An investigation into factors that influence senior citizens in their uptake of IT Skills

Master's Thesis, 2010

116 Pages, Grade: 2nd Class Honours





1.1 Preface
1.2 Rationale for the Study
1.3 Aims & Objectives
1.4 Limitations
1.5 Layout of the study

2.1 Chapter Preview
2.2 Evolution of the Internet
2.3 Education and technology
2.3.1 Influences in education
2.4 Learning theories in educational technologies
2.4.1 Cognitive Theories
2.4.2 Computer Applications suitable for seniors
2.4.3 Constructivism
2.4.4 Constructivism in teaching seniors
2.4.5 Summary
2.5 Computer anxiety
2.5.1 What is computer Anxiety
2.6 Senior adult’s needs
2.7 Successful computer-literacy
2.8 E-learning and senior citizens
2.9 Mental stimulation for senior citizens

3.1 Introduction
3.1.2 Aims and Objectives of the study
3.1.3 Data Collection
3.1.4 Validity and Reliability
3.1.5 Triangulation
3.1.6 Participants in the study
3.2 Development of Questionnaire Design
3.2.1 Introduction
3.2.2 Data collection instruments
3.2.3 Developing the Questionnaire
3.2.4 Computer Experience
3.2.5 Computer Anxiety Scale
3.2.6 Computer Usage Questionnaire (CUQ)
3.2.7 Procedure for Data Collection
3.3 Research Methods
3.3.1 Research undertaken to guide the design of the study
3.3.2 Secondary data used in this research study
3.3.3 Primary Data
3.3.4 Mixed Methods Research
3.3.5 Qualitative Research
3.3.6 Rationale for using focus group interviews
3.3.7 Semi Structured Interviews
3.3.8 Ethical Considerations
3.3.9 Summary
3.4 Designing and creating an Internet application browser
3.4.1 Introduction
3.4.2 Target Users
3.4.3 Software tools investigated
3.5 Outline of the baseline requirements
3.5.1 Senior Citizen Users
3.6 Design Guidelines
3.6.1 Functionality
3.6.2 Consistent
3.6.3 Accessibility
3.6.4 Terminology
3.6.5 Customised
3.6.6 Basics Concepts
3.7 Creating a simplified Web Browser
3.7.1 Working Prototypes
3.7.2. Evaluation of ‘Ezybrowser’
3.7.3 Evaluation participants
3.7.4 Participants evaluating the browsers
3.8 Limitations
3.9 Summary

4.1 Introduction
4.1.2 Participants age
4.2 Results of the Questionnaire
4.2.1 Results of the Computer Experience Instrument
4.2.2 Results of the computer Anxiety Scale
4.4 Summary
4.5 Introduction to In-depth interviews
4.5.1 In Dept Interviews results
4.6 Results of Evaluations of the Internet Browser

5.1 Summary
5.2 Success of the Application
5.3 Recommendations

Appendix A:
Appendix B: “EzyBrowser”
Appendix C: Evaluation Scale
Appendix D: Questionnaire
Appendix E: In depth Interviews


An investigation into factors that influence senior citizens in their uptake of IT Skills


Loreto Weir

This research is a study to investigate factors, both negative and positive, which influenced 57 senior respondents aged 65years old and over in their uptake of IT skills from three senior citizen environments. It is also an investigation on the development and testing of a specially designed Internet Application in the same environment. The 57 senior citizens were surveyed to ascertain their attitudes towards computer technology. The analysis of the data suggests that the majority of seniors experienced negative attitudes and anxieties towards computer technology, and would find the browsing application useful. The study also includes a qualitative research of such aspects as the participant’s attitudes and anxieties when it comes to using technology.

The information gathered from the qualitative analysis formed a basis for developing an Internet Application that could be suitable for senior adult computer users. Different browsers were designed, developed and tested. Each required different technical know­how. Finally, an Internet application implemented and designed using Visual Basic 6 was used to create the test Internet Application “Ezybrowser”. The application was designed to be suitable for the user’s age group and was created within time constraints. The application can be easily placed on any windows operation systems desktop without the need to have it installed. The application was acknowledged during the evaluation as having a positive role in encouraging senior citizens to use the Internet productively.


I would like to thank the following people:

My supervisor, Dr. Carol O Shea for her help and patience

The Facilitators, Coordinators and the Members of the TARA group Tralee, Ide group St. Brendan’s Tralee and the Ballyduff Active Retirement group for their assistance and time while completing my questionnaire and interviews.

Dr Sean Lacey for his help with the statistical analysis,

My family and friends for their patience and support and a special thank you to my mother, Angela Weir whose constant enthusiasm for life long learning and her achievements in computer technology motivated me to do this thesis.


Figure 3-1 Browser prototype

Figure 3-2 Code for Homepage

Figure 3-3 Print & Print Preview

Figure 3-4 ‘EzyBrowser”

Table 3.1 Age & gender of participants doing the evaluation

Table 4.1 Over all summary of ages of participants

Figure 4.1 Age distributions for male & female participants

Table 4.2 Participants per Retirement Group

Table 4.3 Retirement Centres + Computer Experience

Figure 4.3 Ages of Participants per Groups

Figure 4.4 Time spend using computers by the participants

Table 4.4 Everyday use of computers by the participants

Table 4.5 What seniors use computers for

Table 4.6 Participants afraid to use computers in case they damage it

Table 4.7 Participants who hesitate to use a computer for fear of making mistakes

