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Using modern learning theories to plan health interventionss change

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Lifestyle changes need to be seen as
part of the lifelong learning process rather than the
results of a fixed-term effort. Modern learning theories
offer a fruitful foundation for designing health
interventions.

Published in: Science
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Using modern learning theories to plan health interventionss change

  1. 1. Using modern learning theories to plan health interventions www.salwe.fi A research project within the SalWe Mind and Body programme has developed a framework for interventions to achieve healthy lifestyle changes. The aim is to make the interventions more effective and to maintain changes. Many of the factors that affect our health – diet, exercise, use of substances, etc. – are determined more by ingrained habits than conscious decisions. Consequently, lifestyle changes need to be seen as part of the lifelong learning process rather than the results of a fixed-term effort. Modern learning theo-ries offer a fruitful foundation for designing health interventions. The spread of smart phones has brought a growing number of mobile applications for health interven-tions. But although the subject has been widely studied, there have been no real success stories. The challenge is to get users to commit to the process and keep to the lifestyle changes necessary. How can mobile interventions be made more effective in creating permanent results? A new approach in SalWe research As part of the SalWe Mind and Body programme, researchers from Tampere University of Technology and VTT studied and developed a set of principles for interventions to create permanent lifestyle changes. SalWe - the Enabler of Joint Research in Health and Wellbeing
  2. 2. “Our goal has been to make mobile interventions more effective and fruitful. We have developed a framework that is firmly grounded in modern behavioural science and the latest learning theories,” says Janne Vainio, Project manager for Personal Health Informatics at Tampere University of Technology. “It is an unusual approach, tailored to the activity of the person seeking a lifestyle change. Encouragement and support is provided via interactive dialogues that give users positive feedback on progress, influence their emotional state and offer information that helps them adopt new habits.” A framework for ‘mindless change’ “Incorporating the principles we have developed, the research project has built a mobile application for behaviour change,” Janne Vainio explains. “It was inspired by the Mindless Eating Challenge, a concept developed at Cornell University where gradual changes in the eating environment and personal hab-its are designed by the subjects themselves. We have added learning theories to the concept as well as goals related to exercise and stress.” The mobile application seeks to create behavioural changes in small steps, which it manages through ac-tive dialogues. It provides a virtual support person, for which the user can select one of five avatars. Each avatar has its own style of talking and can use 1,700 pre-written messages suitable for various situations. It creates the illusion of a human contact although it cannot of course imitate real human. Pilot steers further development The intervention application was tested for suitability and effectiveness in a pilot programme lasting four weeks. Sixty-six subjects took place in the trials. “Users found the application easy-to-use although there was still a problem of long-term motivation; some stopped using it fairly soon. On the other hand, the dialogue approach proved to be useful and worth further study.” Results of the pilot programme are being used to re-fine the frame of reference and the mobile application. Both are ongoing. Facilitated by SalWe Janne Vainio says that SalWe was the logical environ-ment for research into lifestyle changes and develop-ing a mobile application for this. The SalWe finance also played a key role in incorporating the Cornell Mindless Eating Challenge into the project. More information Janne Vainio project manager Tampere University of Technology janne.m.vainio@tut.fi +358 50 483 5212 SalWe - the Enabler of Joint Research in Health and Wellbeing 05/2014

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