According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States, adult Internet users over the age of 65 jumped from 28% in 2005 to 42% in 2011.
Although this is an substantial jump in Internet usage among older adults, over 50% of this age group is still not benefiting from the Internet. Why?
There are several proposed reasons why millions of the elderly still do not use the Internet, computer anxiety being the largest factor. Computer anxiety prevents older adults from gaining the social, economic, and interpersonal benefits that the Internet can provide.
Computer anxiety is partially due to the fact that most corporate website developers tend to overlook older adults as a part of the potential user audience. In fact, most website designs actually make computer anxiety worse in older adults.
An important psychological principle termed self-efficacy is deeply intertwined with computer anxiety and older adults. Self-efficacy, in short, is one’s belief in their ability to complete a specific task. Computer self-efficacy then, is one’s perceived ability to use technology such as computers and the Internet. Research shows a direct relationship between computer self-efficacy and computer anxiety; those with high computer self-efficacy have lower computer anxiety.
Self-efficacy is a key determinant in motivation and behavior; those with high computer self efficacy are more likely to be more motivated to face the challenges of using the Internet and thus more likely to engage in online usage. Computer self-efficacy can be increased by ‘mastery experiences’, or successful computer experiences. For example, if one has low computer self-efficacy, but then master a certain element of Internet use, then computer self-efficacy increases and computer anxiety decreases.
The problem lies in the absence of ‘senior-friendly’ websites, and the related lack of opportunity for such mastery experiences. The National Institute of Aging and the National Library of Medicine addressed this problem by publishing Making Your Website Senior Friendly: A Checklist. This publication provides 25 guidelines to make websites more accessible to older adults. It covers three main categories:
- Designing readable text
- Increasing memory and comprehension of web content
- Increasing the ease of navigation
This publication enables web designers to help build the computer self-efficacy of older adults. Tactics as simple as incorporating specific fonts (i.e. sans serif typeface) or offering web site tutorials, can help to increase computer self-efficacy in older adult users, and empower them to take advantage of the benefits of the Internet.
An abundant amount of research indicates self-efficacy has a strong determinant on motivation and behavior. It has been applied to health, sports, interpersonal skills, academics, public speaking, and recovery from trauma. Not only is it powerful, but it is also easy to develop under the right conditions.
Website developers who incorporate ‘senior-friendly’ elements to their websites will enable older adults to partake in the social, economical, and personal benefits that can be obtained from Internet use.
For the U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States:
For the National Institute of Aging and the National Library of Medicine publication Making Your Website Senior Friendly: A Checklist.
For more information on self-efficacy in general:
For more information on computer self-efficacy:
For more information on ‘senior-friendly’ websites:
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