Life long learning, information literacy and the ‘expert patient’

I’ve extracted this from an archive of a learning and teaching blog I kept from June 2005 ’til August 2010. This post was dated August 2006. I’ve reposted it as I think the issue of open and public access to research reports and data is as relevant and important today as it ever was in the in these days of fake and ‘alternative; facts, false news and the denigration of expertise. I can’t find the audio files referred to in the post so far but these aren’t important for the main points. This topic overlaps with discussions om Gramsci’s notion of organic intellectual and Collin’s ideas on ‘interactional expertise’ A contemporary example of the use of Gramsc’s ideas is The Role of Organic Intellectuals In The Era of a Trump Presidency. Zygmunt Bauman’s distinction between sociologists as either legislators or interpreters can be seen to map loosely onto Gramsci’s traditional and organic intellectuals, at least in terms of their focus and allegiance.

Life long learning, information literacy and the ‘expert patient’ (August 31st, 2006)

A little while ago I suffered from a complaint called plantar fasciitis. I didn’t know it was called that to begin with, I just had a tremendous pain in my right heel when I got up in the morning and could hardly walk. It seemed to come from nowhere. It was so bad I went to the doctor a couple of days later who said I must have bruised it badly somehow despite there being no visible bruising and I could not recall any event that might have caused it. I looked the symptoms up on the web, found an exact description of the symptoms and context, followed the advice and, as predicted, about 10 days later all was well.

A very good friend of mine lost his father and brother to cancer of the oesophagus. Like them, he suffers from recurrent heartburn, or acid reflux. In researching this he found that about 10% of heartburn sufferers have Barrett’s oesophagus, a precancerous condition, and that these are between 30 and 125 times more likely to die of oesophageal cancer than the 90% that don’t have Barrett’s oesophagus. Neither his father nor brother were diagnosed with Barrett’s O. My friend arranged to have the appropriate test, which his doctor had never heard of, and sure enough he has it. The good news is that there is a great deal that can be done to reduce the likelihood of BO becoming full blown cancer – diet, weight loss, etc. – so my friend is quite upbeat about it and feels he has a measure of control.

Another close friend suffers from Torticollis, or wry neck. This developed very quickly and had the effect of forcing his head round over his left shoulder. Apart from being very embarrassing, it stopped him driving and at meetings he had to make sure he was sitting at the side of the conference table where he could look at and address the Chair. His doctor advised surgery to cut the contracting neck muscles was the only solution and he would have to wear a neck brace to stop his head lolling around. Research on the web found that increasingly the condition is being treated with regular injections of botulinum toxin. This partially paralyses the contracting muscles and relaxes them thus allowing the muscles on the other side of the neck to stabilise and control head movement. His doctor had not heard of this and took up the research. As a result my friend receives the botox treatment and leads a normal life, looking to the future rather than where he has just been, and his doctor has had a free episode of professional continuing education.

Several messages could be gleaned from these last two stories. One might be that, if you are a friend of mine, you are probably ill and definitely dying.

Another, more positive, message is the one that John Wilinsky describes so eloquently and entertainingly in his keynote presentation to the UBC Okanagan’s 2nd Annual Learning Conference ‘Learning Free of Boundaries’: A newly Open and Public Quality to Learning. This is an mp3 audio file about 62 minutes and 50 Mbytes. The whole presentation is a very rewarding listen when you have the time. The bit of the presentation relevant to this post topic starts at the 21st minute. However, I have taken the liberty of extracting the 11 minutes or so where John is talking about the internet, literacy and reading ability, and how people are increasingly using the internet to research their medical and health issues and how this is changing their relationship with doctors and the medical profession. This is gradually developing into a process of “shared decision making”. Of particular interest is John’s account of the process whereby individuals develop from not even understanding the title of some research papers to gradually developing the context that enables them get a handle on it and talk productively to their doctors about it. He draws some important and interesting general conclusions about the nature independent learning, developing critical thinking skills but in the context of a vastly expanded access to knowledge.