As I was reading a couple recent posts about usability I came across a 2004 paper entitled "Older Adults and Web Usability: Is Web Experience the Same as Web Expertise?" by Ann Chadwick-Dias, Donna Tedesco, and Tom Tullis.
Their research suggests that Web experience is only a part of the equation when it comes to Web expertise. In fact, the strongest predictor of expertise was age independent of experience. In general, they found that older users have more usability problems when using the Web, independent of Web usage patterns (frequency of use, long-term use).
Their research found older adults demonstrated less Web expertise than younger adults. In fact, Web expertise is significantly influenced by how users learned the Web. Specifically, the cumulative time spent in collaborative learning environments (learning from and with others) rather than just how long or how often they have used it. The absence of collaborative learning is a part of the reason older adults have a lower level of expertise when the level of experience is controlled.
I often notice that library web usability study instruments frequently ask the participant about their Web experience. In fact, should we be more concerned about their Web expertise level? I wonder what impact, if any, this differentiation could have on library Web site usability studies? How is Web expertise defined and assessed? If we design for the older user, is the site less usable to the younger user? If we design for the younger user do we create usability problems for the older user?
Should libraries not be spending any time on usability at all? Should we be creating basic Web sites and instead spend our time making our resources findable regardless of the access method?
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