100 Things You Should Know About People #79 — People of Different Ages Have Different Error Strategies

Young man taking a picture with a smart phone camera

Let’s say you study two people using a smartphone that has an advanced still and video camera. One is 22 years old, and the other is 47 years old. Neither of them has used this smartphone/camera before. You give them a set of tasks to do. Will there be a difference between them? Will they both be able to complete the tasks? Will they make the same mistakes? Neung Kang and Wan Yoon (2008) conducted a research study to look at the types of errors both young and older (not very old, but older) adults make when learning how to use new technologies. In their study they identified and tracked different error strategies:

Systematic exploration — When people use  systematic exploration, this means that when they make a mistake they stop and think about what procedures they are going to use to correct the error. For example, let’s say that a user is trying to figure out how to email a picture with the smartphone/camera. She tried one menu and that didn’t work, so now she sets out to see what each item in the menu system does for the camera part of the device. She starts at the first item in the first menu and works her way through all the choices in the part of the product controls having to do with the camera. She is systematically exploring.

Trial and error — In contrast to systematic exploration, trial and error means that the person is randomly trying out different actions, menus, icons and controls

Rigid exploration — If someone does the same action over and over, even though it does not solve the error, that is called a rigid exploration. For example, the person is trying to send a picture via a text message, presses a button and gets an error. She then chooses the picture again, and presses the button again. She keeps repeating this combination of actions, even though it doesn’t work.

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