Ethical and Practical Issues Surrounding Access to ICT Education by Elderly Persons

Ethical and Practical Issues Surrounding Access to ICT Education by Elderly Persons

Kevin Thornton (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland) and Michael Lang (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6046-5.ch062


This chapter presents a summary of studies around the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the elderly, with a particular focus on educational uses of ICT. Though the review is by no means comprehensive, it nevertheless addresses the main issues and provides a useful starting point for researchers interested in exploring this area in greater depth. These issues include barriers to ICT use for the elderly, motivation, the importance of ICT and education of the elderly, and the unique usability requirements of the elderly. Also explored are reasons why the elderly use ICT.
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Background And Literature Review

Challenges for the Elderly

The elderly may have gone through significant change in their lifetime. The last hundred years have seen huge cultural and social change on a global level. Many people in their sixties can remember a time when there was no television or electricity. Technology has been advancing at an increasingly accelerating rate. To keep up with this technology is difficult for young people but it provides greater challenges for older people.

Drucker (1995) wrote about the “knowledge society” and claimed that knowledge will be learned long after formal schooling. Perhaps there will be challenges for everyone to keep abreast of this knowledge and ways of acquiring it. There is currently more and more emphasis by all sections of society, business, schools, government services, and banks to automate their services. The elderly and everyone else are being asked to use more and more technology in everyday life. For example, retail banks are moving many of their traditional front-line work to on-line services. Even within physical banks, face-to-face teller services are increasingly being replaced by machines. This presents unique challenges for the elderly and for society in general. Some of the elderly may not want to use this technology; some may not know how to use it. Trentin (2004) analysed the purposes for which elderly persons used the Web, and found that they mostly accessed news, local authorities, government bodies, sporting or cultural associations, banks / financial sites, health sites or specific third age sites, and tourism and library or museum sites. More recently, they are beginning to use “Skype” to contact younger relatives who are geographically removed from home. Agudo, Angeles Pascual, and Fombona, (2012) make the point that “the elderly use ICT as a form of education; that these generations of the elderly need and want to learn.”

The ability to change may also be a factor. Many of the elderly grew up in a very different social world. Communication was predominantly verbal. In an era before the arrival of e-mail and SMS, the written word perhaps had more power. Although older people can learn, the way they do so may be different from younger generations and their worldview may be considerably different from younger people. Many older people put great time and effort into writing letters, a lot more effort than many people today do in writing an e-mail.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Third Age: A period towards the end of a person’s life where the person may no longer be in paid employment, but can remain healthy, fulfilled and continue to contribute to society.

Silver Surfer: Someone who is above 50 years of age who uses the Internet.

Information and Communications Technology: Also known as ICT, refers to technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications. This includes the Internet, wireless networks, cell phones, other communication media, and computers connected to a network.

Digital Divide: A popular term used to describe a disparity between those who have and those who have not in relation to Computer Technology.

Digital inclusion: The social inclusion of people through the use of ICT and their ability to acquire ICT skills.

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