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Monday, December 31, 2007

The iTouch and Lifelong Learning for Senior Adults

In the past, programs for adult learners over the age of 50 tended to revolve around face-to-face seminars at a local senior center or university, and highly-structured travel-study programs led by a professor. Gradually, online programs have targeted senior learners who are interested in personal growth and enrichment as well as degree programs. Those forms of course delivery do not meet the needs of many senior learners, particularly those who may be traveling frequently and may not have constant or continuous Internet access. Further, face-to-face seminars, travel-study, and conventional online courses may not be effective or appropriate for learners in assisted living who may have special requirements due to visual, physical, or cognitive issues. Portable devices may offer a solution for delivering content and encouraging interaction. While it may not be feasible or even advisable to offer the entire course on the iTouch, there are compelling reasons to look into offering course content and instructional activities via the iTouch and the video iPod.

Audio post:

The iTouch, which is essentially the iPhone without the telephone capabilities, takes the video iPod a step further by allowing users to use wifi connections in order to access and even transmit data. The iTouch has built-in icons on the touch screen which enable users to manipulate certain functions, such as YouTube and iTunes, with great ease.

Features of the iTouch that are Senior Adult-Friendly:

* Comfortable, light, easy to use
* Excellent clarity of icons and graphics
* Large screen for videos (larger than the iPod)
* Easy-to-read numbers and symbols
* Audio adjustable
* Can easily repeat programming
* Can easily create customized playlists
* Can play directly from YouTube when there is a wifi connection
* Can download music, podcasts, vodcasts, and other video through iTunes, then sync to the iTouch

Features of the iTouch that are Friendly for Immobilized Individuals

* Comfortable, light, easy to use
* Learner can be in bed or in chair and still be able to play stored audio, video, text
* Learner can be lying in bed and still be able to access the Internet, play YouTube, Picasa

Features of the iTouch that are Friendly for Learners on the Move (in Cars, Planes, Mass Transit)

* Long-life battery
* Comfortable, light, easy to use
* Easy to navigate playlists
* Can repeat content as necessary
* Convenient to use in conjunction with books and notes, paper, etc.

Social Networking

* Can easily view updates on Facebook
* Can view web albums from Picasa
* Can view favorite videos on YouTube

Information and Search Tools

* Google for Mobile is easy to read (now, reading the results may be another issue, depending on the way the information is displayed)
* Maps / routes, etc. are easy to access

Disadvantages and Downsides of the iTouch

* Very limited storage (8 GB or 16 GB)
* If not downloading from iTunes and storing on the iTouch, the download time can be very slow
* Can't download and save very easily from wifi downloads
* Safari web browser display can be difficult to use unless the website has been designed so that one can easily enlarge blocks of text
* Not enough sites dedicated to display for mobile devices
* Need to practice to use the touchpad keyboard -- may not be very good for people who lack some mobility in their hands

Perhaps the most useful and viable uses for the iTouch in learning programs involving "seasoned" adults (to use the term found on the Osher Foundation website) would be the following:

* Easy-to-use companion for face-to-face or correspondence course
* Convenient and very portable mobile device for accessing and replaying course content
* Colorful, engaging format for introducing seniors to social networking with Facebook
* Great way to easily access and view friends' and relatives' photos on Picasa
* Great way to motivate by creating a sense of connectedness, assuages a sense of isolation

A possible place to integrate mobile content in senior programs would be to start building them into Lifelong Learning programs, such as the ones sponsored by the Osher Foundation. Dubbed "Lifelong Learning for Seasoned Adults," the Bernard Osher Foundation provided grants to establish centers on the campuses of 115 institutions of higher learning across the United States. Headquartered in San Francisco, the Foundation was founded in 1977 by Bernard Osher, a respected businessman and community leader. The Foundation seeks to improve quality of life through support for higher education and the arts.

To summarize, I believe that the iTouch holds a great deal of potential for programs involving seniors. Not only is it convenient and cute, it has more capabilities than ever, now that it can access the internet via wifi connections. Granted, there are some design issues, not to mention storage issues that will need to be resolved quickly in order for it to be an ideal solution. But, all those issues notwithstanding, I believe that the iTouch has a number of advantages over other mobile devices, one being the ease in which individuals are introduced to the world of social networking and video sharing (Picasa, Facebook, YouTube). For seniors, this could be vital in helping overcome depression and a sense of isolation or abandonment.

Useful Senior-Friendly Sites
These sites use clear fonts, are amenable to the use of screen readers for the vision-impaired (JAWS, etc.), and which are quick to load and easy to navigate.

Light & Dust Anthology of Poetry
(edited and published by Karl Young)

U.S. Health Portal

Depression-Screening Test

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