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Knowledge Media

There are dozens of types of knowledge media such as wikis, blogs, social networking sites- Face book, Myspace, discussion groups, Flickr and so on. These media tend to be initially geared or appeal to one particular knowledge community but then frequently expand to other knowledge communities. The various knowledge communities may learn or use the knowledge media in ways that are different than what was initially envisioned by the creators.

Knowledge Community

In this class we are looking at knowledge media and how they relate to "seniors". For purposes of this discussion the knowledge community is seniors who want to participate in life long learning and are willing to use ICT as a tool to facilitate learning. The definition of seniors is broad, particularly if one uses age to define it. We will be using a definition that relates primarily to people who are in the "Third Age" of their lives, that is, people who have finished a key area of their lives such as employment and are moving on to a new stage of life, often retirement. This group usually includes people in their mid-fifties and older. As the statistics below indicate, the 65+ age bracket is the fastest growing demographic worldwide- the "silver tsunami". We will look at how seniors now are using knowledge media as well as the barriers they face.

Some interesting questions

What kind of technology advances would we need in order to help seniors become fully engaged?
  • Eliminate all log-in procedures.
  • Voice input (Alternate inputs)
  • Reduce distance (Remote log-on to their computer?)
How do we turn seniors into an asset rather than a liability?
  • How to capitalize on their knowledge? Their wisdom?
  • How do we capitalize on their time? (how many hours a day do they watch TV?)
  • How do we capitalize on their money
How can technology be used in ways that don't require the seniors to use it?
  • Matchmaking
  • Ride sharing
  • Smart houses
  • caring for one another
How can we capture and use the histories that these elders possess?
  • YouTube for seniors
  • Story telling
How can we respond to real problems that seniors have?
  • Health problems
  • Learning disabilities (memory, motor, etc)
  • Distance and isolation?

Some Basic Statistics

79% of people 65+ who are not online say they will never go online.
Only 34% of Americans 65+ use the Internet.
21 million Americans alone 65+ will never use the Internet - unless we intervene.
Why should you care?
The 65+ age bracket is the fastest growing demographic worldwide.

Glossary of Terms

  • Community can be defined as a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars; Similar character; agreement; identity, such as community of interests (E-Learning, E-Inclusion); Distinct segments of society (gay community, community of color or in this case senior citizens).
  • Digital Divide refers to the gap between those who use computers and the internet and those who do not. It encompasses the resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen as well as the physical access to technology, hardware and, more broadly.
  • ELearning (or electronic learning) refers to computer-enhanced instruction and learning using digital technologies by people separated in time and space.
  • E-Learning 2.0 emergent trends in E-Learning
  • E-Inclusion (or digital inclusion) is a social movement to end the digital divide. It encompasses activities related to the achievement of an inclusive information society. New developments in technology turns the risk of a digital divide into "digital cohesion" and by bringing the benefit of the Internet and related technology to all segments of society, including people disadvantaged due to education (a specific subset called e-Competences), age (called e-Ageing), gender, disabilities (called e-Accessibility), ethnicity, and/or those living in remote regions (subject to the geographical digital divide). E-inclusion covers mainly the development of appropriate policies, maintenance of a knowledge base, research & technology development and deployment, & best practices dissemination. EInclusion addresses the specific needs of people with disabilities, the elderly and the socially disadvantaged, and that help overcome socio-economic, educational, geographic and cultural and gender barriers. EInclusion focuses on the promotion of independence and assistance to participation in society for the widest possible range of people.
  • E-Literacy (digital literacy, technological literacies) is the awarenesses, skills, understandings and reflective-evaluative approaches that are necessary for an individual to operate comfortably in an information rich and IT-supported environments.


Even in areas where access to technological infrastructure is nearly ubiquitous, there are still marginalized groups who are unable to make use of information and communication technologies. E-Learning and E-Inclusion communities are identifying and removing barriers that marginalized groups or segments in society face. The present generation of Seniors are the last who were not in a formative stage of personal development when Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) were introduced. E-Learning and E-Inclusion communities are working on learning the needs and requirements specific to seniors learning and using ICTs.

Specific attitudes and requirements characterize and differentiate the challenges Seniors face in learning and staying current with technological change.

Each new generation has unconsciously and easily used existing technology. Children readily embrace internet research, gaming, social interaction and so on. iPods, wikis, blogs, all are taken for granted as a part of everyday life. Current university students have high technology expectations of their schools and of employers.

The E-divide widens in subsequent generations. These generations were exposed to computer technology to varying degrees in the 1990s and earlier. Working in academia, the IT world and other high tech businesses exposed people to more sophisticated technology than most. In the mid-more 1990s when the wide world web was more widespread, email became common in all kinds of business. Schools started to introduce computers into their programs and resources. This exposed parents and workers to more ICT, including people who subsequently retired. These retirees were more open to e-learning. Those who lagged were people who had not used computers or had minimal exposure. There has created an e-divide between the retirees themselves as well as younger generations.

The current generation of seniors is the last where it can be said that they were not in a formative stage of personal development when ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) were being introduced. Seniors are characterized by specific attitudes and requirements with regard to use of and learning ICT skills.

Seniors now may play two roles, one as a teacher and one as a student. As a teacher, seniors can teach other seniors how to use computers to meet their needs and enhance their quality of life. This can be as simple as teaching the basics of word processing and emailing to online banking, refilling prescriptions and to e-learning and sophisticated internet searching on topics of interest such as investments, hobbies and health.

