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Is digital assistance always of benefit to older people? – Over-helping is perceived as frustrating

Digital support provided by family and friends does not automatically lead to successful learning experiences or the independent use of technology by older people. Assistance should support the learning of new things.

The DigiIN project’s interview study examined the key characteristics of digital support provided by family and friends and examined how these affect how well older people acquire digital skills and the independent use of technology.

“Informal digital support provided by warm experts, i.e. family and friends, plays an important role in the personal learning experiences of older people and their ability to use digital services and devices independently,” says Viivi Korpela, doctoral researcher at the University of Jyväskylä.

According to the study, the empathy and social support provided by loved ones can promote the learning of digital skills and the welfare of older people. The study also described the digital support provided by family and friends as safe and reliable.
However, informal digital support has its limits, and not everyone has close friends who they can ask for help.

Over-helping may prevent learning

“The study also observed characteristics of informal digital support that can prevent digital inclusion. For example, over-helping was often considered frustrating,” Korpela says. Over-helping refers to such things as situations where downloading and updating applications were taken care of as quickly as possible.

Based on the study, over-helping may lead to problems being solved entirely on behalf of older people. Even if older people themselves wanted to learn and practise new digital tasks, they were not given a real opportunity to do so.

Digital support must be developed in many ways

As society becomes increasingly digitalised and services move online, it is important to develop a more comprehensive and efficient digital support policy while improving the accessibility of existing low-cost digital support projects. It is also important to recognise the role of unofficial and informal learning networks, as we are all needed in the process of finding a solution the digital support shortage.

More information

Korpela, V., Pajula, L., & Hänninen, R. (2024). Investigating the multifaceted role of warm experts in enhancing and hindering older adults’ digital skills in Finland. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 1–14.

Viivi Korpela
Doctoral Researcher
University of Jyväskylä