A Healthy Way To Learn IT (AHWTLIT)

In the Aston area of Birmingham the majority of residents are from ethnic minority groups and English for many is not their first language. There is also a health education need around diabetes awareness and control.

Working with partners that included a technical consultant, Adult Education, health professionals and a community partner, Digital Birmingham has developed a software tool that has not only helped develop the community's IT and language skills but has enabled them to understand more about the importance of a healthy diet and regular GP checks.

The software was developed using a multimedia authoring tool (Matchware, Mediator) which meant that it could be developed 'in-house'. Changes could therefore be made at all stages of client testing. This also means that other users, who have access to the multimedia tool, will be able to adapt it to their specific needs.

Initial trialing of this 'proof of concept tool' have found that users have gained IT and language skills, moved to a healthier diet, taken more exercise and been more willing to visit their doctor

Policy Context

This Case Study was developed by Digital Birmingham using UKs DC10plus funding.

Digital Birmingham is a city-wide initiative delivered by Birmingham City Council to make Birmingham a leading European Digital City by 2010. This aim is defined through a seven point charter covering the key stakeholder groups and sets out how digital technologies can benefit all who live, work and learn in or visit Birmingham.

The DC10plus network aims to promote social inclusion through the use of technology. It is a collaborative network of over 1000 local authorities and their partners dedicated to creating partnerships, sharing best practice and developing new initiatives.

Description of target users and groups

The target group was the Aston community.

From Census data in 2002 Aston is recorded as having an area of 6.4 km²/ 451.5 hectares. Aston is a very diverse community, ethnically, with 70.6% (19,030) of the area's population being of an ethnic minority compared with 29.6% for Birmingham. 36.9% of the population was born outside the United Kingdom, over double the city average of 16.5% and nearly four times the national average of 9.3%. The largest ethnic group is Asian at 49.8%. More specifically, the Pakistani ethnic group was the largest at 22.2%. White British was the second largest ethnic group at 26.0% and Black British was third with 21.5%. The smallest broad ethnic group was Chinese and Other at 2.2%, double the city average of 1.1%. Islam is the most prominent religion in the ward with 44.3% of the ward's population stating themselves as Muslim. Christianity is the second most prominent religion in Aston at 32.4%.

A total 99% of the residents live in households, above the city average of 98.3% and the national average of 98.2%. There is a total of 9 939 occupied households in Aston at the time of the census resulting in an average of 2.8 people per household, above the city average of 2.5 and the national average of 2.4. 37.7% of households were owner occupied, below the city average of 60.4%. 33.5% of households were rented from Birmingham City Council, above the city average of 19.4%. 454 households were stated as being vacant. 41.7% of the total households were stated as terraced, above the city average of 31.3%. 28.2% of households were stated as purpose built blocks of flats, just over double the national average of 14%.

11.6% of the population was of a pensionable age, below the city average of 16.7% and the national average of 18.4%. 57.7% were of a working age, below both the city and national average. The largest age group in the ward was 25-44 at 28.1%, compared with the city average of 28.3%. This age group is also the largest for Birmingham and the country. Birmingham is now recognised as being the city with the youngest age profile in Europe.

46.7% of the residents were in full time employment, below the city average of 59.9% and the national average of 61%. At 20.6%, Aston had an above average unemployment rate with the city average being 9.5% and the national average 5%. 35% were in long term unemployment, below the city average of 36.3% but above the national average of 30.3%. 20.2% had never worked. The manufacturing industry provided the most employment to the ward at 18.2%.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The Project Objectives

  • Improved language (pre-entry level English) and digital skills in the Asian community;
  • Improved health outcomes for diabetes sufferers;
  • Development of a digital solution for housebound learners;
  • Working with established community organisations to create a sustainable project;
  • Creation of a learning tool that can be used elsewhere.


With the help of health workers and an English Language specialist a script was created in which a member of a family thinks that they have diabetes. After a discussion with the doctor and a blood test the problem seems to be high blood pressure rather than diabetes. However this leads to further discussions on diabetes and healthy living with a nurse. 

The script was then used to create a multimedia presentation linked to 'real voices' and the highlighting of the words spoken. This was developed using the software Mediator 9.0. 

The introduction and at various points in the software explanations on background and use were translated by community members into Urdu and Bengali.

The software was put onto a CD-ROM for people to use at home. 16 participants with access to a computer and the internet were recruited through Saathi House - the project's community partner. Community workers fluent in at least one of the community languages, provided ICT and learning support. Evaluation was undertaken to assess gain in language and ICT skills as well as improved diabetes management.

The project obtained funding to supply, where necessary, a computer with internet access to participants who did not have access to the IT requirements.

Technology solution

All participants had access to a multimedia computer with internet access. The participants were also introduced to Skype as a tool which would allow them to talk to other members of the trial.

The project team thought that it was important that the tool was built using proprietary multimedia authoring software. Matchware, Mediator 9 proved to be ideal for this build. The advantage of this software was firstly its cost. The non-profit educational version of the software is within reach of most of the organisations which would be interested in using the final product. The authoring software is also very intuitive and useable by a high percentage of IT capable personnel. This will allow other organisations using the AHWTLIT program to adapt it to meet their own needs. For example in a Somalia community the Somalian language could be added to the introduction and other points in the program.

Technology choice: Proprietary technology

Main results, benefits and impacts


  • 81% of participants have reported that they feel more confident with ICT;
  • All would be interested in using similar media to learn about other health topics and recommend this CD to others;
  • 94% now feel more confident about speaking or reading English;
  • 100% would like to continue with further English language learning;
  • 91% of participants have passed on what they have learned about diabetes to others;
  • 59% have reported a more healthy diet, 35% have had a diabetes check with a GP and 82% have exercised more;
  • As a result of the project, a further 63 learners have started pre-entry level English courses at Saathi House and 20 people have joined exercise sessions.

Track record of sharing

The first public sharing of the project will be on 10/11/09. All participants at this event will receive a copy of the AHWTLIT software and details on how to develop it.

The Digital Birmingham website will continue to be updated as the trials continue. At the same website interested parties will be able to request a copy of the software.

Lessons learnt

  • For a project of this type it is important to engage the voluntary sector. It is this sector that has the necessary access to the intended clients.
  • As part of the trials two groups of clients were used. Group 1 were based in their home and were supported by a visiting mentor. Group 2 were based in the voluntary sector's base and had one tutor working with them. Contrary to expectations Group 2 made the greatest progress.
  • Translating English to Bengali and Urdu is difficult and consideration has to be given to the dialects of the community you are working with.
Scope: International, Local (city or municipality), Regional (sub-national)
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