Figure 4.6 Participants who would like to learn and use computers more

Table 4.8 Finding the correlation between Computer Anxiety & computer Experience

Table 4.9 Reduction in computer experience

Table 4.10 Effects of computer anxiety

Table 4.11 Number of participants who did a computer course

Figure 4.7 Participants who receive and send Emails

Table 4.12 Participants who can open an application

Figure 4.8 Participants who failed to finish a computer course

Figure 4.9 Participants computer experience and age

Table 4.13 Age and computer usage


1.1 Preface

Changes are occurring in our society today, the most notable being demographic in nature - the older population in Ireland is increasing dramatically. In 2009, Ireland’s population was 4,203,200 (July 2009 est.), with 503,511 age 65-plus (12% of the overall population). The lowest projected senior population for 2026 is 885,100 or 18.5% of Ireland's growing population. (Ireland Demographics Profile: 2009). Technology is another change; people of all ages are becoming increasingly reliant on computers for communicating with friends and family members to computerized searching and accessing online information (Warren-Peace et al 2008; O’Connell, 2007, p. 43). Irelands Internet users for 2010 (Date of Information 2008) will increase by over 65% with 2,830,000 Internet users accessing the Internet (Mundi Index.:2010). This reliance on computers has caused a growing concern that seniors may” lag behind in the area of computer literacy”.

To tackle the problem this study presents both quantitative and qualitative data on factors such as computer attitudes, anxieties and experiences with 57 senior participants aged 65 years old and over from three retirement centres in the area. This research investigates a better understanding of these factors and their influence on the 57 participants.

The problems faced by senior adults when interacting with computers are investigated.

The first approach involves the use of a Likert scale to determine the level of computer anxiety senior adults’ display towards computers in general. The second approach investigated the number of seniors who took up computer literacy courses as well as the number of seniors who failed to finish the course. The third approach investigates the level of knowledge senior adults have of computers and to determine what exactly seniors use computers for. Finally the fourth approach uses a specifically designed Internet browser to investigate “reports that difficulties with computer interactions can often be caused by the complexity of applications” (Holt et al, 2009).

1.2 Rationale for the Study

“The increased longevity and the growing dependence on technology provide interesting challenges for instructional designers”(Orth, 2008, p. 7).

This research will cover some sensible ideas when it comes to seniors with their special needs in educational research. Investigation is essential to gain insight into the actual problems seniors face when it comes to technology. It is hoped that this investigation into the factors that influences senior adults may help to establish the current state of IT training and raise awareness of the need for more detailed research on all aspects of usability of web interfaces and training for an ageing population.

1.3 Aims & Objectives

The aims of this research are to investigate the different factors that prevent the uptake of communication technology skills in senior adults and possible remedies for this. The focus of this research is to establish an answer to the following core question:

What are the factors that influence senior citizens in their uptake of computer/IT skills?

The main objectives of the study are to examine the development of technology usage in senior adults. This will help educationist to better understand what promotes and motivates senior adults in their progress and use of computers. This research will expand the acceptance of technology communication information to encourage senior adults to uptake and accept IT skills.

1.4 Limitations

Every research study has limitations to its effectiveness and this is no different. This research study investigates issues of senior citizens uptake of IT skills from the perspective of the researcher and this provides a narrow view: one that does not represent all educational bodies.

Another limitation of the findings is the use of only one area in the country (Gall & Gall 2003, p. 175: Creswell 2008, p. 207). This research is confined to retirement centres and these three centres may not reflect the attitudes of the full cohorts of senior citizens in Ireland. Future research could utilize larger wide scale surveys to establish the robustness of the results of the present study. Time constraints of the semester provide less time than may be ideal for an ethnographic study. Due to the limited time spent with each group there are bound to be aspects of practice, culture and communication that were not revealed during my visits. Not being part of the group may also limit what is made known to me. The participants may be cautious in their conversations around me, especially in my initial study. The age of the participants will also be an important factor as arranged meetings with individual or groups may be affected by the well being of the participants in question.

1.5 Layout of the study

In chapter one the aims and objectives of this research are introduced along with the limitations and benefits of the study

Chapter two provides the Literature Review for this research study. It looks at the history of the internet and explores the development of the internet. Learning theories and theorists are examined in the context of education and technology. Previous attempts at introducing technology to senior citizens are looked at in case studies to determine their successes and failures. The attitudes and anxieties of seniors towards computers were examined for this project. The methods of studying peoples’ attitudes towards technology were reviewed as well as methods for analysing (HCI) human computer interaction. The literature is examined with a view to the development of the research instruments and to establish the level of IT skills by senior citizens.

In chapter three the justification and objectives of the study are outlined. The profiles of the respondents are provided. The methodologies of each stage of this research project are described in detail. The design of a questionnaire to gather the necessary data, the process of creating an Internet browser and the testing of such an application are covered. Issues relating to validity, reliability and ethics are also outlined.

Chapter four presents the findings of the data gathered in the questionnaire and the results of the statistical analysis of this data. Also present are the results on the testing of the Internet browser with the participants in the study.

Chapter five provides a list of the conclusions and recommendations drawn from the research, highlights limitations, and indicates areas for further study. The chapter closes with the author’s reflections on the research process.


2.1 Chapter Preview

This chapter reviews the literature referring to the use of computers in an educational context and examines the relationship between senior citizens and computers. Section 2.2 examines the evolution of the Internet. Section 2.3 examines the evolution of technology and education and takes a look at the different theorists to support learning for seniors. Section 2.4 looks at computer anxiety. Within this section are some of the possible obstacles that affect senior’s uptake of IT skills and examines ways of reducing it. Section 2.5 examines what senior adult’s needs really are when it comes to the use of computers. Section 2.6 examines successful case studies in e-literacy for senior adults. Section 2.7 looks at the implementation of E-learning and senior citizens. Finally section 2.8 look at how computers can provide mental stimulation for senior citizens.

