1 Introduction

Today many countries are experiencing an aging population, and this phenomenon is bound to persist in years to come [16]. A recent report by the United Nations estimates that a quarter of the world’s population will consist of older adults by 2050 [31]. With this issue also come the challenges to ensure a satisfactory living quality for the older population, given the thinning young workforce and the decreasing social resources to provide the needed support. As it is unrealistic to rely solely on human aids for this purpose, the role of technologies becomes increasingly salient [17, 21]. One such technology is gerontechnology [5, 30, 32].

Gerontechnology applications refers to the use of technologies that are developed to support older adults for a better life [6, 27]. It combines technology and gerontology that concerns the study of the social, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging. One important area of gerontechnology applications is in supporting the home living of the older people, through providing them with convenience, safety, and independence in their everyday activities [23, 29, 32]. For instance, smart technologies are developed for controlling home lighting and heating through simple devices or mobile phones that can help address older adults’ limitations in physical functions [12]. These technologies may help older people to live a better life alone at home when human care is beyond their immediate access.

However, it is also well recognized that older people belong to the typical group of digital immigrants, who are not born into the digital world and learn to use information technologies (ITs) only at a later stage in their lives [25]. Persuading and getting this group of people to use technologies voluntarily and effectively present a non-trivial challenge. Ideally, one-to-one hands-on guidance can be provided to teach older adults to use gerontechnology applications, but this is neither practical nor scalable given the growing older population. Especially in the developing countries, lack of resources is likely to prevent this to be achieved at a large-scale. Against this backdrop, teaching older adults through instruction videos may be a viable option [3, 18, 28]. These videos record the instructions on how to achieve a task or to learn a new skill (e.g., using a gerontechnology application), and can be used repeatedly to reach a mass audience.

Yet, most of the extant studies on the use of instruction videos have focused on the younger populations, such as children [28], young people [10] and adults [4]. When presenting instruction videos to the older adults, different considerations may be needed. Among the limited literature addressing the use of instruction videos for older adults, the emphasis has been on the cognitive aspects of teaching this group of people, such as designing videos that can compensate for their relatively limited processing resources, lack of inhibition, cognitive slowing, and sensory deficits [9, 15, 19]. Less attention has been paid to the psychological aspects of teaching older adults to use ITs, despite gerontology research clearly indicates their psychological differences from the younger people [2, 11].

In this study, building on relevant gerontology theory and literature, we posit that in order to promote the receptiveness of older adults to the instruction video and the gerontology technology concerned, it is important to incorporate a sense of human into the videos. Specifically, this can be achieved by having a human narrator (vis-à-vis artificially-created character) to provide step-by-step instructions (i.e., guided actions) on how to use a gerontechnology application. Furthermore, it also matters whether the human narrator is a child, a young adult, or an older adult. To test our propositions, we are conducting experiments (ongoing) to assess older adults’ perceived effectiveness of four versions of instruction videos, with: (1) a cartoon character to provide the narrations; (2) a female child as human narrator; (3) a female young adult as human narrator; (4) a female older adult as human narrator. All the videos are the same (with exact content of the guided actions and instructions) except for how the narrations were provided (per the four versions). We invited older adults aged 50 and above to participate in the experiment; each was randomly assigned to view one of the video versions. They would then use the focal gerontechnology application that allows them to remotely operate the TV (switching on, off, and between TV programs), lighting (switching on and off), and fan (switching on and off), after which they were asked to fill in a short survey. In the survey we assessed their perceived effectiveness of the instruction video, intention to adopt the gerontechnology application, and perceived social presence.

Our initial findings suggest that in general instruction videos with human narrators are preferred by the older adults over the one without (i.e., cartoon character). Furthermore, the older adults prefer child as the human narrator (to young adult and older adult), as reflected in the highest perceived effectiveness and social presence of the video garnered among all the video versions. The initial results suggest older adults’ preference for human presence in the instruction videos targeted at them, which may be understood through the continuity perspective [1]. That is, older adults prefer something that gives a sense of human they are similar with, compared to something “technological” that appears remote or “cold” to them. Moreover, probably arising from a desire to protect their dignity [34], older adults prefer child to teach them to use gerontechnology applications compared to young adults and their peers. These insights have important implications on teaching and promoting older adults’ use of gerontechnology applications via instruction videos. We conclude this paper with a discussion on the plans for our future research.

