A synthesis of best practices for assisting Canadian adults to enhance their literacy level suggested that technology-based instruction is beneficial for adults leaners because it allows for “individualization, immediate feedback and privacy” (Canadian Council on Learning, 2006, 4). However, there is still a considerable amount of uncertainty regarding learners’ ability to transfer their learning skills to a technology-based learning environment. Karjanmaa (2001) has noted that “studying in a virtual environment sets new kind of demands on learning skills” (Karjanmaa, 2001). The author has also argued that although there are differences among learners regarding their ability to learn with technology-based learning, everyone should be given equal opportunity to learn successfully in this learning environment and proposed four key postulates of meaningful learning in a virtual environment:
- Fearless interaction: The learning environment should not stiffened learners with fear. It should instead encourage risk-taking.
- Experience of mastering: The learning environment should be competency-based and support self-respect.
- Sense of sharing: The learning environment should make learners feel that they are making a valuable contribution to something important.
- Positive tension: The learning environment should encourage learners to invest effort and energy to overcome learning difficulties (Karjanmaa, 2001, citing Neimi, 2002)
Cognitive impairment among the healthy aging population is another major barrier to the labour extension of older adults (Kueider, Parisi, Gross, & Rebok, 2012). This decline, which begins in early adulthood, affects processing speed, reasoning, memory and executive control. Decline in information processing speed can become noticeable in the 30s (Deary et al., 2009). Today cognitive decline is: “the most feared aspects of growing old. It is also the most costly, in terms of the financial, personal and societal burdens” (Deary et al., 2009, p. 136).
The growing concern about cognitive decline of older adults has sparked interest in cognitive training. Given the high cost of face-to-face cognitive training, there has been a move to use technology-mediated instruction to provide individualized, flexible, quick, effective and easily accessible low-cost training to older adults. Technology-mediated training can also be designed to be engaging and fun and to provide real-time performance feedback to maintain users’ interest (Kueider et al., 2012).
It appears that although: “the market is currently inundated with commercial brain exercise programs that claim to improve memory, attention, creativity…and cognitive decline…few of these programs have been rigorously tested in empirical scientific studies with older adults” (Kueider et al., 2012, p. 2). In an attempt to fill this information gap the authors systematically reviewed 38 computerized training studies published between 1984 and 2011. The great majority of these studies used classical cognitive training tasks; 9 of them used neuropsychological software, and 10 delivered the training through video games. The training duration varied between 2 weeks to 24 weeks. Results of this systematic review indicated that besides being less labour intensive, all three computerized approaches were either as effective as or better than traditional print-based cognitive training interventions. It was also concluded that adults could benefit from computerized cognitive training without being technologically savvy.
Table 1. Popular Computerized Commercial Brain Training Programs
||Adults experiencing information overload
||Training to improve cognitive skills: memory, attention, language, visual-spatial and executive function skills
||Training memory, attention, processing speed, and problem-solving skills
||Training memory, attention, processing speed, and intelligence