June 7, 2011
SeniorNet is an organization dedicated to bringing education and technology access to older adults (50+). I began volunteering with them recently, coaching an intermediate Windows class. My role is to shadow half the class, watching for anyone who gets “stuck” or goes astray, as the instructor leads them through basic operations such as formatting text, creating spreadsheets, and so on.
I started this as a way to give back to the community, and to explore things I might want to do later in my career (namely, teach), but I’m finding that this is giving me some unexpected insights in design (visual and functional) for less-experienced computer users. I’m sure there are lots and lots of formal studies on how over-50ers learn to use computers vs. under-20ers, but there’s nothing like seeing it first-hand. I’ve already started mulling over how this new insight might affect the way I structured an on-line application (e.g., an e-commerce checkout) that would cater to an older audience. And while I don’t have any answers there, I feel better (and humble) for having begun the process, even at this late date.*
*I’m among the very oldest, if not the actual oldest of the End Point crew, having begun my computer experience in the days of punch cards. That’s one of the reasons I’m acceptable to SeniorNet, because they prefer their instructors and coaches to be contemporaries of their students.