Svenja Noichl


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Increasing digital competences of senior citizens based on the mediation of basics of computer science with the example of tablets


The percentage of senior citizens in the world’s population will continue to rise in the coming years. While the share of people over the age of 60 years still stands around 27.1% in 2013, this share is expected to be around 38.2% in 2060 (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2015). At the same time, the number of senior citizen who use smartphones and/or tablets also increases. In 2014 about 32% of Germans between 50 and 59 years of age used a smartphone, this share almost doubled by 2016 and is now about 60%. For people between 60 and 69, and those over 70, this share has almost tripled. (60-69 years: from 13% to 37%; 70+ years: from 4% to 14%) (GfK Verein, 2016).

However, some problems arise, as most apps are designed and developed for younger people, which have entered the world of smartphones and apps at a relatively young age.

Research questions

The aim of the research is to prepare senior citizens for the digital world. For this purpose, digital competencies are to be taught in order to enable the senior citizens to participate in the digital world. On the other hand, create foundations, so that they can participate in social questions regarding digital topics. The area of participation in the digital world is manly the area of networking, such as contact with family members via social networks or video telephony. The field of social issues is for example about security aspects such as data storage or video surveillance. The aim is not primarily to enable senior citizens to deal with technical equipment but, in particular, to promote their technical acceptance and technical understanding. For this purpose, basics in computer science, such as aspects of networking and security, should be mediated and the self-concept and technical expertise of senior citizens should be strengthened.

This leads to the following research question:

How can one prepare senior citizens with the aid of audience-adaptive software and workshop services for the digital world, and thereby provide them with a better understanding of the handling of the equipment as well as the underlying basics of computer science?

This leads to the following subquestions:

  • Target audience senior citizens:
    • What ideas have senior citizens of basics of computer science in connection with smartphones/tablets?
    • How can these ideas be changed?
    • Which digital competencies should senior citizens control?
    • How can these competencies be conveyed age-appropriate?
    • For what reasons do they buy a smartphone / tablet and for what purposes they want to use the devices?
    • What problems and barriers are there regarding the use of smartphones / tablets by senior citizens?
      • What keeps senior citizens from using a smartphone / tablet?
      • How to remove these barriers?
    • In what ways do they want to learn how to deal with the devices, what types of support they want?
    • Which requirements arise from age-related restrictions on senior-oriented apps respectively senior-oriented mediation of digital competences?
    • How has the keyboard to be displayed so that senior citizens can simply write texts?
    • Icons vs. text vs. icons + text? (s. problem of understanding icons and symbols)
      • Which icons are suitable for this target audience?
  • Target audience children/grandchildren:
    • What are the digital competencies of the children / grandchildren who support their parents / grandparents in dealing with smartphones / tablets?
    • How can we support the children / grandchildren to help senior citizens to deal with the smartphone / tablet or help them with problems?
      • Setting mode
      • Remote access
  • Technical aspects:
    • In what extent is a remote access to the smartphone / tablet possible?
      • Setting options?
      • Data security?
    • How can we meet different skills and abilities of the senior citizens and adapt the app accordingly?
      • In what extent is this possible by the app?
      • In what extent can we include data from a “Who am I menu”?
    • How should a “Who am I menu” look like to get appropriate information on the adjustment (for example tap buttons of different size to determine how large they should be displayed so that the corresponding user can easily operate them)
    • How can a help structure in the app look like and how can it be adapted to the problems of the respective user in order to help with specific difficulties?
    • How could a recommendation system for suitable apps (for example from the Playstore) look and be realized?
    • In what extent can permissions be adapted by users and to what extent does this affect the functionality of the app?
    • How can we integrate the setting mode for the children / grandchildren so that the senior citizens do not “accidentally get lost”?


As mentioned above, apps are often developed by and for younger people, so understanding problems arise. For example the meanings of icons, which are not customary for senior citizens as new smartphone / tablet users (Leung, McGrenere, & Graf, 2011). In addition, the target audience of senior citizens is very heterogeneous (Pattison & Stedmon, 2006). In particular, senior citizens differ in their visual, hearing, motor and cognitive abilities (Pattison & Stedmon, 2006). The visual restrictions include, for example, the old-age visual acuity, which means that one can no longer focus properly objects or recognize the diminution of the ability contrasts. This can, for example, lead to the fact that two different levels of gray can’t be identified as different (Hawthron, 2000). These peculiarities make it difficult to obtain a proper adjustment e.g. regarding button and font size, or type and scope of help and explanation within an App. The goal is therefore to enable seniors to participate in the digital world, even with increasing age and the resulting visual, motor and other limitations. For this purpose, an adaptive auxiliary system is to be developed, which supports the senior citizens in the direct handling of the device. At the same time, there should be a detailed, highly illustrated guide in paper form, in which the senior citizens can look up all the computer science concepts and usage competences that can be learned in terms of the IT system offline. On the other hand, it is also important to support the people who help the senior citizens in the establishment and in case of problems with the equipment (often their own children and grandchildren). A setup mode is intended to allow these people to easily set up the app without having to deal with their functionality and setting options for a long time. At the same time, remote access is to be made possible for later problems, with can be used to quickly help a senior citizen in the event of problems during use, even if the child or grandchild does not live nearby. Especially workshops to facilitate the entry and the elimination of barriers are a good way to help senior citizens get started with this new technique. In order to reduce the first touch barriers, the senior citizens can interact directly with the device. Therefore, they will use the learning app in the “safe” workshop environment, in which they can get help directly with problems or questions. On the on hand the learning app offers a small introduction into the exploration of tablets. In this introduction, the most important gestures as well as usual input options are learned. In this way the most important skills can be learned, which can then be used further in the further handling of the device. On the other hand, basics of computer science should be mediated. An example would be data storage. If senior citizens know what possibilities for data storage are available, who can access the data in the individual variants and for which purpose the data are used or needed, they can have a say when it comes to social questions about data collection. Their statements on this are then no longer based on assumptions, but rather on a higher level of technology expertise. Of course, senior citizens should be involved in all phases of the development in order to understand their needs, problems and requirements and to be involved in the development.

The aim of this thesis is to increase the digital competences of senior citizens by the mediation of basic concepts of computer science through workshops and the exploration of tablets.