Anne Jelfs is the Learning and Teaching Development Manager and John T. E. Richardson is the Professor of Student Learning and Assessment in the Institute of Educational Technology at the UK Open University. Their research is mainly concerned with quality assurance and enhancement of the learner experience, especially for disadvantaged groups.
The use of digital technologies across the adult life span in distance education
Article first published online: 27 APR 2012
© 2012 The Authors. British Journal of Educational Technology © 2012 BERA
British Journal of Educational Technology
Volume 44, Issue 2, pages 338–351, March 2013
How to Cite
Jelfs, A. and Richardson, J. T. E. (2013), The use of digital technologies across the adult life span in distance education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44: 338–351. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01308.x
- Issue published online: 19 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 27 APR 2012
In June 2010, a survey was carried out to explore access to digital technology, attitudes to digital technology and approaches to studying across the adult life span in students taking courses with the UK Open University. In total, 7000 people were surveyed, of whom more than 4000 responded. Nearly all these students had access to a computer and the Internet, but younger students were more likely than older students to have access to other technologies, to spend longer time using those technologies and to have more positive attitudes to digital technology. However, there was no evidence for any discontinuity around the age of 30, as would be predicted by the “Net Generation” and “Digital Natives” hypotheses. Older students were more likely than younger students to adopt deep and strategic approaches to studying and less likely to adopt a surface approach to studying. In addition, regardless of their ages, students who had more positive attitudes to technology were more likely to adopt deep and strategic approaches to studying and were less likely to adopt a surface approach to studying.
What is already known about this topic
- • Younger students have more access to digital technology and more positive attitudes to such technology than older students.
- • Students who have more positive attitudes to technology are more likely to adopt deep and strategic approaches to studying and are less likely to adopt a surface approach.
- • Nevertheless, older students are more likely to adopt deep and strategic approaches to studying and are less likely to adopt a surface approach than are younger students.
What this paper adds
- • Students' use of, and attitudes to, digital technology vary monotonically across the adult lifespan, and there is no evidence for any discontinuity around the age of 30.
- • Students' age and their attitudes to digital technology are distinct predictors of their approaches to studying.
- • When they have similar access to relevant forms of technology, older students may be more likely than younger students to respond to online surveys.
Implications for practice and/or policy
- • Policy-makers and practitioners should reject stereotypes regarding younger and older learners, such as those reflected in the Net Generation and Digital Natives hypotheses.
- • Both younger and older students hold broadly positive attitudes to digital technology.
- • Whatever their age, today's students regard the use of digital technology as an integral part of their experience of higher education.