There is a difference between the ‘target group of the research activities’ or the ‘research subject’ (which are the older adults) and the ‘target group for the research findings’ (which are staff of online communities and course instructors). In this chapter, the ‘target group’ is defined as the ‘older adults’. The ‘target group for the research findings’, or in other words the expected readers of the Handbook, are defined in the Handbook introduction.
Introduction & overview of chapter[edit | edit source]
The target group of this research project consists of older adults (mostly 60-70 years), who are interested in participating in online social communities (e.g. Facebook, Seniorweb) and online collaboration projects (e.g. Wikipedia). Via these online initiatives, older adults (which until now have been underrepresented on online platforms) can use new possibilities for social interaction and participation.
This Chapter first describes the target group into more detail (in 2), then clarifies the current situation, the (non) internet use by older adults (in 3), explores the possible benefits for older adults who actively participate online (in 4) and finally makes some suggestions as to how online communities can encourage these benefits for older adults (in 5, also linked to the Chapter ‘Usability’).
Target group: Older adults interested in participating in online communities[edit | edit source]
The general target group of older adults (mostly 60-70 years) can be divided into three subgroups: passive visitors of online communities (the so-called ‘lurkers’), participants of internet-courses, and older adults in existing clubs (e.g. hiking clubs) who have only used offline communication until now. For every sub group, the goal of the TAO-project is to make them aware of the benefits that participating in online social interaction can have for them. Below, each sub target group is described in greater detail.
Sub target group 1: Older passive users of online communities and/or their products (‘lurkers’)[edit | edit source]
This group consists of older adults that visit online communities or collaboration-websites (e.g. reading the information on Wikipedia), but who do not actively contribute to these websites (e.g. not writing on Wikipedia themselves). Many of them are overwhelmed by the broad range of activities and content on online communities. When trying to contribute themselves, new users may get frustrated by the communities’ complicated rules, technical hurdles or the sometimes harsh communication style.
Sub target group 2: Older participants of internet courses[edit | edit source]
This group consists of older adults who have shown their interest in learning to use the Internet by participating in corresponding classes. However, many of these course participants are not aware of the existence of (and the opportunities provided by) online communities. Moreover, even when they know the online communities, they may lose their interest if these communities do not provide offline (real life) social interactions, as e.g. a monthly dinner with the other community members.
[edit | edit source]
This group consists of older adults in existing clubs of which have until now mostly relied on offline interactions (e.g. ornithological clubs, hiking clubs, etcetera), but who are interested in using online communication as well. Such clubs may need specific incentives to maintain online activities, as they do not necessarily rely on them.
Very diverse target group
As is shown above, the targeted group of older adults is highly diverse. This diversity holds consequences for online communities who want to focus on this group of older adults. As addressing this group is non-trivial, online communities have to consider who they exactly want to reach (age, gender, level of education, profession, etcetera), what they have to offer as an online community, and how this offer matches the addressed target group.
Older adults & Reasons for non-use of internet & online communities[edit | edit source]
Current situation: use of the internet by older adults[edit | edit source]
The share of older adults who are online has risen sharply in the course of the last ten years. Nevertheless, older adults continue to use the internet and online communities far less frequently than younger age groups . It is important to note that the use of online technologies does not only differ according to age; also gender, physical challenges, marital status and level of education play an important role. In the case of older adults some of these factors may come together, which makes the barrier to use the internet greater for them .
Reasons for non-use of the internet by older adults[edit | edit source]
- Misconceptions about internet: Many authors see the main reasons for older adults’ non-use of the internet in “misconceptions” about the internet. The internet is viewed as being dominated by pornography and illegal activities . Moreover, there is a widespread attitude among older adults that the internet should be left to the younger generations .
• Anxiety & impairment: Internet non-use can also be rooted in perceptions of inadequate efficacy and computer anxiety . Obviously, functional impairments (e.g. reduced view) can also be a reason for non-use of the internet . • Problems of sociability & usability: Concerning online communities, most barriers are related to problems of sociability or usability . Sociability includes the purpose of the community, the ways in which people are allowed to interact and, finally, community governance, which is characterized by formal and informal policies. Usability, on the other hand, refers to the easiness and intuitiveness with which the technology of the online community can be learned and used. • Doubt about meaningful exchanges: In addition, many older adults have reservations against using the internet as a place for meaningful social exchanges .
What’s in it for me? Possible benefits for older adults of active online participation[edit | edit source]
When older adults actively participate on the internet or in online communities, they are expected to profit in terms of social capital and human capital (health and well-being, but also skills and knowledge), improved possibilities for online activities, and a larger array of online content which is targeted at their needs.
Concrete benefits of online participation for older adults[edit | edit source]
Online social communities (e.g. Seniorweb) and collaboration projects (e.g. Wikipedia) offer a large palette of possibilities for meaningful activities and social interactions; both online and offline. People can choose in which activities they engage, and how fast and intensely they want to do this – which is often appreciated by older adults. Activities in online collaboration projects stimulate social interactions, the sharing of ideas and access to new knowledge. It is expected that the participation in online activities has a positive impact on the mental and social health of older adults. Furthermore, the possible intergenerational exchange may help people of different ages to broaden their horizon and to profit from improved relations.
Research findings about the benefits of online participation[edit | edit source]
How an older adult is affected by the internet depends not only on age but also on a number of other factors, including socio-economic status, level of education, personality, experiences of self-efficacy and personal biography . Results of studies on the positive effects of internet use are mixed. There is evidence that the use of online communities can help cope with stress . Moreover, computer and internet usage by older adults has shown various positive effects, namely an expansion of connections to their social network, a better integration into the current social discourse and an orientation towards the future, and a frequent attribution of human traits to the computer, i.e. a perception of the computer as enabler of “good things”. On the other hand, randomized controlled studies could not prove that computer training and internet use have measureable effects on cognitive functioning, wellbeing and autonomous living.
How can online communities encourage these benefits for older adults?[edit | edit source]
Online communities could take policy measures to promote the inclusion of older adults. This should ideally be done in such way that it enhances their physical, psychological and social well-being and improves their skills. At the same time, this could have a positive impact on the quality of the content and the interaction) within the online community. By developing user interfaces and functionalities adapted to the special needs of older adults, online communities could enhance the access of older adults to the Internet, and allow them to master new tools faster. Following this line, it is expected that older adults who regularly use the Internet will develop the necessary internet skills to also stay in contact with family and friends when they become (in a later life phase) physically less mobile.
Links[edit | edit source]
Other Handbook chapters:
Older Adults and Online Communities
Fostering Older Adults Online Participation
TAO Survey Among Elderly - Wave 1
Initiation and Meaningful Use of Online Communities
Link to the study of the TAO project on "Older Persons and Online Communities: Motives, Incentives and Barriers"
References[edit | edit source]
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- Zickuhr, 2010; Initiative D21, 2010; European Commission, 2010