The improvement of the quality of life of older adults in an aging society is one of the main priorities of researchers in recent years. Aging is highly correlated with psychological changes and especially with a decline in various cognitive procedures (Baudouin et al. 2009
). There is evidence that after the fourth decade of a person’s life, cognitive skills stop improving and gradually decline (Clark et al. 2006
). Most older adults have impaired cognitive control, which is related to the slump of the prefrontal brain regions (Mather and Carstensen 2005
). In addition, short-term memory performance in healthy individuals is positively correlated with gray matter volume (Taki et al. 2011
It has been reported that more than 50% of individuals aged 60 and over are in danger of cognitive decline. At the same time, the limited amount of education for older adults is considered a risk factor for dementia (Ball et al. 2002
). Thus, education during late adulthood could provide protection against dementia (Ardila et al. 2000
). Deficits on executive function as well as attention deficits could increase the risk of future falls for older adults (Mirelman et al. 2012
). Furthermore, adults show high levels of anxiety as they get older, as they are afraid of the possible consequences of aging (Hertzog et al. 2008
). Stress-related factors, as well as environmental factors could affect cognitive health during aging (Scott et al. 2015
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have significantly contributed to the improvement of people’s everyday activities. As in other sectors, such as education, ICTs are integrated in order to support, enhance and optimize the delivery of knowledge. In recent years, there has been a variety of computerized training programs, which target the cognitive abilities of older adults. These intervention programs are considered more cost effective and can be used anytime and in any place, without specific instruction (Kueider et al. 2012
). In addition, the adoption of ICTs in education has opened new horizons for older adults as e-learning can positively affect their social and political life and generally enhance their self-development. The purpose of this study was to identify specific characteristics for the design of a cognitive-based e-learning platform for older adults. For this reason, this study aimed to analyze the familiarization of older adults with ICTs, their cognitive characteristics, as well as their attitudes towards the learning approach used.
The structural validity of the questionnaire was guaranteed by measuring the strength of correlation between individual results. For this, Pearson’s correlation coefficients were calculated for questions related to participants’ attitudes toward the preferred learning approach to the e-learning modules (Table 3
), as well as for questions related to the specifications of the modules (Table 4
). As shown, all correlation coefficients were moderate to high and statistically significant at the 0.01 level, proving the validity of the questionnaire used for data collection. In addition, for the internal reliability of the questionnaire, Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient was calculated. For the eight items related to the preferred learning approaches, Cronbach’s Alpha was 0.892, while for the six items related to the specifications of the e-learning modules it was 0.895. The overall Cronbach’s Alpha was 0.926, indicating the reliability of the questionnaire.
Questions 9 through 21 targeted the familiarization of older adults with information and communication technologies (Table 5
). According to the results, participants were more confidence in their use of simple mobile phones (mean = 3.952, SD = 0.984) and personal computers or laptops (mean = 3.573, SD = 1.411), in comparison to the use of smartphones (mean = 3.301, SD = 1.441) and tablets (mean = 272, SD = 1.422). Older adults seemed to be more confident when they used a keyboard (mean = 3.971, SD = 1.256) and a mouse (mean = 3.845, SD = 1.239) rather than using a touch screen (mean = 3.678, SD = 1.239). The majority of the participants (79.6%) used the Internet every day, while only a mere 4.9% did not use the Internet at all. However, only 41.7% of the participants reported feeling confident while using the Internet.
Most participants (35.9%) learned how to use information and communication technologies from their family environment, while 29.1% of the participants were self-taught. It must be mentioned that almost 20% of the participants actually attended ICT classes in an ICT school. In addition, the majority of the participants (77.7%) stated that they have an e-mail account, while, notably, 9.7% stated that they are not sure whether they have an e-mail account or not. Moreover, 73.8% of the older adults participating in the online survey had experience in submitting electronic forms, while almost 4% stated that they were not sure if they had or not. Finally, the vast majority (91.3%) of the participants had used an online search engine at least once.
According to their responses, older adults seemed to spend more time searching for information on the Internet (mean = 3.398, SD = 1.174), sending and receiving e-mails (mean = 2.796, SD = 1.424), and reading the news (mean = 2.767, SD = 1.139) while online. In contrast, they did not spend much time e-shopping (mean = 1.757, SD = 1.071) or e-banking (mean = 1.971, SD = 1.256). In reference to mobile applications, older adults felt more confident when they used mobile devices for calling (mean = 4.078, SD = 1.326), sending and receiving text messages (mean = 3.660, SD = 1.525), checking the time (mean = 3.553, SD = 1.551), and for web browsing (mean = 3.495, SD = 1.553).
represents the confidence level of the participants while using the Internet, in terms of their gender, age, residence and educational level.