2 Literature Review and Research Hypotheses

We build primarily on the gerontology literature, in particular the continuity theory [1] and the studies about older adults’ dignity [34], to develop our research hypotheses. Overall we propose that older adults would prefer instruction videos with human narrators than without, in that the former are perceived as more effective than the latter. In addition, having a child as a human narrator would be perceived as more effective than having a young or an older adult in delivering the instruction video.

Continuity theory suggests that older adults make adaptive choices in an effort to preserve ties with their past experiences to reduce environmental uncertainty [2]. This often manifests in the form of habits that people develop as they grow old, which persistently influences preferences in their daily lives. Being typical digital immigrants [25], older adults grew up in an environment whereby IT use was not yet prevalent. Thus, it can be expected that older adults are more used to having human contacts [24] in attaining a purpose, e.g., to learn a new skill. Consequently, older adults may prefer seeing human narrator in an instruction video compared to seeing an artificially-created character. The latter is likely to give a “cold” feeling to older adults, since the artificially-created characters are not the familiar ways through which they learn something (i.e., being taught by a person). In contrast, having a human narrator is likely to elicit a higher social presence feeling that leads to their more favorable perception about the video, in terms of its effectiveness to teach them how to use the gerontechnology application. This should also enhance their intention to adopt the application. The preceding discussions led us to hypothesize:

H1: Instruction videos with human narrator would be perceived by the older adults as having higher effectiveness compared to one without human narrator (i.e., cartoon character).

H2: Instruction videos with human narrator would lead to a higher intention of the older adults to adopt the gerontechnology application concerned compared to one without human narrator (i.e., cartoon character).

Furthermore, we believe that having a child, a young adult, or an older adult as the human narrator would make a difference to how older adults perceive the effectiveness of the video, and also their intention to adopt the gerontechnology application taught in the video.

Previous research suggests that preserving dignity is a salient concern for the older adults [7, 34]. With rich life experiences accumulated, older adults are likely to feel that they know more than their younger counterparts. Also due to this desire to preserve their dignity, they are rather sensitive to receiving advices from others. For instance, Yardley et al. [35] note that older adults might reject an advice on fall prevention if it hints at them being unfit or incapable. Thus, care is needed in providing advices to them such that they do not feel their dignity is being threatened [35]. In a similar vein, we expect the same to apply for delivering instruction videos to older adults to teach them to use a gerontechnology application.

Among the human narrators (who provide voice instructions together with the guided actions in the video), we expect that child would be perceived more favorably by the older adults compared to young adult and another older adult. In particular, older adults are more likely to resist instructions given by young adults. Being older in age, they may feel that having to be taught by a younger adult is a threat to their dignity. As the saying goes, “wise men don’t need advice”, not to mention them may pride themselves as the “old wise men.” Indeed, it is typically the older adults who try to impose their views and knowledge on the young adults, not the other way round [33].

By contrast, older adults may be relatively more receptive to being taught by other older adults. Seeing them as peers who also possess rich life experiences, it may be deemed more acceptable to receive instructions or advices from other older adults. Previous research indicates that it is common for older adults to receive helps, advices and supports from each other, e.g., through online networks [14]. Yet, being peers also means that there could be a comparison tendency among the older adults (e.g., “What? He/She knows this thing more than I do?”) [8], this may discount the receptiveness of the older adults to receiving video instructions from their peers to some extents.

