The importance of outsiders for continued use

Much like the importance of keeping the conversation going about technology to ensure continued use, incorporating families and friends of the user into their technology use is important. Many older adults reported that the only reason they had an interest in learning was to help connect them with their friends and family. It was an additional way to maintain contact with people who were important to them. They saw it as a noninvasive means of sending their children, grandchildren, and others messages. Many saw technology use as providing another link to their family through using social media sites. For some, technology training simply provided context for a conversation topic that they would now better understand. In our project, many of the residents liked being able to stay in communication with faith-based organizations. Receiving their organization's newsletter or weekly updates made them feel more connected even if they were unable to attend services.

Throughout the project, we attempted to find ways to engage the participants with the technology. Initially, we thought incorporating school children as email pen pals would help older adults hone their skills on email and create new intergenerational partnerships. However, this idea gained little traction. Due to barriers with how the children were able to contact the residents, one email with a long list of questions was typically sent to our trainers, who then had to facilitate the participants' answering the questions during class time. Given the lack of typing skills of the majority of the participants in our training sessions, responding to the long series of questions through typing was burdensome and task intensive for most of them. Others may find alternative ways to format such an interaction, perhaps through Skype or FaceTime, which might be easier for older adults to participate in without overburdening them.

The older adult participants really wanted to communicate with their own children, grandchildren, and friends. Their communication patterns were distinctly different in email and social network communications. They did not want to share the same information they would on a phone call. Many enjoyed simple humorous emails that their families and friends would forward or short simple emails to say hello. Often it was just as important to explain the social norms around the technology as it was to explain the technology. Knowing not only the basic use and terminology but also some of the embedded social cues allowed users to feel more connected to the larger world.

Technology will continue to evolve, and new generations of older adults will continue to need tailored training programs to adapt to these changes. Ease of use, portability, and an understanding of the benefits of technology can serve as an encouragement to use technology. Most importantly, keeping the interface simple, providing easy access, integrating multiple levels of assistance in use, and connecting friends and family to the technology will ensure that these generations will continue to be able to gain benefits from the technologies that proliferate in our world.

On the basis of our experiences, we recommend:

  • • Understand that access is about more than just Internet access. Having ICTs that are working and easy to use is also important.
  • • Keep the interface design and the training simple.
  • • Avoid too much talk about the inner workings and hardware associated with computers.
  • • Encourage participants to have access to a phone when they are using the computers when trainers are not onsite.
  • • Be cognizant of the typing abilities of residents and whether this impedes their use of the technology.
  • • Use friends, family members, and religious and community organizations to provide communication partners for CCRC residents.

Recommended readings

Fisk, A. D., Rogers, W. A., Charness, N., Czaja, S. J., and Sharit, J. 2009. Designing for older adults: Principles and creative human factors approaches (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.

Pak, R. and McLaughlin, A. C. 2010. Designing displays for older adults. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.

 
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