More older adults are going online than ever before, but there may be wide variability in the range of resources accessed. A new study investigated if being motivated to learn new technology compared to experience with technology in helping older adults learn new internet skills.
Swiss researchers recruited 707 adults age 60 or better (average age 72.5) to complete a survey on the types of internet-based activities they engage in, such as information searches, social media, online banking, or streaming, as well as their history of technology use and how motivated they are to learn new technology (tech adaptivity). Using the internet for a greater variety of activities was considered as being more proficient at using the internet.
As expected, having more experience with technology was associated with engaging in a greater variety of internet activity. Participants who were younger, completed more education, and lived with others also had greater internet variety. However, the researchers were more interested in how technology adaptivity and technology experience interacted to influence internet variety. They found that while older adults who had more technology experience used the internet for a greater variety of activities, technology adaptivity actually accounted for 50 percent of this association. In other words, there is more to current technology use than just previous experience. More experience with technology was helpful, but older adults who showed greater adaptivity were able to make the most of what the internet has to offer.
The findings may seem obvious, but they provide evidence for various recommendations. Rather than merely teaching older adults how to use the internet (or any new technology) it is important to also address their motivations and sense of control. The researchers also suggested adding a biographical component to technology interventions, which would identify positive past experiences with technology and help to build on that knowledge.
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Seifert A, Kamin ST, and Lang FR. Technology adaptivity mediates the effect of technology biography on internet use variability. Innovation in Aging (2020); 4(2), 1-7.