Children, on the other hand, do not instill this peer comparison tendency, and at the same time pose minimal threat to older adults’ dignity. Research on advertising suggests that the presence of children in an advertisement is effective in inducing purchases, due to their innocence that confers feelings of credibility [20]. In addition, older adults may feel a sense of affinity and affection towards children appearing in the video, linking them to their own grandchildren [22]. This should also in turn promotes perceived social presence of the instruction video, which refers to a feeling or sense of warmth and sociability with a medium [13].

Collectively, based on the rationales above, we hypothesize the following:

H3: Among child, young adult, and older adult as narrator, instruction video with child as the narrator will (a) be perceived as most effective; (b) lead to highest adoption intention; (c) elicit highest sense of social presence.

3 Research Methodology

3.1 Research Method

We employ an experiment method to test our research hypotheses. All research procedures are being performed in accordance with university research ethics approval. We recruit older adults aged 50 and above to participate in the experiment (ongoing). Participation is voluntary and all participants are assured of anonymity. Each participant is given a cash voucher of USD2.5 as a token of appreciation for their participation. Participants are randomly assigned to one of the four treatments (Treatment 1: Video A with cartoon character as narrator; Treatment 2: Video B with child as narrator; Treatment 3: Video C with young adult as narrator; Treatment 4: Video D with older adult as narrator). We carefully prepared the instruction videos using cartoon and human characters. We chose normal-looking individuals for the human narrators. In particular, we obtained informed consent of the individuals and selected those with normal appearance (i.e., neither too attractive nor too unattractive) and who look similar (including hair style). For the cartoon character, we created an original cartoon character to avoid feelings of familiarity (e.g., famous cartoon character).

The smartphone home application is an in-house developed assistive technology that provides a portable and convenient home experience for older adults. We leveraged on the Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled technology and Bluetooth-Low-Energy (BLE)-enabled Raspberry-PI to develop the smartphone home application. The application does not require an Internet connection which are regarded as costly and inconvenient to older adults. The application enables a “tap-to-connect” interaction between the physical world and virtual world with the use of NFC smartphone and photo interface. For example, user taps his/her smartphone on a photo interface (embedded with NFC tags) to operate the home appliances such as turning on/off TV, switching on/off lights, etc.

3.2 Sample

A total of 124 older adults have participated in this study when this paper is written. The breakdown of age group is as follows: 18 participants between 50–54 years old, 57 participants between 55–64 years old, 38 participants between 65–74 years old, 9 participants between 75–84 years old, and 2 participants above 85 years old.

Before the experiment, the participants were briefed on the research objective, the experimental tasks and informed consent was obtained. During the experiment, the participants were required to view the instruction video before they were asked to operate the smartphone home application. After the product-trial session, each participant was required to answer a survey questionnaire, followed by a face-to-face interview.

In the survey, we measured three variables, i.e., perceived video effectiveness, adoption intention, and social presence. All of the variables were measured on a seven-point Likert scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree. A pretest of the instrument was conducted with three information systems experts and five older adults to check the content validity, following which minor re-wording was made. We also conducted a pilot study with thirty older adults (n = 30) before the main data collection.

4 Results

4.1 Reliability, Validity and Factor Analyses

We first assess the psychometric properties of the survey items. All variables are reliable as the values of Cronbach’s Alpha and Composite Reliability are greater than 0.80. Convergent and discriminant validity are assessed using Average Variance Extracted (AVE). Convergent validity was established as AVE of all constructs are greater than 0.50. Discriminant validity is examined through the comparison of square roots of the AVE of variables pairs to the correlation between variables pairs. All the square roots of AVE values are greater than the off-diagonal coefficients in the correlation table, indicating that discriminant validity is acceptable (refer to Table 1).

Table 1. Results of reliability and validity

Based on the initial set of data collected, we then conducted a between-subjects MANOVA to assess if there are differences in how the older adults perceive the video across the different video versions. The results indicate that there are significant perception differences for the focal variables (i.e., perceived effectiveness of the instruction video, social presence, adoption intention) across the different video versions (Wilks’ lambda = 0.794, F(8,176) = 2.695, p = 0.008). This provides partial support for the hypotheses; however, to understand how the perceptions differ across the video versions, follow-up ANOVAs were conducted (see Table 2 below).

