Didactic Prototypes

How can prototyping support learning? In this third post from a series about the ACCESS project and how we went online with older adults during a pandemic I will present the topic of didactic prototypes.

There are two different types of learning taking place during participatory design processes. First, there is mutual learning, which is the more common learning described in literature. It is a necessary process for the different stakeholders to go through when they come together and aim to either inform or co-create prototypes and digital artifacts together. The second learning process is connected to digital artifacts appropriation.

Appropriation is often discussed as the final part of the design process. However, that is the appropriation of the newly designed tool. What is often overlooked is that another earlier appropriation is necessary – for some participants to be able to imagine and hence contribute to the design of the new tools, they need to be able to appropriate already existing technology. For example, to be able to contribute to the development and design of a mobile app, the participants need to understand what it means to use a smartphone in the first place and based on that build their experience of app use. Hence, the older users often need to learn what it means to appropriate new tools before the actual co-design can start taking place. 

In our project ACCESS we aim to address these different processes with so called didactic prototypes. Didactic prototypes are a set of learning resources, which intend to prompt learning of the people engaged in their creation as well as people who will later interact with them. The reason why they are called prototypes and not simply resources is because in the same way as prototypes only capture what we know at a certain point, these learning resources do the same; they welcome the learner to remake them and use them to communicate what they have learned; instead of being a “set-in-stone” kind of learning resource. Further, typical design prototypes communicate design ideas; meanwhile the didactic prototypes communicate a learning opportunity. 

Typical design prototypes communicate design ideas; the didactic prototypes communicate a learning opportunity. 

In our project we collect the different didactic prototypes into a mobile demokit, a website, which we use further on during our sustainable PD activities. So far, we have included four different types of didactic prototypes: 

Made by researchers

The most common digital prototype on our website is developed by us researchers, based on our field work with the older participants. Here belongs often instructions of different types (for example, Zoom vocabulary) but also various prompts for our older adults, which we used to scaffold the participation of the older adults. Here belongs for example Telegram Bingo or videos made by the older adults about their experience of digital technology use

Made by students 

Another growing category on the website are didactic prototypes made by students who conduct their student work in line with ACCESS interest. They are specific by using different groups of older adults than our participants. Here belongs for example a motivational video about how to use Alexa in a safe way including a story and instructions how to go about the different privacy setting

Made by the older adults 

One type of the didactic prototypes have been developed by the older participants. Here belongs for example a PDF with instructions on how to use online banking, which one of the participants decided to make for his wife and later also share with the whole group. 


Final stage of our effort were didactic prototypes, which we have created together with our older participants. To be able to build them, we had to included in our activities long-term digital capacity building to enable our participants in this phase. An example here is a re-designing of a bank flyer so that it includes more meaningful information for older adults or instructions how to get online newspapers subscriptions. 

Overall, the didactic prototypes helped us explore the themes of self-evaluating by older adults, ownership and translating the demokit into different contexts and formats.

To learn more about our didactic prototypes, you can read our paper published in Mobile HCI 2021.

Katerina Cerna and Claudia Müller. 2021. Fostering digital literacy through a mobile demo-kit development: Co-designing didactic prototypes with older adults. In Adjunct Publication of the 23rd International Conference on Mobile Human-Computer Interaction (MobileHCI ’21 Adjunct), September 27–October 01, 2021, Toulouse & Virtual, France. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 6 pages. 

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