A chi-square test of independence was performed, in order to examine the impact of gender, age, residence and educational level on older adults’ confidence towards the use of ICTs. The relation between the level of confidence using ICTs and the educational level was significant (). More educated older adults were more confident with ICTs than their peers with lower educational levels.
In terms of the learning approach used for the design of the e-learning modules (Table 7
), older adults were more positive regarding the step-by-step presentation of the educational content (mean = 4.301, SD = 0.895), the existence of exercises after each module (mean = 4.291, SD = 0.788), and the existence of assessment tests after the completion of each e-learning module (mean = 4.194, SD = 0.852).
One-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was applied in order to identify which factors could significantly affect participants’ attitudes. According to the results, there was a significant relationship between the participants’ educational level and their attitude towards the existence of specialized/autonomous modules in the e-learning platform . Older adults who had graduated from high school had the most positive attitudes (mean = 4.182, SD = 0.603), while participants who had graduated from primary school had the least positive attitudes (mean = 3.375, SD = 1.147). In addition, the type of employment seemed to significantly affect older adults’ attitudes regarding the learning approach used (. Freelancers seemed to express more positive attitudes towards specialized/autonomous modules (mean = 4.500, SD = 0.707) compared to private employees (mean = 3.250, SD = 1.138).
There was also a statistically significant relationship between the attitude, the level of confidence while using the Internet, the existence of autonomous modules ), the grouping of relevant modules and the continuity between modules In particular, participants who were confident about the use of the Internet had more positive attitudes regarding the existence of specialized/autonomous modules , the grouping of relevant modules , and the continuity between modules . This was in comparison with their peers who did not feel confident at all while using the Internet (mean = 3.222, SD = 1.394; mean = 3.444, SD = 1.333; and mean = 3.667, SD = 1.414, respectively).
In reference to the specifications of the modules, older adults were more positive towards the existence of examples in the modules (mean = 4.524, SD = 0.778), as well as to the utilization of special graphics (mean = 4.447, SD = 0.905) and explanatory videos (mean = 4.437, SD = 0.788). The results revealed a significant relationship between the work situation and the attitudes towards the existence of revision after the completion of a module (. Unemployed participants had more positive attitudes (mean = 4.833, SD = 0.389) compared to their peers in the labor force (mean = 4.186, SD = 1.042).
The present study concerns literature and field study regarding older adults and new technologies, with emphasis on e-learning. The principle objective was to understand their cognitive characteristics and attitudes, as well as the way in which they learn best, in order to design and develop a suitable e-learning platform adapted to their needs. The results of the online survey targeting older adults, together with those already present in the literature review, allowed the following considerations.
As far as familiarization with devices is concerned, older adults seemed to be more confident using more “traditional” devices such as simple mobile phones and personal computers/laptops compared to smartphones and tablets. As a result, they also prefer using keyboards and mice over using touch screens. However, there are studies indicating that the use of touch screens instead of traditional input devices could reduce anxiety levels (Chung et al. 2010
; Umemuro 2004
). As far as mobiles are concerned, older adults mostly use them for calls, messages, checking the time, and browsing the Internet.
Concerning access to the Internet, the research indicated that only a minority of the participants does not use the Internet at all. Nevertheless, and aside from the fact that the vast majority appears to be online on a daily basis, less than half of them felt safe or confident while using Internet-based services. These findings are in accordance with recent studies on the use of the Internet by older adults (Choi and DiNitto 2013
; Gatto and Tak 2008
; Zickuhr and Madden 2012
It appears that most participants learned how to use ICTs from their family environment, followed by the ones that were self-taught, whereas only one in five had actual computer and ICT training.
As far as the activities they engage in when they go online, older adults usually spend time searching for information (Wagner et al. 2010
). This agrees with the fact that the vast majority of older adults state that they have used an online search engine at least once. Most of the participants also state that they have an email account and, in fact, sending and receiving emails was the second most common activity engaged in, followed by reading the news. Finally, older adults seem to still be very cautious with the use of e-shopping and e-banking (Xiong and Mathews 2005
It appears that the level of education of older adults had a significant effect on their attitude towards use of and familiarization with ICTs. Higher educated participants seemed to be more confident compared to their peers with lower educational level, however, age, gender and residence did not have a significant effect.
