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New pathways identified for greater digital tech uptake by older adults

Updated: Jan 21

A new study by RMIT researchers has identified three critical pathways to increase the likelihood of older adults adopting digital technology and online applications.

Engaging older adults with digital technology more effectively will enable governments, service providers, marketers and educators to better target this segment so they feel more connected which not only reduces social isolation, but also has the potential to shift stigma’s in the community.

Older adults using digital technology together

Shaping Connections academics at RMIT University, Dr Torgeir Aleti, Associate Professor Bernardo Figueiredo and Professors Diane Martin and Mike Reid, conducted research into the relationship between socialisation processes and digital competency and explored how improving access to devices, supporting adults to maintain independence and addressing negative attitudes can reduce barriers and provide more opportunity for older adults to jump online.

The study

A study of 30 adults with a median age of 74 years was undertaken to analyse the way older adults prepare for and perform a digital consumer role with surprising results.

“A common misconception in the community and marketing programs is that older adults prefer to learn from their family members or are averse to learning new things” says co-author Dr Torgeir Aleti.

“However, our research confirms this is not always the case. Although younger family members such as offspring or grandchildren are frequently mentioned, older adults also mention friction and conflict in the relationship when it comes to learning technology from them.”

Three pathways for digital tech uptake by older adults

The study uncovered that an older adult will utilise any of the following three pathways to engage with and/or upskill their digital technology capability:

  1. Reciprocal Socialisation – older adults have a preference to communicate with a key person they feel comfortable with to exchange skills and knowledge primarily through peer to peer mentoring. This is due to the ability to solve problems together with a shared solution-based mindset.

  2. Self-socialisation – older adults prefer to search for information on their own such as through search engines or taking educational courses which allows the processing of information in their own time.

  3. Outsourcing – older adults will also allow others to complete digital tasks on their behalf depending on the situation, which is an active strategy to alleviate social exclusion.

Opportunities for greater inclusion:

This research provides an insight for service providers, businesses and the community so that they can improve engagement such as:

  • Educating organisations so they can target and promote their learning environment to older adults

  • Informing service providers in countries with ageing populations so they can reach this segment by employing older consumers as mentors to assist their peers.

  • Assisting governments so they shift the dial from a focus on the young teaching the old in service announcements to encourage the young to promote and support older adults to seek help and mentoring from their peers and networks.

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