Public Library Training Program for Older Adults Addresses Their Computer and Health Literacy Needs

Cari Merkley

Abstract


Objective – To evaluate the efficacy of an e-health literacy educational intervention aimed at older adults.

Design – Pre and post intervention questionnaires administered in an experimental study.

Setting – Two public library branches in Maryland.

Subjects – 218 adults between 60 and 89 years of age.

Methods – A convenience sample of older adults was recruited to participate in a four week training program structured around the National Institutes of Health toolkit Helping Older Adults Search for Health Information Online. During the program, classes met at the participating libraries twice a week. Sessions were two hours in length, and employed hands on exercises led by Master of Library Science students. The training included an introduction to the Internet, as well as in depth training in the use of the NIHSeniorHealth and MedlinePlus websites. In the first class, participants were asked to complete a pre-training questionnaire that included questions relating to demographics and previous computer and Internet experience, as well as measures from the Computer Anxiety Scale and two subscales of the Attitudes toward Computers Questionnaire. Participants between September 2008 and June 2009 also completed pre-training computer and web knowledge tests that asked individuals to label the parts of a computer and of a website using a provided list of terms. At the end of the program, participants were asked to complete post-training questionnaires that included the previously employed questions from the Computer Anxiety Scale and Attitudes towards Computer Questionnaire. New questions were added relating to the participants’ satisfaction with the training, its impact on their health decision making, their perceptions of public libraries, and the perceived usability and utility of the two websites highlighted during the training program. Those who completed pre-training knowledge tests were also asked to complete the same exercises at the end of the program.

Main Results – Participants showed significant decreases in their levels of computer anxiety, and significant increases in their interest in computers at the end of the program (p>0.01). Computer and web knowledge also increased among those completing the knowledge tests. Most participants (78%) indicated that something they had learned in the program impacted their health decision making, and just over half of respondents (55%) changed how they took medication as a result of the program. Participants were also very satisfied with the program’s delivery and format, with 97% indicating that they had learned a lot from the course. Most (68%) participants said that they wished the class had been longer, and there was full support for similar programming to be offered at public libraries. Participants also reported that they found the NIHSeniorHealth website more useful, but not significantly more usable, than MedlinePlus.

Conclusion – The intervention as designed successfully addressed issues of computer and health literacy with older adult participants. By using existing resources, such as public library computer facilities and curricula developed by the National Institutes of Health, the intervention also provides a model that could be easily replicated in other locations without the need for significant financial resources.

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