Older generations learn better with people than machines, study concludes

Older people pick up new skills better when they believe they are learning from a person rather than from a computer, a study suggests.

Researchers used a technique – known as the Wizard of Oz system – to create the illusion that the task they were performing was being set by either a machine or a human.

On both occasions, they were interacting with a person.

People were slower and less accurate in a task when they thought they were interacting with a machine and not a human, the University of Edinburgh research found.

Dr Catherine Crompton, of the university’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, said: “An increasing number of systems to help older adults live independently depend on computerised activities, although little is known about how people interact with these systems and how they learn from them.

“These findings suggest that beliefs affect how efficiently older people learn with technology, which could be taken into account when making technology systems user-friendly.”

The study also found people changed their answers more, and were less likely to remember details an hour after the task was finished, when they believed instructions came from a computer.

Researchers tested the problem solving skills of 24 people aged between 60 and 85.

Participants were given spoken instructions and asked to arrange information and complete a task.

The results showed participants performed worse when they believed they were learning with a computer.

They were faster, more accurate and took fewer turns to complete tasks when they believed the instructions were from a person.

Experts said people’s perception about who or what system they were working with had a medium to large effect on differences in performance.

Researchers believe the findings help understand how efficiently and accurately older adults learn with technology.

The study, which was carried out at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, may also aid the development of computerised systems to help and support older people.

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