As far as the learning approach of the e-learning course was concerned, participants considered the most important features to be the step-by-step presentation of the educational content and the existence of exercises and assessment at the end of each e-learning module.
The educational level as well as the type of employment of the older adult had a significant effect on their interest in specialized/autonomous e-learning modules. Participants with higher educational level seemed once again to be more confident and positive towards the autonomous modules compared to their peers with a lower education. The same applied to freelancers when compared with other types of employees.
Finally, the level of confidence while using the Internet had a significant effect on older adults’ attitudes towards the existence of autonomous/specialized modules, as well as the grouping of relevant modules. Participants that felt more confident using the Internet in general were more positive towards the latter compared to their peers who did not feel confident in either.
The present study attempted to investigate the cognitive functioning, profile, learning needs, and familiarization of older adults with ICTs. The aim of this study was to reach a final didactical approach that could be adapted to the target group’s learning needs. Older adults were more accustomed to using personal computers and/or laptops over mobile devices. In fact, in response to one question they clearly stated that they preferred using a keyboard and a mouse over touch screens. Hence, it was considered a certainty that the e-learning platform should be fully responsive and the creation of a mobile app should be considered.
The literature review revealed that the attention skills of older adults appeared very low, especially when multitasking. From this, the need for a simple graphical user interface (GCI) design, without using bright colors and excessive graphics, was established. In addition, a straightforward navigation design for the online modules would contribute to the elimination of distractors. Studies have revealed that aging is also correlated with a decline in cognitive procedures and, especially, in working memory. With aging, the brain changes, thus affecting executive function. However, it has been proven that participation in lifelong learning activities, along with intervention, can improve the cognitive skills of people and, consequently, their memory. Therefore, the e-learning modules should be short and comprehensive, breaking the educational material into small units. In addition, older adults find it hard to process large texts due to their deteriorating cognitive skills and to their growing anxiety, which comes as a consequence of age. Considering this, the learning modules should not contain much text in order to motivate older learners.
Studies have revealed that due to their lack of confidence and their growing anxiety, older adults prefer a more self-directed (or personalized-learning) approach (Reimann et al. 2012
). This should be set in an informal learning setting with a flexible curriculum where they can follow the learning modules of their choice and at their own pace. An e-learning setting can provide such a setting by giving adequate time and space to repeat and absorb the newly acquired material, which is available anytime and anywhere. That being said, older adults sometimes appreciate the help of a peer or a teacher. Although they may be reluctant at first, studies show that older adults tend to make mistakes and at some stage will need support (Alonso et al. 2005
), whether from a teacher or from a peer learner. An e-learning environment, which offers communication and social capabilities, can provide such a setting.
In regards to assessment procedures, the existence of exercises after the end of an online course is a practice that adults welcome, not so much to be marked but in order to understand their learning needs. In fact, they wish to have very clear learning goals set before they take a course. Therefore, an e-learning environment that provides an automated assessment system for self-evaluation, based on the successful completion of certain criteria, such as quizzes, comprehension exercises, practical questions, assignments, etc. could prove useful. It was clearly demonstrated in the field research that older adults showed positive attitudes towards the incorporation of practical exercises and assessment methods in general, both during and after the completion of an online module, which clearly shows that they prefer a more active and experience-based learning approach rather than a passive one. They preferred receiving feedback but not necessarily being marked. The reception of feedback can clearly contribute to better understanding of the material and the self-diagnosis of their learning needs. From the above, and based on the survey results, the conclusion that was drawn is that the target group prefers to spend time on practical-oriented learning material with examples and practical questions. In other words, they prefer to learn something that will be useful in their everyday lives and, apart from learning the theoretical background, they wish to put what they learned into practice. Therefore, learning content should not be isolated from its practical context. In order to achieve this, exercises that allow the target group to practice the newly acquired skills and knowledge should be provided.
Summing up, the learning modules hosted in the e-learning platform should be presented in a clear and logical way. Given the aforementioned cognitive limitations of older adults and based on the survey feedback, the overall conclusion is that the learning modules should have specific learning goals, be short in length, using mostly multimedia over text. Step-by-step presentation is the preferred way to provide educational content to the target group in order to ease the learning process as much as possible.