By Epiphany Munz, Donita Devance, and Dr. Diane Hill
Reports from the Pew Research Center confirm that older adults (65 years and older) continue to lag behind others in adopting technology innovations. Though this gap has closed significantly over the past decade, markedly fewer older adults own smartphones, tablets, or use social media than their younger counterparts. Only 7% of Americans indicate that they do not use the internet, but fully a quarter of individuals aged sixty-five and over refrain, thus comprising the largest subpopulation of non-users. Despite increased internet use among older adults, support to become more proficient remains a challenge. “Understanding older adults’ training preferences will also benefit training program development. It is likely that users would be more apt to participate in training that is consistent with their preferences” (Mitzer, et al., 2014).
In developing the approach to the Senior Connect Digital Divide initiative, the Office of University-Community Partnerships (OUCP) utilized its Transdisciplinary Intergenerational Community Engagement Model (TICEM), which values integrated expertise, trust, and reciprocity, among other factors. OUCP assembled community partners expert in servicing older adults from Newark, East Orange, Roselle, Roselle Park, and Hillside. Together the partners identified population-specific needs and recommended training methods and modifications that would accommodate different learning styles, and which honored cognitive, motor, and ergonomic factors known to hinder use of technology in older adults. OUCP conferred with Rutgers University’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) to develop the curriculum, train volunteers, and implement the program. Suggestions made by the collaborators mirrored some found in research conducted simultaneously to ensure the use of promising and recommended practices.
Funding from the New Jersey State Policy Lab helped the partners evaluate these methods and assess the viability of the training model.
Senior Connect Digital Divide features curriculum-based training in four modules. It addresses physical features and provides group and one-on-one support to help older adult learners practice and master the use of computer technology. It combines community-specific approaches and research-based strategies in its implementation. For example, these include:
- increasing font sizes and setting up text-to-voice capabilities that can help circumvent fine motor and auditory challenges;
- implementing group learning sessions that encourage socialization and peer-learning;
- providing opportunities to practice using their devices and skills; and
- stimulating routine use of the technology by providing participants with professional expertise and allowing time for them to ask questions on topics not covered by the curriculum.
Early findings suggest that this applied model assuages anxieties related to the use of technology and facilitates the adoption and use of computer technology among older adults.
Ali Haydar BÜLBÜL, et al. “Embracing Older Adults in Online Learning.” TOJET the Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 21, no. 1, 2022.
Chiu, Ching-Ju, et al. “How to Help Older Adults Learn New Technology? Results from a Multiple Case Research Interviewing the Internet Technology Instructors at the Senior Learning Center.” Computers and Education, vol. 129, 2019, pp. 61–70, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2018.10.020.
Faverio, Michelle. “Share of Those 65 and Older Who Are Tech Users Has Grown in the Past Decade.” Pew Research Center, 13 Jan. 2022, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/01/13/share-of-those-65-and-older-who-are-tech-users-has-grown-in-the-past-decade.
Mitzner, T. L., Fausset, C. B., Boron, J. B., Adams, A., Dijkstra, K., Lee, C. C., Rogers, W. A., & Fisk, A. D. (2008). Older Adults’ Training Preferences for Learning to Use Technology. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society .Annual Meeting, 52(26), 2047–2051. https://doi.org/10.1177/154193120805202603
NJ ACTS 4 Us! CONNECT magazine (Issue #1, Fall 2021) https://go.rutgers.edu/NJACTS4Us-CONNECT
Perrin, Andrew, and Sara Atske. “7% Of Americans Don’t Use the Internet. Who Are They?” Pew Research Center, 3 Apr. 2021, https://pewresearch-org-preprod.go-vip.co/fact-tank/2021/04/02/7-of-americans-dont-use-the-internet-who-are-they/