2.2 Evolution of the Internet

‘It is not difficult to see why the World Wide Web is the technological favourite of the educational literature and educational policy makers. Here is a media that can be used as a library, a publishing house, a television, a television broadcast station, a radio, a radio broadcast station, a postal service, a telephone, and as an interactive practice quizzing station. The diversity of the Web is awesome’.

(Gerard & Newmark,2000 p. 1753).

The term Internet was first used in a scientific paper in 1974. In the research paper “Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn proposed a protocol they called "TCP". Cerf and Kahn didn't realize it at the time, but the protocol they invented would later become IP, the official network-layer protocol of the Internet “(Cerf, 2010). It was not until 1989 at the European Particle Physics Laboratory (CERN) in Geneva, that a British computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee with help from Robert Cailliau and others “developed a protocol that he called the World-Wide Web “(Cailliau, 1995). The first web browser was not developed until the fall of 1990; this was primarily used to communicate between the teams working in CERN. By August 1991 their web server and line mode browser was available around the world and soon other web servers started to pop up almost immediately around the globe. It is thanks to Berners-Lee’s decision to get CERN to provide a certification in 1993 that ensured that the web technology and program codes were in the public domain, so that anyone could use and improve it which led to the significant success of the web (Stewart, 1996-2007).

2.3 Education and technology

“Educational technology “is a term widely used in the field of education, but it is often used with different meanings. The word “technology” refers to a systematic process of solving problems by scientific means. Hence, educational technology properly refers to a particular “approach” to achieving the ends of education. “

(The Field of Educational Technology [Online])

Education and technology have being connected with each other from as far back as early civilization. The most common kind of education for early civilizations consisted of spoken traditions to teaching new information (Strahovnik & Mecava, 2009). As society developed technology progressed, especially education. Education was usually only available to the higher social classes in early civilization. A wide variety of things, from pencils to computers can be classed as “technology”. The first technology that influenced education was the invention of chalk (Harwood, 2007 p 6; Jonassen et al, 2003, p. 10). Before 1801 presenting information to a large roomful of students was not available, chalk allowed the display of subjects to the entire class to view and discuss. Chalk soon became the most important educational tool by the mid-1800s in schoolrooms and business’s and remained so for almost 200 years. Considerable affects on society were caused by the changes in education and technology.

2.3.1 Influences in education

One of the biggest influences in education was the development of the printing press (Olague, 2003). Before the moveable type, reading, writing and basic mathematics were restricted to the few. Books were a rare commodity and very expensive and used as a status or symbol of a person’s wealth. With the ability to mass produce books were now more affordable which allowed more people to access information (Edwards, 1994 p 1-4). Education focused on social efficiency goals during the early twentieth century and ‘schooling was for the purpose of training children for the labour market’ (McCoy, 1998, p. 94-125). With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution society demanded a workforce that was educated. Employers needed a technologically educated workforce so schools had to produce graduates who were technically proficient (Baker et al, 1992). The components of basic education included manual training, manual arts and industrial arts.

2.4 Learning theories in educational technologies

In order to better understand how senior adults learn, an overall view of learning theories is investigated. There are three broad learning theories out of the many different theories on how people learn: Behaviourism, Cognitive, and Constructivism are used the most often in the creation of instructional environments.

Learning is shaped by a change in behaviour in behaviourism, with the emphasis on a connection between a stimulus and the response to the stimulus. Behaviourism believe that Students could be “trained” the same as animals to respond to a stimulus, and therefore provide the correct answers to a problem (Roblyer, 2006 p 38). Behaviourists’ theorist B.F.Skinner {1908-1990} has being credited by many as “one of the most influential psychologist of the 20th century” (p. 38). Operant conditioning has greatly influenced educational practices. In 1958, Skinner used Operant Conditioning Theory to build a mechanical teaching device. The idea of developing the mechanical teaching machine occurred in 1953 to Skinner after observing his daughter at a maths quiz which was welcomed by the field of education. However, due to the fear of the short lifespan of such machines, companies did not want to design more material and progrd machine were poorly written (Vargas, 2005). Programmed instructions by the end of the 1960’s were discontinued for the teaching machine. The perfect machine that Skinner wanted was finally available with the arrival of computers and the internet in the 1970’s (Vargas, 2005). The computer technologies of the 1960’s and 1970’s were ideal for such a rigid and mechanical approach to education.

The weakness of using behaviourism learning theories for seniors could be that the senior learner will not recognize the “stimulus”. This could be a simple hand signal from the instructor, or a hidden pop up message on a computer monitor. If the correct “stimulus” does not happen the senior learner cannot respond when an fault occurs because they are not familiar with the system. However the strength of using behaviourism learning theories for a senior learner is they can concentrate on a clear objective and therefore can take action instinctively. For example; a senior learner can be conditioned to react to a message asking to save a document by clicking on “yes”, a response, which one would hope, will become automatic.

2.4.1 Cognitive Theories

Many behaviourist assumptions were rejected in technology instructional systems in the 1980's in favour of the Cognitive view (Roblyer, 2006 p. 41). Cognitive focuses on the inner mental activities of the human mind. To understand how people learn this has being proven to be valuable and necessary (p 42). Mental processes such as thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving have to be explored especially when it comes to senior adults. According to cognitive theories active participation is required by people in order to learn and whose actions are then a consequence of their thinking (p 41). What occurs in the learners head is observed by changes in their behaviour. To be successful and effective when it comes to learning activities the cognitive level age of the learner, in this case the senior learner should be taken in to account (Roblyer, 2006 p. 42).

