Senior Learning Online: Designing Courses for Older Students or Senior Citizens

Considerations for Senior Citizens

Web page design can either help or hinder information gathering and retention in any user. Too much information on a page may obscure objectives and confuse the reader. Advertisements, especially those which involve animation, may distract the reader and interfere with concentration or willingness to engage with the material. For seniors these and many other factors may impact on the ability to read and learn. Course design for senior learners should also take into consideration the fact that aging causes deterioration in function sometimes to the point where diminished function may fall into the category of a disability.

Designing Courses for Older Students

Course design for older students should accommodate their natural learning abilities developed by older style education methods and inevitable decline in cognitive function.

Navigation and Layout

  • Non linear paths to information may pose problems for seniors. Older students have developed reading and learning skills within the older linear text models and as such may not find non-linear environments logical.
  • The amount of hypertext should be restricted to a simple level necessary to handle the quantity of information. Hypertext paths that lead out of the learning environment of the website or which disrupt the flow of information should be avoided.
  • Links and layout in general need to be arranged in a logical and constant order. Clear icons that are self-explanatory may also be helpful.
  • Information should fit within one page on the screen to avoid the necessity to scroll.

Cognitive Function

  • Hearing loss is common in seniors therefore is may be better to restrict sound or accompany sound files with the text equivalent.
  • Visual loss is also common and so course design for older students requires attention to spacing, colour, font type and size. Letters that are positioned too close together are more difficult to read. Some font types have clearer spacing than others. Restrict use of colour to those giving high level of contrast rather than pale colours on a pale background.
  • Older students may be less familiar with a wide range of web applications. Always use the least complicated applications where possible. These tend to be more cost effective and easier to use.
  • Logic of presentation is important. The order of information sections and the amount or complexity of information should be considered. Short, simple sentences with uncomplicated grammar should be used, constructed in active voice. Provision of examples and opportunities for immediate application of the learning objective will help those older students with short term memory problems.
  • Continual assessment rather than exams is preferred for senior learners.

Delivering Courses to Senior Learners

Senior learners who have completed courses could be approached to become tutors for subsequent students. Older students may be more comfortable with tutors from their own age group and similar levels of education or common problems facing seniors. They may also be helpful in understanding which type of courses would be beneficial and of interest to senior learners. Many seniors have extensive life experience in specific areas, either professional or non-professional. A transfer of this knowledge to others also places older students into the category of teacher or mentor rather than simply one of dependency. Designing courses for older students may be best achieved in consultation with older students.


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