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Older Adults and Pervasive Technologies: A Comparison Between Experienced and Inexperienced Users' Perceptions and Mental Representations
Older adults have become the fastest-growing group worldwide. Aging-in-place is a goal that many older adults seek, which requires them to be able to complete activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) independently. However, various age-related cognitive and physical declines can affect older adults’ ability to carry out these activities effectively. In many ways, the development of pervasive technologies, such as speech systems and web/video conferencing platforms, can support ADLs and IADLs, but the adoption and use of these technologies depend on older adults’ perceptions of and interactions with them. Previous studies have investigated older adults’ perceptions with various technologies, but most have not compared perceptions between experienced and inexperienced older adult users, which is important for identifying factors that moderate technology acceptance and incorporating those aspects into the design of technology.
Therefore, the goal of this thesis study was to understand the similarities and differences between experienced and inexperienced older users’ attitudes towards and mental models of pervasive technologies. To this end, two studies were conducted to address this research gap.
In Study 1, focus groups were conducted with experienced and inexperienced older adult users of personal speech systems. In general, older experienced and inexperienced users were similar in their perception of the advantages in using speech systems, factors that motivate their use, common challenges faced while using these systems, and barriers to using particular features or speech systems altogether. The two groups differed in their preferences for learning how to use these systems, perception of system cost, and global perception of technology.
Study 2 investigated experienced and inexperienced older adults’ mental representation of pervasive web/video conferencing platforms using a card sorting task. Results indicate that experienced users think about such systems and their features by assigning agency or timing aspects, while inexperienced users focus more on superficial details. Also, some overlap was observed in the significant card groupings and category names between the experienced and inexperienced users.
Overall, both studies display convergence between experienced and inexperienced users’ limited or lack of knowledge that is either self-identified (Study 1) or reflected in their mental representations (Study 2) of pervasive technology. On-going work is being conducted to investigate the implications of findings with respect to their influence on task performance. In general, results from this thesis can be used by researchers and designers to a) further investigate more in-depth perceptions using qualitative and quantitative methodologies and b) incorporate principles of intuitive design into pervasive technology so that senior populations can use it regardless of their experience.