The weakness of a senior learner using cognitive theories to learn computing skills could mean that the learner may only learn one way of achieving results. This may not be suitable to the learner. For example, if a senior learner uses a password to log into a computer in their community centre, it will not be the same as logging in to their home computer.

2.4.2 Computer Applications suitable for seniors

Computer applications suitable for use by senior adults are influenced by Cognitive theories. The development of simpler interfaces may reduce the amount of cognitive memory a learner needs to interact with the software (O’Connell 2007 p.51-52). For example when a senior user is comfortable with the use of the software and the instructions are consistent, such as clicking on “Home” will take the user back to the first page in their browser. The learner will not also need to learn instructions on how to use the browser. This is of significant importance when it comes to senior adult use. In the last couple of years computer based applications in learning has been growing rapidly. Najjar (2001) attributes this ‘to more powerful machines’ with more access to the internet as well that interactive applications help people to learn. Mayer (2001) have done studies that have shown that two or more media improve learning better than one, therefore allowing the learner to absorb information from the environment using two channels which helps in reducing cognitive load in the learners working memory. Computer based multimedia applications are more interactive than traditional classroom lectures, which can have a strong positive effect on senior learners (Najjar, 2001). Multimedia programs which can be used to train senior adults on IT skills are also more flexible in their use in classroom or home environments and can be used by individuals or small groups of senior learners.

2.4.3 Constructivism

The influences constructivism has on teaching and instructional designers are based on theorists’ such as Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget and Bruner’s theoretical framework (Newby et al, 2006 p. 34). Bruner’s {1973} major theme is that’ learning is an active process in which learners construct ideas or concepts based on their present or pass knowledge’. Learners were more likely to understand and remember concepts, according to Bruner, in the course of the learners own exploration. Bruner’s theory “Discovery Learning” have been viewed with mixed results. However, having a structured education first in the real proved more successful (Roblyer, 2006 p 44). The fundamental challenge of constructivism changes the locus of control from teacher to the learner. Papert, who worked with Piaget and influenced his ideas, argued that application software should be designed to develop learners thinking skills (Roblyer, 2006). Vygotsky {1978} argued that learning was not just the assimilation and accommodation of new knowledge by learners but as a product of social interactions. In Vygotsky’s theory of the “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD), learners who did a task alongside an instructor or teacher did better than working on their own (Chao et al 2003, p 116). The engagement with the instructor enabled the learner to be more effective and to refine their thinking, in other words...

‘.. .learning tasks that are situated in some meaningful real-world task or simulated in some case-based or problem-based learning environment are not only better understood, but also are more consistently transferred to new situations.’ (Jonassen et al 2003, p. 8)

The individual learner is steered by the instructor in solving real world tasks to provide a rich context. The purpose is not to teach one version of doing something but to teach someone how to think (p 8). This is allowing learners to make choices about how and what they will learn (Chao et al 2002, p. 117). This is of special interest when it comes to teaching senior adults. Constructivism base instructional environment is “student - centred, student - directed and collaborative supported with teacher scaffolding in the development phase of instructional design” (Guzdial.1999). The centre of instruction is the learner according to constructivism. The learner develops understanding in effective ways to resolve difficult situations. Problem solving gives the learner pleasure and satisfaction and fosters motivation (Jonassen et al 2003, p. 25).

Presentation of multiple learning styles and alternative views to senior learners is an important strategy in providing a rich learning environment, the “thinking process is evaluated in the constructivist perspective” (p 28). The advantages of applying constructivism to instructional applications will produce more important learning outcomes with more independent problem-solving capability. Technology is a means to education and not the education; it is a tool for achieving educational goals. ‘Students do not learn from technology, they learn from thinking’ (Jonassen et al, 2003, p. 11).

2.4.4 Constructivism in teaching seniors

The implications for senior learners in the constructivist model are numerous. They include, “experimental learning, shared learning, self-directed learning, group work, creative problem solving and reflective practices” (Roblyer, 2006, p. 45). Biggs (cited in Walsh, 2007) makes the statement that traditional teaching methods do not provide the skills required for the majority of students. Biggs argues that “students must want to learn”. Knowles et al (1998 p.35) observed that adults learn best when they see a reason to learn and have the freedom to learn in their own way. Piaget’s theory is that interacting with the environment forms the basis for the user’s knowledge which started a new formation in the development of educational technologies called constructivism (Roblyer, 2006, p 44). One definition of a constructivist learning environment is:

“ a place where learners may work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their guided pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities.”

(Wilson, 1996 p. 5)

Constructivism promotes open ended learning experiences where the methods and results of learning are not easily measured and could be different for each learner (Thompson, 1995, p 123). Therefore the learner is not considered as a respondent controlled by a stimuli as in the behaviourists rubric. Constructivism supports the construction of knowledge by the individual which has become the dominant theory of the last decade. Advancements in technology in the 1980’s and 1990 have allowed designers to approach the design of educational instructions with a more constructivist approach (Newby et al, 2006 p. 34). Constructivist teaching techniques and self - directed learning can have positive results when it comes to teaching senior adults. The senior learner will be able to “understand various situations and better able to deal with real life situations “(Newby et al, 2006 p. 35).

