Understanding how older adults learn to use mobile devices

research | survey | quantitative and qualitative analysis


My Ph.D. research focused on exploring ways to improve the learnability of handheld computer devices for older adults. Past research studies looked at how older adults learned to use mobile devices, but findings conflicted. How do older adults actually learn to use mobile devices?


We conducted a questionnaire survey to research how older adults currently learned to use mobile devices (e.g., smartphones, digital cameras, electronic organizers). 

My role: I led the research, which included a literature review, planning, survey design, and data analysis. Drs. Joanna McGrenere (CS) and Peter Graf (Psych) supervised the work. Vilia Ingriany helped recruit participants and analyze the survey data.

Research: We recruited participants from three age groups (age 20-49, 50-64, 65+). We recruited from local senior homes, community centres, and libraries, as well as by means of online classifieds and a provincial aging research program. We received responses from 131 participants. 


We found that when learning to use mobile devices, older respondents preferred:

  • to learn individually (over learning with others)
  • to use the manual
  • to learn the exact steps to performing a task (over gaining a general understanding)
  • learning resources that provided demonstrations and opportunities to practice

We used these results to design a novel system to help older adults learn to use a smartphone.


More details about this project can be found in our peer-reviewed article in the ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing journal.