There is an interesting paper in the recently published International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET) on the use of mobile devices for learning for the Elderly. Unlike most existing research it seeks to throw light on the use of mobile technologies for elderly learners rather than school or college students. The study indicates that elderly people are interested in using mobile devices and services, but these services need to deliver real value for them.
They look at the barriers to older people using mobile technology such as lack of confidence, age related impairments like limited vision, motor skills or cognition. They comment that ” Although there have been numerous efforts at making desktop computers accessible, there have been almost no efforts to improve mobile device accessibility.” A literature review was the first part of the research and they use some interesting quotations taken from various previous published papers.
The second stage was original empirical research using qualitative expert interviews with older people on their experiences and expectations of using handheld devices. The interviews were semi structured, face to face and greatly facilitated by the interviewer’s knowledge and extensive experience. During the interview, the researcher was able to comprehend suggestions and concerns by participants, and to immediately speculate and table possible design solutions for discussion.
The results showed that nearly 100% of the resondents found the size of the small buttons on the devices hard to use and the text on the screens and interfaces difficult to read. Key combinations need to be simple and to give immediate feedback to the user. Interfaces need to be simple, with a consistent appearence. Generally, an overriding multi-functional interface is needed for all possible combinations of tasks and user populations.
they suggest the following point for addressing impairments in vision, speech and hearing, psychomotor skills, attention span, and memory:
- Use layout simplicity, clarity, and consistency
- Use lower frequency tones for sounds
- Design speech recognition software to cope with slower speech
- Allow double-click speeds to be slower
- Avoid delays and distractions to minimize short term memory loss
- Use only simple, relevant graphics
- Prefer short text or lists to paragraphs of text
- Don’t rely on colour alone
- Provide larger graphics and click targets
“One of the main objectives is social inclusion: especially the integration of older people and people with disabilities into the information society. The means to achieve this is to design mainstream products and services to be accessible by as broad a range of users as possible operating within the widest possible range of situations. ” Well I can’t argue with that.
I’ve highlighted only a few of the results of the research and would recommend anyone interested in either accessibility or mobile learning to read the full paper which is available here. Please note you will have to register with the iJET but it is a free to access journal.