2.4.5 Summary

Technology development is part of society and is consistent in human growth. From the dawn of time, we have adapted to our environment, and technology has advanced with each generation. Civilization went from sitting around fires having dramatic conversations, slate and chalk, to pens and paper, televisions and now the Internet with computers (Jonassen et al, 2003, p. 10). Education has increased rapidly as technology levels rise. In another generation education could look decidedly different than from what it is today. Our ability to access Information and learning has changed with the advent of the web. Our own knowledge can now be build upon by having the flexibility that technology allows; however external factors can affect a user from accessing this flexibility of information.

2.5 Computer anxiety

Despite educational technologies and the Internet boom in the past decade computer anxiety is one of the biggest factors that can influence how users observe the user- friendliness of information technology. Wood & Smith (2005) reports that many people who are less familiar with technology are intimidated by computers and must first deal with feelings of apprehension before they can experience the Internet successfully. Computer anxiety does not only affect senior citizens. Studies by Saade et al (2009) which investigated the influences of computer anxiety on apparent ease of use found “that as many as fifty percent of adults, including first - year college students have anxieties about executing tasks effectively on a computer”. Studies have shown that “computer anxiety, lack of confidence, and lack of enjoyment influence both the acceptance of computers and their use as a teaching and learning tool” (Fletcher & Deeds, 1994). Age related differences in senior citizens could form a relationship between computer anxiety and the uptake of IT skills. The capability to learn and obtain knowledge does not have to end at the onset of old age. Elderly users should also be consulted when it comes to designing IT communication technology (Jokisuu et al, 2007). Suitable interfaces which should be more readily adaptable to the needs of elderly users could be one solution which would decrease any related anxiety or stress when using computers (Chadwich et al, 2002, O’Connell 2007 p. 51). Increased dependence of seniors on computers and the internet for everyday tasks should encourage web designers to focus on good web usability.

According to Nielsen (2002) poor design usability makes the web hard to use for not just seniors but for everyone. Internet experiences could improve significantly if designers complied with guidelines for designing for seniors. “Providing better-designed, i.e. adaptive learning environments will especially benefit older learners but also improve the quality for all user groups” (Nielsen 2002). Jones and Bayen (1998 cited in Chaffin and Harlow, 2004, p. 3) suggest using larger toolbar buttons to reduce difficulty finding and identifying different images to accommodate senior learners. Chaffin (2004, p.3) also suggest increasing the font size and using Sans-serif style font to make reading easier is another way to provide a comfortable learning process for the senior adult learner.

2.5.1 What is computer Anxiety

Computer anxiety is “an irrational anticipation of fear evoked by the thought of using (or actually using) computers, the effects of which result in avoiding or minimising, computer usage.” (Brosnan, 1998, p. 17).

Fear and anxiety towards computers can manifest itself in a many ways (Wood et al, 2005. p.15). Interaction between humans and computers is complex and anxiety frequently occurs when ‘something new is being learned’. Resistance can occur on these changes which has negative effects on cognitive performance. The unpredictability of computers is often feared by adults learning to use them. This can be caused by lack of information and threat of failure. Harrison (2000, p.32) states “these fears contribute to negative learner attitudes and are detrimental to learning”. In other words the user is so busy worrying about having to use a computer ‘nothing else will sink in’ (p 32). In the early days of computer anxiety studies it was assumed that “women and older adults were most likely to suffer from computer anxiety”. However studies performed over the past number of years have refuted this idea and suggest that it is more likely owing to a lack of experience on new technology (Harrison, 2000, p.33). Discrepancies are apparent between research on computer user’s age and its associations to computer anxiety.

Researchers do agree as with any age group, “that prior positive computer use, exposure and experience with computers contribute to lower levels of computer anxiety” (Liu et al, 2004). Huang, T (2009) states that computer anxiety has negative influences on self­efficacy and confirms that students with more computer experiences show a higher level of self-efficacy and can perform better in online courses. Therefore increased “positive” exposure to computers can reduce any negative feelings that can be present and results in a more optimistic approach towards computers in general.

2.6 Senior adult’s needs

There are large bodies of research on ageing, but little has been researched in the context of seniors’ needs and computers (Backman et al 2000). The majority of computer classes can leave seniors confused and dismayed. The main issue seems to be “less practical work and too much theoretical explanations”. Manheimer cited by Hazzlewood, (2001) suggests ‘that in some cases over - technological training, unsuitable hardware or software and confusing interface designs can turn anxiety to technophobia in some seniors and to indifference in others’. Research has shown that seniors need the ability to ‘work at their own pace’ and the advantages of having simple instructions always available that can be accessed as the need arise. ‘Senior citizens can learn computer skills as well as younger students, but they learn at a slower pace’ (Tomporowski, 2003, p.235). Older adulthood presents many challenges and tensions that influence and shape the learning experience. Longer life - expectancy results in longer periods of free time after retirement in which individuals are still in good health. People are faced with larger amounts of free time which means they are unavoidably confronted with “how to occupy themselves in meaningful ways over a prolonged period “(McNair, 2009). Curiosity may no longer by the focus of learning in senior citizens but to a need to learn to function in society. Senior citizens in general learn “about technology for the purpose of communication, learning, family links, keeping up to date, enjoyment, staying mentally alert and just using the computer” (O’Connell’s, 2007 p. 44). However the majority of seniors do not use computers. One purpose of the survey is to explore reasons why the majority of senior citizens do not use computers. Computer non usage could be related to issues of motivation, access and anxiety.