Table 2. Mean differences of focal perceptions across video versions

As can be seen from Table 2, instruction videos with human narrators (child, young adult, and older adult) were generally perceived as more effective than the one with a cartoon character as the narrator. Also we compare the means of the human narrator group with that of the cartoon character; the difference is significant with F = 7.936**. This provides initial support for H1. In addition, instruction videos with human narrators also prompted higher adoption intention of the gerontechnology application compared to one with a cartoon character. Again we compare the means of the human narrator group with that of the cartoon character on this measure; the difference is significant with F = 15.904***. This provides initial support for H2.

Across the human narrators, the mean values show that the child narrator elicits the highest perceived video effectiveness, social presence, and adoption intention (Table 2). However, based on the initial data collected, test of significance shows that it is only between child and young adult that the difference is close to being significant for perceived video effectiveness (p = 0.067). Thus, H2 (a) is only supported to some extents. No significant difference is found for adoption intention, which renders H2 (b) being not supported based on the initial data set. With regard to perceived social presence, significant difference is found across the three groups (F = 8.889***), which provides initial support for H2 (c). Furthermore, we tried regressing social presence on perceived video effectiveness and adoption intention, and found the effects to be significant (t = 2.941** and 3.408**). This could mean that the difference between child, young adult, and older adult may operate via how they elicit a sense of social presence from the older adult, which we will further explore in subsequent studies.

5 Discussion and Conclusion

The objective of this paper is to investigate the psychological aspects of designing instruction videos to teach older adults to use gerontechnology applications. Specifically, we assess whether it matters to use a human narrator (vis-à-vis an artificially-created cartoon narrator), and if so, whether there is a difference if the human narrator is a child, a young adult, or an older adult. Our initial results show that the difference is non-trivial for older adults, they seem to prefer human narrators in general, and child as the narrator in particular. Furthermore, we find that the sense of social presence elicited could potentially explain the difference.

We believe this paper has important implications to both research and practice. To research, we fill in an important void of designing instruction videos for the older adults. Previous research has mostly addressed the issue for the younger people [4, 10, 28], or if they do for older adults, focused on its cognitive aspects such as designing videos that can compensate for their relatively limited processing resources, lack of inhibition, cognitive slowing, and sensory deficits [9, 15, 19]. The psychological aspects of designing instruction videos for this group of users have not received the deserved level of attention, considering that older adults are likely to have different needs such as maintaining their preferences and habits and to preserve their dignity [1, 7, 34, 35].

To practice, the findings of this study may contribute towards promoting older adults to use gerontechnology applications (such as smart home) for a better independent home living. Previous research has indicated that training older adults to use information technologies could be beneficial to their welfare. For instance, Shapira et al. [26] show that older people who used the Internet felt less depressed and lonely, and were more pleased with their current quality of life than did people who were engaged in other activities for the same period of time. Yet, a pre-condition is to overcome the resistance of older adults, who are the most typical digital immigrants, to using information technologies. Our paper helps provide a better understanding of how to design instruction videos for this group of users, which can teach them to use gerontechnology applications at a large-scale. This has broad implications, given the burden of caring for an increasing numbers of older people with limited societal resources.

This paper currently has some limitations that will be addressed in subsequent research. First, the sample size remains small, which may hinder the making of highly confident conclusions. Nonetheless, the trends and patterns of the results look promising. We will continue to collect more data to obtain more robust results. Second, more work is still needed to obtain more comprehensive insights. For instance, while we make all the narrators to be female to avoid possible gender bias, we plan to subsequently develop more video versions with male narrators to assess how older adults perceive the two genders in giving video instructions to them. In addition, we can examine if male and female older adults evaluate the videos differently, which is more practical with a larger data set collected. Furthermore, we plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the instruction video in a more objective manner, by observing the actual actions when older adults operate the gerontechnology application after watching the video, e.g., speed of achieving designated tasks and errors committed.