Technology and Older Adults
It is commonly believed that older people are uncomfortable with new forms of technology and that they are more resistant to using technology than are younger people. This belief often places older people at a disadvantage, because designers fail to consider older people as a potential user group when designing technology, both software and hardware (Parsons, Terner, & Kersley, 1994). Another misconception is that the elderly are unable to learn new skills. Older people are frequently overlooked when opportunities for technology training or retraining are made available, however, a study of aging and cognitive abilities concluded that decreases in ...view middle of the document...
Anxiety and task unfamiliarity are variables that increase cautious behavior. Anxiety about working on a computer task is an example of a "generational" cause of cautiousness cited by Okun (1976).
What other factors may have caused older adults to shy away from technology? Interestingly, education rather than age may be a hindrance to older adults using technology. A survey found that more than 50% of seniors who are college graduates own a computer compared with only 7% of those with less than a high school education (White; et al., 1999)
Finally, older adults, themselves, indicated less confidence about their ability to use computers. In addition, an inverse relationship between computer experience and computer anxiety was found, that is, higher levels of computer experience were associated with less anxiety and more positive attitudes.
Although elders may need more time and assistance in learning computer systems, and make more errors in the process, many are embracing this new technology. Older adults, the same as any adult student, are more receptive to using technologies such as computers if they perceive the technologies as being useful and the tasks that they are able to perform with the technologies as being valuable and beneficial (Knowles, 1986).
A research study conducted by Microsoft (1999) in conjunction with the American Society on Aging shows that seniors generally recognize the benefits of computers in the areas of employability and socialization. Non-users, however, cited intimidation and a lack of understanding of how a computer and the Internet can benefit them as reasons for not using a computer. Of those aged 60 and above, this attitude is due to fact that they have never used or been shown how to use computer technology and have never had the opportunity to learn.
It is believed that a person’s attitude toward some object, person, or event influences their willingness to accept and use technology. Attitudes tend to guide behavior. According to a model outlined by Mackie and Wylie (1988), user acceptance of technology is affected by: (a) the user’s awareness of the technology and its purpose; (b) the extent to which the features of the technology are consistent with the user’s needs; (c) the user’s experience with the technology; and (d) the availability of support, such as documentation and training. Zeithami and Gilly (1987) found that if older people were provided with an explanation of the benefits associated with technologies, they were more likely to use those technologies than if they were unaware of the benefits. Edwards and Englehardt (1989) found that introducing the technology in a highly interactive and understandable manner was one factor that was likely to influence the receptivity of seniors toward computers.
For many seniors, using a computer brand-new experience. Designers need to take the time to understand the needs of older adults when designing web-based and...