2.7 Successful computer-literacy

“While computer literacy may soon be a necessity for conducting routine tasks in both home and work environments, computer use also has the potential to enrich older adults’ lives in ways beyond ordinary necessity.” (Warren-Peace et al, 2008, p.255)

Age related impairments in senior adults such as decline in cognitive and motor functions are expected to increase as more baby boomers reach age 65. The reasons for this decline are not fully know (Backman et al, 2000 p. 502). O'Brien (2010) mentions influences that may slow down the rate of cognitive impairment decline in seniors: such as better health “care for such risk factors as high blood pressures, high cholesterol and smoking that can endanger their brains”. O’Brien (2010) also mentions that seniors should pursue ‘activities that can keep their minds sharp and their cardiovascular risk low: from crossword puzzles to computer use, mental stimulation improves brain functions and actually protects against cognitive decline, as does physical exercise’.

Cognition, according to Coon et al (2008, p.241-242), “refers to understanding, knowing, anticipating, or otherwise making use of information-rich higher mental processes. Cognitive learning extends beyond basic conditioning into the realms of memory, thinking, problem solving, and language. ”

Cognitive changes that accompany aging are complex. A few aspects of cognition such as working memory and perceptual speed decline with age, while others such as verbal ability and very long-term memory may improve with age (Backman et al, 2000, p.502). Additionally there are individual differences in the rates of these aging-related changes and some individuals maintain their abilities longer than others (Salthouse, 2006, p.4-6). Finally, certain aspects of personality remain constant over an entire lifetime. Contrary to these findings understanding the technology is not a factor that should influence senior citizens uptake of IT skills. Training should be geared towards seniors’ capabilities. According to Bean (2004) who did a case study that addressed such issues as cognitive and motor decline by modifying materials and techniques to create a computer course for seniors,’ confirms that with changes in training techniques, senior citizens can indeed achieve e-literacy successfully. “Having the option of going to slower, and more focused classes has made all the differences for many seniors who want to learn, but cannot keep up with the pace of other classes” (Bean, 2004, Pg 112). Selwyn et al (2008) makes a case for senior citizens’ which states that ‘educators eventually will have to get to grips with the ever-ageing population and accept the limitations of computer use for overcoming barriers of access to learning and build on what senior citizens actually use computers for. ’ Computer skills development was also positive for seniors in a study by Wood (2008). In a five week intervention program to teach novice seniors’ computer skills such as email and web based searches, the journal has the encouraging conclusion that overall, the instructional sessions “had a positive impact on seniors’ attitudes” and feelings towards computers who viewed the technology with an increased positive attitude. As previously mentioned senior citizens can indeed learn computer skills along with their younger counterparts but the training has to be modified to their needs.

2.8 E-learning and senior citizens

The increasing number of seniors “accessing information and communication technology by choice or necessity has implications for policy makers as well as both on and off line course developers and practitioner” (Hazzlewood, 2001, p.2).

The ageing of the population is affecting every aspect of society, from an ageing workforce, to an older higher education student body, to new demands on information’s systems. Access to technology has made many types of learning possible. Boeglin & Pelletier (2008) investigate this emerging group of e-learners in regards to issues such as usability for senior citizens. The journal states that design plays an important part in effective multimedia online learning environments. Materials suitable for seniors learning cannot be ignored in providing an effective learning opportunity. This provides a design that is beneficial for all users’ not just seniors. According to VanBiervliet (2004, p1) the design of an e -learning system for seniors has to consider “the perceptual, cognitive and experiential strengths of the learner, otherwise they will become frustrated and abandon the activity or fail to learn the content”. When there is information on how seniors learn while using the Internet, training programs can be more effective and support services can be developed. Rogers cited by Ellis et al (1999, p 2) gives evidence that suggests that “the belief that older adults lack interest in new technologies is not well supported. Many older individuals, especially the healthy and well-educated, are very interested in using new technologies provided they receive adequate training”. Mannova also cited by Ellis (1999) in discussing the University of the Third Age, a university that targets ‘senior citizens (retired and over the age of 55)’ in the Czech Republic points out that “motivation is a major issue when training seniors - seniors will not learn to use technology if they cannot see a direct benefit of the learning to their everyday lives”. O’Connell (2007) mentions that the “biggest challenge is to convince seniors that computing can be worthwhile for them personally” (p. 52). Classes have to be structured so students learn at their own pace and be able to focus on topics of particular interest within the lessons.

“Older adults are drawn to the... use of e-mails, on-line conferencing and web publishing because of its convenience. However, frustration and isolation can be found by the lack of familiar social cues when working in online environments (Harvey et al, 1999 p 1322).”

2.9 Mental stimulation for senior citizens

At this point it should be pointed out that there is a strong link between brain training games either on computers or hand held devices and improvement in memory. A study on volunteers between the ages of 55 and 78 by Dr. Small..

“Found that for older people with minimal experience, performing internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance functions.” (Small cited by Limited, T G 2010.)

