Generation Baby Boomers Learning On the Go: An Interview with Dirk Morrison

The AACE E-Learn special interest groups TREND and DESIGN  recently concluded a call for abstracts for the Special Issue on Mobile Technology for the Journal of Interactive Learning Research. A total of 16 abstracts were selected for the next round of reviews to submit full papers proposals. We present some of the most original submissions through interviews on Innovate Learning Review.

Older adults are “connected” and are utilizing, to a great extent, mobile technologies to support their online learning activities.


We were particularly fascinated by a study that investigated how people age 55+ use mobile technologies for informal learning. How do older adults form personal learning networks to communicate online, engage in discussion, exchange information, and share resources about a hobby or general interest?

Dr. Dirk Morrison and his team from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) distributed an online survey to a representative sample of 385 retired older adults (age 55+) from across Canada.

How did you get the idea for this project?

The genesis of the idea for this project came from a number of different sources, related to my professional experience and general intellectual curiosity. Although I work within an institution of higher education, namely, the University of Saskatchewan, whose primary teaching and learning mandate is to provide formal education courses, certificates, undergraduate and graduate degrees, I’ve always been intrigued with informal learning, learning that individuals undertake outside the borders and constraints of these highly structured (and strictured) learning environments and activities. I am also very interested in deepening our understanding of the nature of motivation for learning, specifically, intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivational orientations, drivers and characteristics of any group of learners.

Finally, teaching with our Graduate Program, focused on Educational Technology and Design, it is clear that learning with technology is, and will continue to be, an important skill for citizens of the 21st Century. For these reasons (among others), I was drawn to examining retired older adults’ use of the Internet (ICT, to include mobile technology), how they use these to access resources, build online personal networks and engage with and participate in their informal learning communities.

Did you observe cultural, age or gender differences in the way mobile tech is used among the people you surveyed?

Our research did not investigate cultural differences but we did examine the data for age cohort (55-64, 65-74 and 75+ years of age) and gender differences. While we did not find any statistically significant differences, females identified a trend in the use of mobile technologies (smartphone and tablets), in inverse proportions to the male participants; this finding will be the impetus for further investigations for future research.

What was the most surprising result of your research?

The focus of this study was to provide a more detailed understanding of how older adults, in particular, use the Internet and social media to become more knowledgeable and socially engaged; specifically, this was an exploration of how they might create and maintain online personal learning networks (oPLNs) as part of their more global informal learning environment. There were many interesting findings coming out of this research but a primary “take-away” is that older adults are actively exploring and learning new things, they are learning from others,” as well as sharing their knowledge, and are learning by interacting and talking with others about their hobby and/or interest (their informal learning pursuits).

It is important to note that while our research did not explicitly target “mobile tech” per se, we did find some interesting (perhaps not surprising) results in this regard. For example, when asked what devices they used to access the Internet, 67.4% indicated using a smartphone or tablet, while 66.1% and 65% indicated a desktop or laptop; clearly, these older adults are “connected” and are utilizing, to a great extent, mobile technologies to support their online learning activities.

Do you think your results are specific to your country (Canada)? How would you like to see this research replicated in other countries?

I do not think the results are specific to Canada; rather, I think any country with ubiquitous and reliable access to broadband Internet connectivity and mobile technologies would find similar results regarding retirees’ use of such for the purposes of enhancing their informal, self- directed learning activities.

What practical outcomes does this project have?

A practical outcome from this research project will be to share the findings with agencies and/or organizations charged with assisting older adults to utilize all the resources available to them, including opportunities to connect with others in learning communities, via mobile technologies.

An additional possible practical outcome could be a better understanding of the nature of intrinsic motivation, as it is manifest in informal learning contexts, which in turn, may help to inform our efforts in K-12, higher education and corporate training environments; designing these to include relevant, “just-in-time” and “learning-on-the-go” opportunities, via mobile technologies, would be a tangible and useful outcome.

What’s next for you and your team? Are you planning follow-up research and development?

This research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, as an Insight Development Grant, is meant to provide support for new initiatives; following the completion of analyses and interpretation of the data collected, an application will be made to secure additional funding (SSHRC-Insight Grant-2018) to continue and expand the investigation of mobile technology-mediated informal, self-directed learning.

You will be attending and presenting your findings at E-Learn conference in Vancouver – what are things you want input on or would like to discuss with the AACE community?

My colleague (Dr. Marguerite Koole) and I will be attending and presenting at the E-Learn Conference in Vancouver. We would appreciate any input, creative and constructive suggestions regarding our findings, would be open to possible collaborative research ventures, and anticipate vibrant, collegial exchange of ideas, insights and questions.

Anything else you look forward to in Vancouver?

Pleasant weather, great food and an excellent conference experience!


Dirk Morrison is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology and Design and Graduate Chair in the Department of Curriculum Studies, College of Education, University of Saskatchewan. Research interests: e-learning design practice applied; educational technology in higher education, informal online learning environments; effects of ICT on culture and society; AI and the future of learning.

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