Ready4Changes.com: Preliminary results of a randomized controlled trial of a web-based tailored approach for educating teens about human sexuality

Authors


Abstract

Advances in artificial intelligence and computing technologies has made it entirely possible to provide personalized health education and individualized learning on a mass scale. Interactive web technology not only provides an opportunity to present tailored health information in a number of formats, but it also provides the greatest ability to toggle between modalities, further enhancing learners' experiences and understanding of the material. However, development and deployment of these types of approaches often requires a high capital overlay or initial investment. This cost, however, is often justified based on wide assumptions about its effectiveness for achieving learning outcomes (e.g., mastery and deeper understanding of the course material). But, while there is growing evidence about the efficacy of computer-tailoring and adaptive learning environments on learning, we have yet to fully understand the mechanisms by which this affects how individuals process information. This paper presents preliminary results of a randomized controlled trial testing effects of a tailored educational site on human sexuality on the comprehension and elaboration of the health content by middle schoolers. The project is one of the first attempts to systematically tease out the effective components of a tailored health education website and to examine its effects singly and in combination on the comprehension of a complex health domain.

Research Objectives

Current pedagogical philosophy is increasingly supportive of the notion that tailoring health communications to the needs of each individual can enhance learning and improve comprehension of health content. Limited research in this area has generally indicated that the tailored approach can be successful at engaging individuals, promoting learning and fostering positive attitudes about behavior change. The “effects” of tailoring health communications are based on the premise that individualizing the approach and the content to the individual can increase their motivation to attend to the messages, engage in the content and eventually engage in elaborative processing of the information presented. The primary purpose of this study is to develop and evaluate a Tailored Web-Based Educational System to help middle-schoolers learn about puberty and human sexuality. Specifically, the study seeks to explore the following research questions:

  • 1What is the relationship between computer-tailoring of online health content and elaboration and comprehension?
  • 2What variables might moderate such an effect?

Study Design

A pretest-treatment-posttest experimental design was used to test differences in the main dependent variable (comprehension) among middle schoolers randomly assigned to each experimental group or treatment. About 50 middle schoolers were randomly assigned to explore one of two conditions: a generic site, and a tailored site in three 50-minute sessions. This design allows us to examine the critical components as they work together in a fully tailored website. At the end of the trial, subjects were given a post-test to assess their elaboration of the content and knowledge gain and also asked to respond to some scenario-based and problem-solving questions to assess their comprehension of the topic area.

Preliminary Results

This is a two-phase project: phase 1 focuses on the development of the tailoring system and educational website, while phase 2 involves the randomized controlled trial. We are currently analyzing the results of a small pilot study and should have preliminary results of the trial by October.

Implications for Policy, Delivery or Practice

Advances in artificial intelligence and computing technologies has made it entirely possible to provide personalized health education and individualized learning on a mass scale. Interactive web technology not only provides an opportunity to present tailored health information in a number of formats, but it also provides the greatest ability to toggle between modalities, further enhancing learners' experiences and understanding of the material. However, development and deployment of these types of approaches often requires a high capital overlay or initial investment. This cost, however, is often justified based on wide assumptions about its effectiveness for achieving learning outcomes (e.g., mastery and deeper understanding of the course material). But, while there is growing evidence about the efficacy of computer-tailoring and adaptive learning environments on learning, we have yet to fully understand the mechanisms by which this affects how individuals process information.

Taking a closer look at how individual users access interactive information systems (e.g., their cognitive skills, ability to solve problems and form searches, etc.) will have a significant bearing on our ability to fully exploit this technology for health education purposes. Understanding differences in the way learners process similar content delivered using different levels of specificity and peripheral cue complexity (e.g., tailored vs. generic content) will also better inform us about the nature of tailored web-based health interventions and its critical components and how to design adaptive algorithms more effectively to tailor health content for specific learners. The project is one of the first attempts to systematically tease out the effective components of a tailored health education website and to examine its effects singly and in combination on the comprehension of a complex health domain.

Acknowledgements

This study was funded through a Planning Grant from the Florida State University Center for Research and Creativity and supplemental funding through the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program.

We would also like to acknowledge the efforts of several REU and graduate students who have contributed to this project:

  • 1Leonardo Gutierrez
  • 2Emily Robarge
  • 3Renita Smith
  • 4BJ Bae

Appendix

original image

Screenshot of Ready4Changes.com

Ancillary