In other words research has shown that mental stimulation can occur when seniors use the internet. This “may be a simple form of brain exercise” that could enhance cognition in seniors. Russell (2009) suggests that “within a hierarchy of learning difficulty, computers are considered to be quite challenging and therefore of greater benefit to seniors in warding off age - related memory deficiencies”. The idea that learning can keep your mind active and enable you to keep up with technological change could well be the most effective motivator in encouraging learning IT skills in seniors. Society plays a large role when it comes to encouraging seniors to develop IT skills. Many older people are convinced that they are too old to learn new things along with the stereotypical view that’ technology is associated with youth and youth culture ‘(Williamson, Bow and Wale: cited in Hazzlewood. 2001). Along with new opportunities with the expansion of the internets’ digital communication, other problems have emerged that were unheard of prior to the Internet era. Internet users must take into consideration cyberspace unwritten rules that an endless quantity of information can be true or false, honest or deceptive. Internet dangers could involve surrendering personal information to opening e-mails entitled “I Love You” that will infect their computer with a virus. “Activities in cyberspace may be risky for innocent users who do not understand the rules of the game” (Eshet, 2004). However the positive aspects of seniors using the internet far outweigh the negative. The ability to access Internet-based communities can help to develop a feeling of self-worth in seniors, and ‘a connection to the world around them’ (Warren-Peace et al 2008, p254).

2.10 Conclusion

Natural curiosity is very effective in the early years of a learner; however as a learner gets older the amount of intrinsic motivation to learn could actually reduce. Burden (2000) describes “intrinsic motivation as internal. It occurs when people are compelled to do something out of pleasure, importance, or desire. Extrinsic motivation occurs when external factors compel the person to do something” (p. 3). Interests and attitudes towards learning in general and towards specific subject areas tend to worsen in some adults as they get older (Partners HealthCare System, Inc. (2010). However it is hard to believe that the majority of senior adults who do not use IT skills are simply unwilling to learn. Motivation is an important factor in older adults’ abilities to perform purposeful activities and stay active in mind and body. Studies have found that social support and verbal encouragement are related to older adults’ incentive to participate in activities. O’Connell (2007 p. 46) suggests that “for many seniors, a desire to live self-sufficient, independent lives in their own homes is a driving force toward computing”. Some straightforward ways to change senior adult’s beliefs in their ability to use computers, can include giving verbal support, pairing them with people who already use computers, and eliminating unpleasant sensations associated with the activity. Some seniors will even shy away from a place that is too crowded. A feeling of self-worth is to be encouraged in senior adults that will give them the confidence to branch out and develop new technology skills.

The theory of self-worth as portrayed by Covington (1998) ‘recognises the need for emotional well being’ and learners can be ‘unwilling to engage in tasks that may reduce personal feelings of worth and esteem’. Feelings of low self -esteem are powerful drivers for diversionary tactics and irrespective of whether these beliefs originated from society or from poorly structured computer literacy courses the resultant behaviours are ‘of task avoidance when the probability of failure is high’ (Maslow,1987,p. 27). To avoid humiliation is a natural defence mechanism; therefore, senior learners are reluctant to be seen to be exerting maximum effort in case they will fail. Seniors fear failure and “failure-prone individuals do not accept credit for their successes because they are afraid that they will be unable to repeat them later” (Covington 1998, p 147)

It can be argued that several other factors influences the efforts displayed by senior adults in computer literacy courses. Bean (2004, p. 10) suggests that senior adults “need training which is geared to their capabilities”. In other words, computer courses suitable for seniors. Self-efficacy is another factor that can influence senior adults. Bandura (1997) defines self-efficacy as ‘ the confidence a person has in his or her ability to pursue behaviour’. Bandura (1997 p 1-3) argues that learners with high self -efficacy beliefs, consider ‘difficult tasks as challenges’ and increase their efforts when faced with failure, learners with ‘low self -efficacy beliefs on the other hand, focus on their weakness and may simply give up.’

Senior citizens experiences in the learning environment affect the enthusiasm with which they engage in their learning. The teaching methodology employed is essential to the success of the instructors’ effort when teaching senior learners to join forces and to set targets. The theories relating to senior learners motivation investigated in this chapter should lead to greater understanding and the development of more comprehensive teaching methodologies. The literature discussed in this chapter has provided clarity on a number of factors that prevent or assist senior citizens uptake of IT skills and will form the basis for the design of the research instruments. The questions in the questionnaire will be designed to determine if senior citizens opinions are in alignment or in disagreement with the factors discussed in the literature Review.


3.1 Introduction

This chapter describes the methodology undertaken to investigate factors that influence senior citizens in their uptake or non uptake of IT skills in retirement centres in the area. An in-depth rationale for using these methods is examined. The factors that influence the participants’ uptake were examined in order to establish relationships and patterns between age, their involvement in computers, computer anxiety, and the success of any computer course they have attended. This chapter outlines the aims of the study, the rationale behind the design of the study and describes the research methodology undertaken to carry out the study. It outlines the methods of data collection and the procedures undertaken and the chronology in which these procedures were carried out. The chapter also gives guidelines for creating a web browser application using Visual Basic in conjunction with the involvement of the senior adult’s participants in the study.

3.1.2 Aims and Objectives of the study

The overall aim of this study is to investigate factors that influence senior citizens in the uptake of IT skills in three geographically dispersed retirement centres in Co Kerry. In the context of the problem under review poor impact of training along with a lack of suitable interface design can have a negative effect on seniors in their uptake of IT skills (Chadwich et al, 2002). To determine the impact of the skills gained from the training programs on the development of IT skills: primarily those who adopted the practices from the training program. The first part of the research will be achieved by answering research questions which require ascertaining the nature of the problem as well as establishing the relationships between IT skills and motivation, technology anxieties and computer usability using a correlation study.

(a) Arising from these aims, a number of research objectives were formulated:

1. To what extent can computer anxiety and computer experience jointly affect senior adults’ usage of computers?
2. What is the success rate of computer literacy courses undertaken by senior adults and what percent of the participants failed to complete them?
3. To examine is there any significant relationship in age, computer knowledge and senior adults’ usage of computers.