Seniors can also play a teaching role to younger generations through tools such as storytelling (eg, wikis and blogging. Putting history in perspective, teaching skills that are at risk of disappearing such as specialized woodworking, environmentally safe and old methods of cleaning, dying fabrics, recycling, cooking can be passed down to younger generations.

Seniors, not unlike others, face the ongoing challenge of staying current with technological changes. It is not unusual for younger people to lose patience with seniors struggling to learn new skills as most youth are not aware of the teaching techniques for and learning abilities of seniors. This widens the divide and marginalizes the seniors.

Pedagogical Goals

*  Raising awareness of the issues of e-literacy, inclusion and accessibility associated with e-learning to seniors.
* Identify barriers facing seniors in the ICT world.
* Examine strategies and projects to reduce or eliminate these barriers.
* Raise the awareness of the need for intervention and how design changes could improve usability for this age demographic.

Pegagogical Approaches

Pre-class activities

1. Read the following articles:

Tips on Teaching Seniors

Presentation with cognitive processes and physical characteristics for seniors learning included

Online Learning for Seniors: Barriers and Opportunities

If you have time, do the following:

Robert Scoble (born January 18, 1965) is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. Scoble is best known for his popular blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technical evangelist at Microsoft. .... He and his wife currently work at,1 a video-podcast startup. He is also the co-author of Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers* .... Source: Wikipedia

Read his October 2007 blog at

Then read some feedback from:

Oh, Those Backward, Bemused Elders

And a blog from an Octogenarian:

"These are the musings of a retired journalist who recently turned 80. Since I no longer have a conventional outlet for my views and so-called creative writings, I turn to the phenomenon of the blog to have my say."

Help Key: How to Idiot-Proof Your Parents' Computer

Think about the attitudes of the various participants and how they contribute to the knowledge communities involved.

Pre-class assignment

Choose someone that you know who:

1. Is retired preferably, (55 years and older) OR
is younger but not comfortable using the Internet to its fullest
2. Has a computer at home
3. Has an interest in using the web more fully, i.e. is open minded and willing to learn.

Select a knowledge medium  that he/she probably has not used before. Try to choose one that might be of interest or a challenge to the individual. Remember seniors are often more goal or purpose oriented when using the web. They may never have considered using the web for "fun" as many younger users do.

( eg Second Life for a savvy user; perhaps for the novice, BBC Webwise, an online  training course for using "the net" as well as access to BBC's accessiblility articles. It is led by "Bruce", the purple spider.  Other possible sources  include U3A Online is a world-first virtual University of the Third Age delivering online learning via the Internet.
Our courses are open to all older people anywhere in the world. They are especially suited to older members of the community who are isolated either geographically, or through physical or social circumstances (including carers). Or look for a hobby or interest of the senior and find a web based media that  improves (theoretically), the senior's participation- reading, cooking, golf, etc.

If possible, have him/her sign up for it and obtain input re the experience. If you have no one that you can ask, try to assess the website from a senior's perspective. Sign up for something wearing a senior's bifocals!

Some things to consider:

*Was the font large enough for easy reading? Was text only available? Audio? Any acknowledgement of the special needs of some users?

*How clear were the instructions? Lots of jargon?

*How well laid out was the website for the uninitiated? Busy? Cluttered? or Simple and Direct?

*How secure is the website? Are there requests for credit card numbers? Did the site clearly explain its privacy and security policies?

*What was the objective of the website? Did the senior understand the objective? Were seniors welcome to the site or was the site obviously geared to the younger, more techie users?

*Were there any explanations of how the site worked or acronyms and jargon meant? Were any examples provided? Online tutorial? Help section? Was it useful for a senior?

*Do you think there is a role for the senior in the particular website? How do you think the website could be changed to improve accessibility and comfort by seniors?

In-class activities

Discussion of Readings and Homework.


1. Watch video Imagine - the Future of Aging at

This first video will give you a glimpse, through the eyes of one family, of what the future of aging could look like with help from developing technologies that are possible, practical, and affordable.

2. Discussion of video

This video's perspective is from that of a Caregiver with the Senior having a passive role. How do you see future seniors participating as they become more ICT savvy? Which technologies lend themselves to use by seniors as a knowledge community?
How do we get designers and IT developers to develop technology that is appropriate for the Silver Tsunami yet appealing to younger users? Is it even possible?

3. In-Class Activity:

Break out into four groups. Group Leaders are determined under each of the group links below. Groups will meet for 45 minutes.

  • Each group is given sites to visit following the links.  
  • Follow the instructions by performing the activity provided.
  • Each group leader will present the topic for their group which will be followed by a discussion on the topic by the class.
    Click the links below for the directions for each group:

Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

We played games.  (sad)

RESOURCES - Silver Tsunami 2007:

Reflections, Evaluations and Ideas for the Future

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1 Comment

  1. N

    Here's an article that I thought would be an interesting addition: It is an online article, written for an online magazine called The Smart Set. The article focuses on sensitivity training, making people sensitive to the needs and viewpoints of the elderly, how the respond to certain situations, what their physical, and sometimes psychological challenges are:

    From using debit cards to making out the tiny print in phone books, there were several challenges that shows the reader what it is physically like to be old, and some of the challenges they face. Technology for seniors is often a physical task that is difficult to overcome.