Tech Design for Seniors

In my previous post, I wrote about andragogy, the theories behind adult learning. Today, I'm writing about what might seem like an extension of andragogy, especially when dealing with technology.

Many (too many) people assume that learning about and using technology is very different for older adults. I am a "Baby Boomer," one of a large group born between 1946 and 1964. I consider myself to be very well versed in technology, but fter all, I have been using and teaching with and about technology for 40 years. But many of my peers are not so comfortable with technology and often come to me for recommendations and help.

Some companies have realized that generally companies and probably educational institutions are underinvesting in, and underserving, older adults. On the educational side, this is a great disservice to this large group of people. But on the marketing side, companies (and colleges?) have discovered a large market and opportunity with the growing over-65 population.

There are approximately 46 million people aged 65 and over living in the United States, and that number is projected to more than double to 98 million by 2060.

This group grew up with 20th century technology that has radically changed in their lifetime. Think of the present-day automobile or phone. They adapted to banking via an ATM and cooking with a microwave — though they may still prefer a teller and a gas oven.

Looking back on those andragogical principles and moving the adult number up 44 years, some seem particularly relevant. For example, when the content and processes have a meaningful relationship to their past experience.

Designers and technology entrepreneurs are most often in their 20s, 30s or 40s. They are not thinking about older generations. But they should. 

 

Adult Learning and Andragogy

adult child learningYou hear the term "pedagogy" fairly often in education. It literally means "leading children" and is usually defined as the art or science of teaching children. Though it is studied and used from pre-school through college, the term "andragogy" is not as well known as it should be.

Andragogy was a term coined to refer to the art/science of teaching adults. Malcolm Knowles and others theorized that methods used to teach children are often not the most effective means of teaching adults. In The Modern Practice of Adult Education (1970), Knowles defined andragogy as "an emerging technology for adult learning."

Knowles arrived at 4 andragogical assumptions:

1) He felt that adults move from dependency to self-directedness; 
2) draw upon their reservoir of experience for learning; 
3) are ready to learn when they assume new roles; and 
4) want to solve problems and apply new knowledge immediately.

Though many people still consider andragogy to be the adult version of pedagogy, more recently it is sometimes considered to be an alternative to pedagogy. In that newer view, andragogy is viewed as a more learner-centered/directed approach to learning for people of all ages.

This view doesn't necessarily mean that all the studies done on pedagogy are invalid, but the sense that it is more of a teacher-centered or directive style of learning started to fall out of favor in the last three decades., and andragogy as "learner-centered/directed."

In my first encounter with andragogy in a workshop, I recall the presenter saying that while adult learners can learn when presented with theory presented before practices, children have little tolerance for learning theory when they haven't seen it in practice. Of course, anyone who has taught adults for a few years will tell you that some adults seem to learn better when treated as children.

If you are teaching at the college level, you can be considered to be at the edge of child and adult learning, especially if you still consider age 21 to be the entry point of adulthood. But since we are seeing fewer traditional fresh-from-high-school freshman and more over-21 undergraduates, adult learning is a greater concern. This is especially true in online education.

Andragogical principles that should be considerations in designing courses are based on studies of how and when adults learn most effectively.

Adults generally learn best when:

  • They feel the need to learn
  • They have some input into what, why, and how they learn
  • Their schedule and learning styles are taken into account.
  • Course learning objectives are based on the learners' needs and interests based on prior evaluation.
  • To obtain objectives, there are sequential activities
  • The learning’s content and processes have a meaningful relationship to their past experience.
  • Their experience is used as a learning resource in the course.
  • The course content relates to the individual’s current life situation and tasks.
  • They have as much autonomy as possible
  • The learning climate minimizes anxiety
  • Freedom to experiment is encouraged

Of course, I believe children can benefit from some of these andragogical principles too.

Being Secure on Chrome

The Chrome browser’s “not secure” warning is meant to help you understand when the connection to the site you're on isn’t secure. It is also a bit of a shaming motivation to the site's owner to improve the security of their site. But that process of getting the httpS site is not really easy in some cases and for non-tech average web users. 

Google made a warning announcement nearly two years ago and there has been an increase in sites that are secured. They started by only marking pages without encryption that collect passwords and credit card info. Then they began showing the “not secure” warning in two additional situations: when people enter data on an HTTP page, and on all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode.

Their goal is to make it so that the only markings you see in Chrome are when a site is not secure, and the default unmarked state is secure. They will start removing the “Secure” wording in September 2018, and in October 2018, they will start showing a red “not secure” warning when users enter data on HTTP pages.

Source: https://www.blog.google/products/chrome/milestone-chrome-security-marking-http-not-secure/

Did You Lose Twitter Followers Recently?

This month Twitter started removing tens of millions of suspicious accounts, especially those that are identified as bots and fake accounts.

That means that users may be finding that they have lost followers.  Of course, if you were a user who inflated your followers by buying followers, I'm glad your numbers dropped. And if I lost a few who were fake, all the better.

Twitter declined to provide an exact number of affected users, but said it would drop tens of millions of questionable accounts and that would reduce the total combined follower count on Twitter by about 6 percent.

Full disclosure - I own Twitter stock and though I don't want to see the stock drop, I do want reform. Twitter has far fewer users than Facebook or Google, but has also come in for criticism for allowing abuse and hate speech and for playing a role in the Russian influence during the 2016 election.