(b) In the Qualitative phase the questions include:

1. Do interface designs play a role in motivating seniors to use computers?
2. When seniors take up a basic computer literacy computer course does it motivate them to continue developing technology skills?
3. Is the structure of computer courses available to seniors suitable to their needs?

(c) The second stage of the research is to look at an application to browse the internet that is suitable and provide usability for senior adults.

1. What options exist that allow the creation of a browser application
2. How much technical knowledge is necessary to create a useful application?
3. What are the design issues relating to the application?
4. How can it be distributed to the users?

(d) The third and final stage is to examine how the users interact with the application

1. What are the usability issues when it comes to seniors?
2. How can the application be more user friendly for seniors?
3. How can the application be evaluated?

3.1.3 Data Collection

After an in-depth study of the methodologies, the researcher decided upon the following mixed methods of data collection:

- Senior Citizens Questionnaire
- Focus group meetings to discuss design principles for the application
- One-on-one Interviews

“The fundamental rationale behind choosing a mixed methods research is that more can be learned about the research topic by using a combination of qualitative research and quantitative research while compensating at the same time for the weaknesses of each method” (Punch, 2009, p. 290).

3.1.4 Validity and Reliability

SPSS is used to interpret the data and data validity will be ensured by careful sampling and appropriate statistical treatment of the data. In order for data to be taken seriously, there must be checks on the validity and reliability of the information. Hitchcock & Hughes (1995) state that validity refers to the extent to which “the data collected by the researcher presents an accurate picture of what it is claimed is being described” (p105), while reliability involves “ the extent to which a particular technique will produce the same kinds of results, however, whenever and by whoever it is carried out” (p 107). This can be quite difficult to ascertain unless someone else conducts the same piece of research. Regardless, Hitchcock & Hughes, argue that “Situations never remain the same, they change, are redefined, and two individuals will view the ‘same’ event in rather different ways” (p108). Even though a cross section of retirement centres were involved other researchers undertaking this piece of research may get different results depending on their subject, the relationship and responses the participants have. The research is not designed to achieve population validity but to achieve an in- depth understanding of selected individuals from retirement centres (Gall et al 2007 p 166). Hitchcock & Hughes suggest that “the most common way in which validity can be strengthened is by some form of triangulation or diversity of methods” (p 106). Therefore, as opposed to depending on a single type of data or viewpoint as the basis for findings, various forms of mixed or different types of data are used to check the validity and reliability of the findings. Creswell (2002, p. 169) states that’ a study may have invalid scores because of participants fatigue, stress, and misunderstanding of questions on the instrument’. During the filling in of the questionnaires in this study, the author remained with the participants to answer any questions or difficulties they encountered. Further confirmation of data was also achieved by having “the quantifying and qualifying data collected simultaneously” (Creswell, 2008, p. 565). If the outcome of a questionnaire survey corresponds to the outcome of an in-depth interview the more confident the researcher will be about the findings is one advantage of using the multi-method research approach (Cohen, et al, 2007).

3.1.5 Triangulation

The inclusion of data from different sources can help the researcher “clarify meaning by identifying different ways in which the phenomena are being perceived” (Creswell, 2008 p 216). In this study, the combination of questionnaires, focus groups and in-debt- interviews from facilitators and members of the retirement centres provided the necessary triangulation. The value of triangulation in this study is obtained by using different data gathering methods so that different perspectives could be obtained. The use of feedback from facilitator’s of the centres provided an informal observer’s view on the overall project and nature of the questions asked, or topics raised in the focus groups.

3.1.6 Participants in the study

The target population of this study consist of three local senior citizens centres: TARA group Tralee, ide group St. Brendan’s Tralee and Ballyduff Active Retirement group with an age range of 65+. The main inclusion criterion for selecting the study sample is age. The study sample is 57 participants, due to the limited number of participants who are available to study, n=57. The sampling method is convenience sampling from selected participants who are willing and available to be studied. Creswell (2008, p 370) suggests that the study sample need to have approximately 30 participants for a correlation study that relates variables, so the sample size is suitable for a correlation study. A correlation study is useful for identifying types of association, explaining complex relationships of several factors that predict an outcome (p 356). Permission was obtained from facilitators in the centres before entering the centres and collecting data. Participants were encouraged but not coerced into completing the questionnaires. A guarantee was issued that secures the confidentiality, anonymity and non- traceability of the participants in the study. ( al, 2007, p 142)

3.2 Development of Questionnaire Design

3.2.1 Introduction

The previous mentioned objectives were used to construct the primary data collection instrument for this study. This is a questionnaire consisting of three instruments. The first instrument “Computer Experience” examines the experiences or non- experiences senior adults have with computers and how they might use them in a personal setting. The second instrument “Computer Anxiety Scale” (CAS) examines if there is anxiety associated with using computers which could provide a barrier to learning IT skills. The final and third instrument “Computer Usage Questionnaire:” (CUQ) examines senior adults who have done computer courses and use computers regular.

3.2.2 Data collection instruments

Creswell (2008, p 161) describes an instruments as a “tool for measuring, observing, or documenting quantitative data”. To get answers for the research objectives, a Likert scale (2010) questionnaire consisting of three instruments: computer anxiety, computer usage and computer knowledge was administered to the participants in the study.


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An investigation into factors that influence senior citizens in their uptake of IT Skills
2nd Class Honours
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Senior Citizens, Technology, IT Skills, Application, Computer Technology, attitudes, qualitative research
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Loreto Weir (Author), 2010, An investigation into factors that influence senior citizens in their uptake of IT Skills, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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