Senior Citizens Can Learn Quite Well, Thank You
From May to December 1999, the Setting Priorities for Retirement Years Foundation (SPRY) studied the current state of research into how older adults learn and make decisions, particularly with regard to health and health care.
SPRY is the research and education arm of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Project staff reviewed more than 300 publications and interviewed 128 experts.
To date, researchers with expertise in education or communications technologies have done little work in the aging field, and as a result, teaching methods now used for the elderly are often extrapolated from adolescent or vocational education.
- Older adults learn and make decisions differently from children and adolescents.
- A better understanding of the principles of older adult learning can be achieved by bridging the fields of medical and cognitive science, adult learning and communications technologies.
- Cutting edge communications technologies can be used to accelerate ways in which older adults learn and use health information.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project with partial funding of $96,980 from May 1999 to December 1999.
For the study, SPRY project staff reviewed more than 300 publications in neuroscience, education, psychology, gerontology, marketing, advertising, adult literacy, and communications technology. They also interviewed 128 experts in those areas. A seven-member National Advisory Committee helped analyze the collected information and develop a plan for additional efforts in this area. (For a list of advisory committee members, see the Appendix.)
In a 115-page project report to RWJF, Bridging Principles of Older Adult Learning, which is not available for external distribution, SPRY described the study and its conclusions. Among the findings:
- Older adults learn and make decisions differently from children and adolescents. Older adults, unlike children, use their experience, skills, and knowledge to process new information and make decisions. Older adults develop compensatory strategies: as some learning functions wear down, others take over. Teaching may be tailored to age and gender to improve learning and decision-making. Strategies for encoding, storage, and retrieval of information can help older adults learn effectively. Third-party assistance may be especially appropriate for older consumers' health-related decisions.
- A better understanding of the principles of older adult learning can be achieved by bridging the fields of medical and cognitive science, adult learning, and communications technologies. No single discipline contains all knowledge in this field; each discipline has a special perspective that is important to consider. Research in the cognitive and neurosciences, for example, has revealed that the brains of older adults have a high degree of "plasticity" and that stimulating environments are important to the continued growth of the older brain, and to learning and memory. Research in adult education suggests that beliefs and attitudes about memory have a significant impact on cognitive functioning; marketing of educational opportunities must take into account the physical, cognitive, and emotional abilities of older adults.
- Cutting edge communications technologies can be used to accelerate ways in which older adults learn health information and use this information to make decisions. New technologies allow tremendous flexibility and power in adapting the learning environment to the capacity of the older individual. The convergence of television, computers, and technologically mediated learning will improve the education of older adults.
AFTER THE GRANT
At the close of this grant, SPRY developed a plan to seek consensus in the field on the principles of learning and decision-making among older adults and to market and implement these principles through a variety of projects and activities. The organization has identified 20 private and government organizations with potential interest in participating and is pursuing additional funding for this work.
The project director discussed the project as a member of a panel on older adult learning at the American Society on Aging national conference in March 2000 and presented the findings at a Gerontological Society of America conference in November 2000.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Understanding Principles of Older Adult Learning in Order to Increase Effective Communication of New Health Information and Decision Making
Setting Priorities for Retirement Years Foundation (Washington, DC)
Dates: May 1999 to December 1999
Russell E. Morgan Jr., Dr.P.H.
Martha A. McSteen (Chair)
National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
Managing Director, Health Affairs
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
Sholly Fisch, Ph.D.
Vice President for Program Research
Children's Television Workshop
New York, N.Y.
Robert Kahn, Ph.D.
Research Scientist Emeritus
Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Guy M. McKhann, M.D.
Mind Brain Institute
Johns Hopkins University
Sun Network Academy Manager
Menlo Park, Calif.
Sherry Willis, Ph.D.
Professor, Human Development
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pa.
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Books and Reports
SPRY Foundation. Bridging Principles of Older Adult Learning: Reconnaissance Phase Final Report. Washington, D.C.: SPRY Foundation, 1999. Not available for external distribution.
Presentations and Testimony
Russell E. Morgan Jr., "Bridging Principles of Older Adult Learning," at the American Society on Aging Conference, March 28, 2000, San Diego, Calif.
Russell E. Morgan Jr. and Ann Benbow, "Bridging Principles of Older Adult Learning," at the Gerontological Society of America National Conference, November, 2000, Washington, D.C.
Report prepared by: Michael H. Brown
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Karyn Feiden
Program Officer: David C. Colby