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Talking about cancer increases people’s confidence to encourage prevention

In this post David Risser, part of the team working on Cancer Research UK’s first online course, shares what the team learned and the success they had in encouraging people to discuss cancer prevention. The course is starting again on Oct. 10.

Ahead of the second run of Cancer Research UK’s first online course which starts Monday, David Risser, part of the team working on the course shares what the team learned on the first run and the success they had in encouraging people to discuss cancer prevention. 

Cancer Research UK Course FutureLearn

Cancer Research UK is the world’s largest independent charity supporting cancer research. CRUK also works hard to educate people about the disease. We run training workshops and many other educational efforts, and continually evaluate how we can extend the reach of our work. Whilst evaluating we began to think – could we create an interactive, video-driven online course, and meet our goals of encouraging prevention and early diagnosis?

In short, the answer is yes. CRUK’s first online course, Talking About Cancer, has proven a great success in increasing knowledge about cancer and building confidence to talk about the disease. In our survey of participants, confidence to discuss making lifestyle changes jumped 25 points to more than 98 percent. We also found that awareness of risk factors increased dramatically, as did intention to act.

The main lesson we learned was that an online course could meet our goals. We also learned a few other things:

The power of the narrative

We hired improv actors to play two characters, Anita and Brian, and their family and friends. During the course, learners follow the health of the two characters and see ineffective and effective ways to help them.

In Anita’s case, we teach how to best encourage someone to see a doctor when they notice an unusual change. With Brian, we demonstrate how to encourage someone to make healthy lifestyle changes. Brian needs good advice and support around smoking, drinking, diet, lack of exercise and weight gain – even using sunscreen! We show how to help him make positive steps.

People got so caught up in the stories that we wondered in some of the discussion comments whether they’d forgotten that Anita and Brian are fictional characters!

You can appeal to a broad audience

We wanted the course to work for health workers and university students studying health topics, as well as volunteers, patients and survivors, and the public. We succeeded:

“I speak with people about cancer on a regular basis. I feel much more confident to do this now” – Relay for Life Chair Jacquii John

“By understanding concerns better, I can teach other doctors, other nurses, other pharmacists” – Pawan Randev, London-based GP and medical trainer

Facts won’t get lost

We were concerned that online discussion could relay incorrect or unproven information, but that wasn’t the case. When learners shared ideas that weren’t based on evidence, other learners got involved and we were pleased with the result – the course was ‘self-moderating’.

After the success of the first course, Talking about Cancer is starting again on Monday (October 10). Join now.


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