Computers, Older Adults, and Libraries

Public libraries are comfortable places for older adults. Although libraries are changing to meet the needs of today’s wired generation, they are still a known and familiar setting for reading, researching, and getting books and resources that would otherwise be unavailable.

Public libraries are also institutions that are acutely aware of the difference between availability and accessibility. As more and more resources move out of print and into the electronic realm, they may be available, but at what cost, and to whom? If a person cannot use a computer, electronic access is useless to them, just as books are useless to someone who is illiterate.

Thus libraries have become a source of refuge for older adults caught in the digital divide. Recognizing the need to educate their user base on new resource formats, public libraries have stepped in to help those who struggle with technology, and increasingly that group is made up of older adults who have never used computers. Older adults, however, present a special learning challenge. Training them requires strategies that address the issues of aging.

This resource is for those in public libraries and anywhere else, who are trying to teach older adult novices to use computers and technology.


Why they can’t get it

Aging factors which change the learning process

Can you teach older adults new tricks? Yes, but not the same way you teach youngsters.These are the factors that affect the way older adults learn
  1. Arthritis
  2. Tremors
  3. Vision
  4. Cataracts
  5. Hearing
  6. Increased distractibility
  7. Neural Noise
  8. Slower cognitive processing
  9. Conceptual knowledge
  10. World knowledge
  11. Automatic processes
  12. Language
  13. Health
  14. Motivation and psychological factors


More information

What’s available on the web

These are mostly links to what I have written or presented, since they are available online. But I will add links to useful online articles and work as I come across them. For a more complete bibliography, see the Bibliography section.  Of course, you could also try the Training Tips category on this blog as well.

Connecting the Disconnected Training Tips:

Mousing Around Tutorial
This is an online tutorial developed to teach older adults about the computer mouse (it also works well with everyone else). It is also available in Spanish.
Mousing Around Tutorial (Spanish version)
This is the Spanish language version of the Mousing Around tutorial
Meeting the Challenge, in pdf
This is a summary of my original research, published in 2003 in Southeastern Librarian. It has an excellent bibliography. Note this link is for the whole jounal issue, in pdf format. The article alone is available here: Meeting the Challenge
Meeting the Challenge, from DLIST
This is a pre-print of the above article, deposited on the DLIST Open Archive. It is in MSWord format.
Adapting to Seniors: Computer Training for Older Adults, in Florida Libraries v. 46 no. 2 (Fall 2003) p. 5-7
This is an easier to read description of the results of our work.  The article is available on WilsonWeb, or try the next link, on the DLIST Open Archive.
Adapting to Seniors, from DLIST
This is a pre-print of the above article, deposited on the DLIST Open Archive. It is in MSWord format.
Techniques for Enabling the Older Population in Technology (slide show)
This is a case study, presented at the eLiteracy 2004 Conference. Note this is the powerpoint presentation. The write-up was published in the International Journal of eLiteracy (see the next link).
Techniques for Enabling the Older Population in Technology (journal article)
This is a case study of classes developed at the North County Regional Library. It was presented to the eLiteracy 2004 Conference in May, 2004. (link updated to local copy of the article)
Teaching ICT Skills to Third Agers
This is a very well done project, focusing on teaching older adults (Third Agers) to use computers.
Seniors Training Seniors in Technology
This is a program of the City of Seattle. There are materials and, especially, trainer materials. (update: removed link since the materials seem to no longer be available)
NIH Toolkit for Trainers
An excellent training guide, from the National Institutes of Health. I posted an assessment here.



The really useful information about older adults and training

These are journal articles and books which deal specifically with the issues of older adults, learning, and computers. Many of these can be found in the bibliography to my original research.
  • The Handbook of Aging and Cognition, 2d edition, edited by F. I. M. Craik and T. A. Salthouse, Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., c2000.
    This is invaluable in understanding the physical aging process.
  • Handbook of Human Factors and the Older Adult, edited by A. D. Fisk and W. A. Rogers, Academic Press, c1997.
    Another excellent resource in understanding how the aging process affects learning.
  • “Effects of Age and Training Formats on Basic Computer Skill Acquisition in Older Adults,” by K. V. Echt, R. W. Morrell, and D. C. Park, in Educational Gerontology, vol. 24, no. 1 (1998), pp. 3-25.
  • “Teaching Older Adults to Use Computers: Recommendations Based on Cognitive Aging Research,” by B. D. Jones and U. J. Bayen, in Educational Gerontology, vol. 24, no. 7 (1998), pp. 675-689.
    This is an excellent review and summary.
  • “Optimal Time of Day and the Magnitude of Age Differences in Memory,” by C. P. May, L. H. Hasher, and E. R. Stoltzfus, in Psychological Science: a Journal of the American Psychological Society, vol. 4, no. 5 (1993), pp. 326-330.
    This is an interesting study, suggesting mornings are the optimal time of day for learning in older adults.
  • “Aging, Inhibitory Processes, and Negative Priming,” by J. M. McDowd and D. M. Oseas-Kreger, in Journal of Gerontology, vol. 46, no. 6 (1991), pp. 340-345.
    This is somewhat technical, but helpful in understanding some of the ways to overcome learning difficulties in older adults.
  • “The Impact of Aging on Access to Technology,” by Sara J. Czaja and Chin Chin Lee, in Universal Access in the Information Society, vol 5, no. 4 (2007), pp. 341-349.
    This is not directly related to training older adults, but covers the same issues (problems in tackling technology).
  • Older Worker Training: What We Know and Don’t Know, by Neil Charness and Sara Czaja, AARP Policy Institute, publication ID 2006-22 (October 2006), available at:
    Although the report is specifically about training older workers, it is an excellent summary of the status of technology training for the global community of older adults.

(edited Oct 6, 2013 to fix broken links and remove dead links)


  1. C Brashears says:

    Thank you for your helpful website. I am working on a Master’s in Adult Education. Your blog is invaluable. I am almost a senior, 54 yrs young, and returned to school when I was 50. I am becoming more literate with the computer but it can be frustrating. Thank you for all your tips and links.

  2. clbean says:

    You’re welcome! Thanks for posting. It’s really nice to know the site is helping someone!


  3. Brigid Cahalan says:

    Hi Carol,
    Love the article! I linked to it in a recent post:
    Keep it up,

  4. JayJay says:

    I am 60 years old and until 4 years ago computers were just used for word processing or playing games. I am one of the fortunate ones that decided to keep up with the modern technology via my children and their children. Make it fun to learn. Learn in small amounts so absorption is not such a big problem. Be daring and try things that may seem daunting to you, but you find out later that it’s really only logic.
    There are a lot more organisations nowadays that concentrate on teaching the “oldies” which is great to see – why should the youngsters have all the fun.
    I will admit that some elderly won’t accept change and get stuck in their own little ruts and are happy to do so. I say to them, take a look at the new technology – it’s not as hard as it appears.

  5. clbean says:

    Thanks, JayJay.

    You are right. There are a lot more organizations doing this now.


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