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  • Minh Hao Nguyen

What you choose is what you get? Tailoring information modality on the Web.

Older adults are increasingly using the Internet. Recent numbers show that 85% of Dutch older adults aged 65 – 74 use the Internet, while this is nearly 50% for those of 75 years and older (Statistics Netherlands, 2015). Besides finding their way to e-mailing and social media (we have all been surprised by finding our parents or grandparents on Facebook these days) older adults spend a lot of their time online to look up health information (Statistics Netherlands, 2013). Fact is, we now live in a digital era, and online health websites are considered to be valuable information sources next to ‘traditional’ sources like our doctor. However, when designing online health information for older adults, there might be some things we need to take into consideration.

Individual modality preferences

In general, individuals have personal preferences for how they would like to receive information. I, for example, consider myself to be a more text-oriented person, and often find myself clicking away videos online (too long, can’t control the pace, etc…). Older adults, however, might express even stronger preferences for online information modalities. Factors such as decreased vision, hearing, or other factors such as growing up in a different media environment, could influence their online experience and preferences for how they would like to receive online information. Unlike traditional information sources, such as booklets, the Internet perfectly lends itself to integrate different information modalities (text, visuals, video) when developing online content. So when developing websites, shouldn’t we ‘tailor’ the mode of information presentation, so that each individual receives the information in a way that fits his or her preferences and abilities?

Mode tailoring: How and why?

Using a website where people can self-select how they want to receive the information (text, visuals or video), we investigated whether ‘mode tailoring’ influenced how younger (25-45) and older adults (65+) processed and remembered health information (Nguyen et al., in press). The results showed that older adults paid more attention to this mode-tailored website, than to ‘normal’ websites, and that they remembered more of the information from the interactive website, too. For younger adults, this was however not the case. In contrast, younger adults to process information from standard websites with text and/or visuals better than from the mode-tailored website.

What do we learn from this?

So, to answer the question raised before: Yes, maybe we should take individual information preferences into account. At this point, mode tailoring seems as a potentially effective way of presenting online information to older adults. This is a relevant insight for those working on developing online materials for an older audience. However, as we cannot draw clear conclusions from just one study, this method is to be used with thoughtful consideration, and more research is needed to investigate how modality tailoring can be executed most effectively. I definitely look forward to seeing more research in this area; so if you have any thoughts on this, feel free to contact me!


Nguyen, M. H. et al. (in press). Tailoring the mode of information presentation: Effects on younger and older adults’ attention and recall of online information. Human Communication Research.

Statistics Netherlands (2013). Internet ouderen fors toegenomen. Retrieved on 17 July 2016, from

Statistics Netherlands (2015). Ouderen maken inhaalslag op het internet. Retrieved on 17 July 2016, from

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