The language of digital learning : developing an e-learning approach for the elderly
Sheridan, Richard David
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the current learning methods that are typically used by special populations (an elderly subject group), and to explore their general level of effectiveness. The primary research questions explore how this subject group is currently learning to use the Internet and for what purposes, along with what the typical barriers are that this group experiences when seeking to use the Internet, together with factors that motivate them to participate in learning programs. This study has special relevance for elderly adults along with computer instructors who specifically train the elderly to learn to use the Internet. The findings may also be of interest to others who interact with other special populations, directly or indirectly, including web designers, healthcare professionals, librarians, and others. The project was prompted by the author‘s experience teaching and observing elderly adults learning to use the Internet, and his desire to develop a more effective teaching strategy for them. The thesis explores the basic principles of adult learning, including components from self-directed learning, the theory of multiple intelligences, ethnographic research and other theories and approaches that have the potential of contributing to teaching this subject group, including the use of language in describing their learning successes and failures. Data analysis consisted of observing over 200 older adults learning to use the Internet over a two-year period. The evaluation of participants was based on empirical (defined in the glossary) and subjective analysis of levels of participation, progress and other factors. To supplement the large-scale results with rich data, the author of this study also performed detailed interviews with 14 elderly Internet users along with five teachers of the elderly. Additional material was gathered from academic journal articles, online databases and other related sources. The author tested and applied several research methods to achieve the most effective outcome. This iii included participant observation from ethnographic research, along with empirical and basic quantitative research. The author also uses autoethnography in his research approach, an emerging qualitative research method that allows the researcher to write in a highly personalized style, drawing on his or her experience, as kind of a autobiographical personal narrative. The intent of auto-ethnography is to acknowledge the link between the personal and the cultural and to make room for non-traditional forms of inquiry and expression. In embracing personal thoughts, feelings, stories, and observations as a way of understanding the social context they are studying, these researchers are also shedding light on their total interaction with that setting by making their every emotion and thought visible to the reader. Auto-ethnography also gives researchers an opportunity to do primary research and draw data from their observations. An identifiable pattern that is reviewed in more detail in the Results section emerged from these different findings. The primary outcome that emerged is that there are many approaches to learning, and these methods need to be examined, tested and selectively adapted for each individual to achieve the maximum benefit. The widespread demand for Internet training has resulted in fragmented and inconsistent training schemes that are generally focused on classroom-based instruction. The author encourages a systematic self-testing by the subject group member (and their teachers) to explore currently available training methods and combine the elements that they find most effective towards a personalized approach to learning based on individual interests, aptitudes, and the availability of the local training resources. The percentage of the elderly using the Internet is rising rapidly, and the current training options are limited in some areas in the United States. Based on the author‘s empirical observations, the self-directed approach to learning appears to show the most promise for this elderly subject group, in the sense that they generate their own best learning schematics, while their instructor guides and facilitates the process. iv This thesis has made a primary contribution to the research in several ways. First of all, the author made a synthesis that has not been made previously. He combined the concept of self-directed learning with several methods of learning improvement, such as the use of assistive technology for the disabled, memory skill-building, and the application of symbols and metaphors to increase the ability of this subject group to comprehend the learning materials. This is arguably the best approach for adapting to this rapidly evolving subject group population. Additionally, he applied the concept of kaizen, a Japanese term from their manufacturing sector that represents continuous, ongoing improvement, to teach to members of this group the concept of self-monitoring and improvement. Additionally, the research was cross-disciplinary and used different methodologies, including ethnography, empirical and basic quantitative research. Several additional contributions and innovations are described later in the thesis.