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over are now learning to code.
Why study older adults in particular? Because this population is
already significant and also quickly
growing as we all (hopefully!) continue to live longer in the coming decades. The United Nations estimates
that by 2030, 25% of North Americans and Europeans will be over 60
years old, and 16% of the worldwide
population will be over 60. There has
been extensive research on how older adults consume technology, and
some studies of how they curate and
produce digital content such as blogs
and personal photo collections. But
so far nobody has yet studied how older adults learn to produce new technologies via computer programming.
Thus, to discover older adults’ motivations and frustrations when learning to code, I designed a 10-question
online survey that asked about their
employment status (such as working,
semi-retired, retired), occupation,
why they are learning, what resources
they use to learn, and what has been
the most frustrating part of their
learning experience thus far.
The first challenge was finding a
large-enough group of older adult
learners to fill out my survey. Fortu-
nately, I created a popular learn-to-
code website called Python Tutor
( pythontutor.com), which has gotten
over 3. 5 million total visitors from
over 180 countries throughout the
past decade. Approximately 16% of
its user base self-report as aged 55
and older, so there are plenty of older
adults learning to code on there.
I deployed my survey to the Python
Tutor website from March 2015 to
August 2016 and collected 504 responses. Respondents were, on average, 66. 5 years old, and came from 52
different countries. Unsurprisingly,
most were highly educated professionals in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)
fields, since they are amongst the
most tech-savvy of their generation.
Specifically, 18% of respondents
were (either current or retired) scientists and engineers, 18% were K– 12
and college teachers, 12% were software developers hoping to learn new
technologies, and 8% were business
executives and managers.
Why were our respondents learning
and Design Opportunities
May 15, 2017
I recently published and presented a
paper at CHI 2017 (the annual ACM
Conference on Human Factors in
Computing Systems, https://chi2017.
acm.org) called “Older Adults Learning Computer Programming: Motivations, Frustrations, and Design Opportunities” ( http://bit.ly/2snS4LN).
This paper won an Honorable Mention award at the conference. Here’s a
summary of the project.
There is now tremendous momentum behind initiatives to teach
computer programming to a broad
audience, yet many of these efforts
(for example, Code.org, Scratch,
ScratchJr, and Alice) target the young-est members of society: K– 12 and college students. In contrast, I wanted to
study the other end of the age spectrum: how older adults aged 60 and
How Adults Ages 60+
Are Learning to Code
Philip Guo discusses his project studying older adults
that have chosen to learn computer programming.