to the challenges of their learning community. The professional skills obtained through such a course will not only result in an educated population but one who can think broadly, make informed decisions, and participate in community health issues. This integrative and relative course framework can serve as a model for other liberal arts institutions that are attempting to heed this call for an educated public via a theory and practice approach. Second, the value associated with community-based learning is well documented. Learning by doing is an effective teaching and learning pedagogy that is well established in the health sciences. To attract new fields and disciplines to the public health community learning movement, the author identifies and addresses issues associated with faculty and program development. The chapter presents four specific challenges related to community-based learning: a). faculty development, b.) program development, c.) assessing student learning and awarding academic credit, and d.) the recruitment of (new) fields and disciplines to public health and community-based pedagogies. The author proposes specific recommendations related to using service and experiential learning approaches in higher education to realize the goals of The Educated Citizen and Public Health initiative. The chapter concludes with a summary of how expanding public health literacy and community-based learning into undergraduate liberal education can accomplish the following: encourage life-long learning and a commitment to social responsibility; allow for new course/major/minor development in public health in two-year and four-year colleges; promote collaboration with the public health community; and enable faculty to expand their expertise.


Health Management and Policy

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Nova Science Publishers

Document Type

Book Chapter


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