Twitter did not turn a profit until the final quarter of last year, and Twitter Inc.'s stock slipped 10% last week after the news about the suspended accounts came out. Those accounts impact the company's tally of monthly active users, a key growth metric that is closely monitored by Wall Street investors. The MAU (monthly active users) jumped to 336 million in April, up from 330 million in the previous quarter.

I have always told my social media clients that followers is not the best metric to measure the success of your social media strategy. Everyone wants followers, but I get new followers every day on multiple networks that I can see are only following me in the hopes that I will follow them back. 

As others have observed -

Removing bots enables Twitter to take control of this situation, and improve the credibility of their metrics – as social media marketing becomes a more significant element in modern business, people are also becoming more informed about what those numbers actually mean, and how to identify real influence, as opposed to those who’ve bought their way to prominence.

If people repeatedly see influencer lists filled with people who they know have cheated the system, that reduces their trust in such data, while it would also skew Twitter’s algorithm which favors content from more prominent users, and with higher engagement stats (both of which can be gamed).

Digital Darwinism and the Age of Assistance

It is an evolution that I have been following and I have written about how AI and machine learning are pushing us closer to that new age. I jokingly said that I was accepting resumes for a digital assistant. And most recently, the amazing and also frightening Google Duplex demo made me wonder if we don't need a reverse Turing test for AI.

It has been suggested that in this era where technology and society are evolving faster than businesses and schools can naturally adapt, the mantra of “adapt or die” comes into play. You can react to change, be disrupted by it, or adapt. Brian Solis and others have referred to this as "Digital Darwinism."

As with the more established Darwinism, the digital version is pretty indiscriminate when it comes to which products or companies survive, thrive or fade.

digital DarwinismI suppose we are still officially in the Information Age, but I think we may be evolving into an Age of Assistance. There is some evidence of this when you hear people say things like "Google, dim the bedroom lights" or "Alexa, play music by James Taylor."  

As in nature, we need experimentation and adpatations and even new species to survive. And some will have to go extinct. Goodbye Blockbuster, Circuit City, Borders Books, Tower Records, Pontiac, Saturn, and Palm. Hello Netflix, which then had to evolve (and is still doing so) to be a streaming rather than discs-in-the-mail service.

This pruning is clearly happening in business. Have any colleges fallen aside via Digital Darwinism? (A colleague answered that question by only half-sarcastically saying "Trump University.")

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are big drivers in Digital Darwinism. Is it true that Digital Darwinism has pushed open the door to an age of assitance a bit wider?  

That push comes from artifical intelligence combined with speech recognition.

Though smartphones and standalone devices with Siri, Alexa et al have put this assistance in front of consumers, digital speech recognition didn't start with those devices. The IBM Shoebox was shown to the general public during the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. It was launched in 1961 - almost 20 years before the introduction of the first IBM Personal Computer. It was able to recognize 16 spoken words and the digits 0 to 9. 

Most speech recognition systems require some "training" from users and with AI they learn to respond more accurately and efficiently. We have moved away from the earlier "speaker dependent" systems in some ways. They have to learn a particular user's speech patterns, accent, pronunciation etc. Newer systems tend to be independent and aggregate patterns from the many users that are connected to them more than focus on one user. It's not your Alexa. It's everyone's Alexa.

The rise of smart speakers in the past year via their sales (sales that have more than tripled) like Google Home and Amazon Echo have made some humans more reliant on voice commands.

Google has been talking and offering voice search for a few years and we ceratinly sometimes use voice to seach on our phones. But, if you're like me, you still find that technology lacking in most instances. But the voice search revolution is still predicted to happen and I don't doubt that it will occur, though perhaps more evolutionarily than revolutionariy.

The sophistication of voice-recognition systems is improving rapidly. Microsoft’s Cortana voice recognition software (which doesn't get as much attention it seems) now has an error rate of 5.1 percent, which gets it up there with human counterparts. With Microsoft large installed base of Windows-based personal computers, smartphones and smart speakers, they will certain be players in this area.

Google Assistant is a virtual assistant primarily available on mobile and smart home devices, and (unlike Google Now) it can engage in two-way conversations.

What I find on this topic online is primarily about marketing, but I believe it also applies to education.

Consumers are researching just about everything they buy and want relevant results. they want assistance. In an Age of Assistance, we are finding that assistance in what is being refferred to as mobile-first “micro-moments.”

This is way beyond classical marketing. Currently, I don't see many examples in eduction of schools getting into new opportunities for “assisted” engagement. Is your help desk using voivce recognition and AI? Is it in other student support services? can a student in a course that is online or in a classroom use voice to aska question of a digital assistent at 1 AM when they are stuck on a problem?

Those few schools that are adapting and experimenting with these technologies might be safer down the evolutionary road when Digital Darwinism starts to make programs or colleges digital Dodo birds.

 

Digital Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest in the Age of Business Disruption

Digital Darwinism: Branding and Business Models in Jeopardy

                 

 

FURTHER READING

thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-154/insights-inspiration/thought-leadership/marketing-age-assistance/

thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/consumer-insights/search-in-the-age-of-assistance/

forbes.com/sites/briansolis/2017/10/11/wtf-whats-the-future-of-marketing-in-the-age-of-assistance/

business2community.com/tech-gadgets/the-age-of-assistance