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Title: The language of digital learning : developing an e-learning approach for the elderly
Authors: Sheridan, Richard David 
Issue Date: 2010
The purpose of this study was to investigate the current learning methods
that are typically used by special populations (an elderly subject group), and
to explore their general level of effectiveness. The primary research
questions explore how this subject group is currently learning to use the
Internet and for what purposes, along with what the typical barriers are that
this group experiences when seeking to use the Internet, together with
factors that motivate them to participate in learning programs. This study has
special relevance for elderly adults along with computer instructors who
specifically train the elderly to learn to use the Internet. The findings may
also be of interest to others who interact with other special populations,
directly or indirectly, including web designers, healthcare professionals,
librarians, and others. The project was prompted by the author‘s experience
teaching and observing elderly adults learning to use the Internet, and his
desire to develop a more effective teaching strategy for them. The thesis
explores the basic principles of adult learning, including components from
self-directed learning, the theory of multiple intelligences, ethnographic
research and other theories and approaches that have the potential of
contributing to teaching this subject group, including the use of language in
describing their learning successes and failures.
Data analysis consisted of observing over 200 older adults learning to use
the Internet over a two-year period. The evaluation of participants was based
on empirical (defined in the glossary) and subjective analysis of levels of
participation, progress and other factors. To supplement the large-scale
results with rich data, the author of this study also performed detailed
interviews with 14 elderly Internet users along with five teachers of the
elderly. Additional material was gathered from academic journal articles,
online databases and other related sources. The author tested and applied
several research methods to achieve the most effective outcome. This
included participant observation from ethnographic research, along with
empirical and basic quantitative research. The author also uses autoethnography
in his research approach, an emerging qualitative research
method that allows the researcher to write in a highly personalized style,
drawing on his or her experience, as kind of a autobiographical personal
narrative. The intent of auto-ethnography is to acknowledge the link between
the personal and the cultural and to make room for non-traditional forms of
inquiry and expression. In embracing personal thoughts, feelings, stories,
and observations as a way of understanding the social context they are
studying, these researchers are also shedding light on their total interaction
with that setting by making their every emotion and thought visible to the
reader. Auto-ethnography also gives researchers an opportunity to do
primary research and draw data from their observations. An identifiable
pattern that is reviewed in more detail in the Results section emerged from
these different findings.
The primary outcome that emerged is that there are many approaches to
learning, and these methods need to be examined, tested and selectively
adapted for each individual to achieve the maximum benefit. The widespread
demand for Internet training has resulted in fragmented and inconsistent
training schemes that are generally focused on classroom-based instruction.
The author encourages a systematic self-testing by the subject group
member (and their teachers) to explore currently available training methods
and combine the elements that they find most effective towards a
personalized approach to learning based on individual interests, aptitudes,
and the availability of the local training resources. The percentage of the
elderly using the Internet is rising rapidly, and the current training options are
limited in some areas in the United States. Based on the author‘s empirical
observations, the self-directed approach to learning appears to show the
most promise for this elderly subject group, in the sense that they generate
their own best learning schematics, while their instructor guides and
facilitates the process.
This thesis has made a primary contribution to the research in several ways.
First of all, the author made a synthesis that has not been made previously.
He combined the concept of self-directed learning with several methods of
learning improvement, such as the use of assistive technology for the
disabled, memory skill-building, and the application of symbols and
metaphors to increase the ability of this subject group to comprehend the
learning materials. This is arguably the best approach for adapting to this
rapidly evolving subject group population. Additionally, he applied the
concept of kaizen, a Japanese term from their manufacturing sector that
represents continuous, ongoing improvement, to teach to members of this
group the concept of self-monitoring and improvement. Additionally, the
research was cross-disciplinary and used different methodologies, including
ethnography, empirical and basic quantitative research. Several additional
contributions and innovations are described later in the thesis.
Thesis submitted in compliance with the requirements for the Doctor's Degree in Technology: Language Practice, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa, 2010.
Appears in Collections:Theses and dissertations (Arts and Design)

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