The Local Government Association are the national voice of local government, working with councils to support, promote and improve local government. They provided funding for a year long Digital Inclusion Programme so that we could offer 1-2-1 training and support to residents living in sheltered accommodation blocks in the borough.
Marianne is a 77 year old Croydon resident who lives alone in one of the sheltered housing blocks. She speaks English as a second language, and was born in Nigeria. Marianne took part in the LGA digital pilot project and had many of the typical characteristics of the learners that took part in the scheme.
Marianne attended her first session roughly a month into the project. Her details were taken and she was given a brief introduction to the advantages of being online. We looked at the BBC website with her to show how it combined video and text. She was very excited to know more about the internet, so she began joining the sessions in the communal lounge. Unfortunately her learning was soon disrupted by the lockdown when sessions were suspended.
Marianne had an EE router in her flat which she knew very little about and didn’t use. She had no other device and was not getting the full use of her phone, since she understood very little about the internet. But she had an understanding of how to make calls and use texts on her phone.
During lockdown she was given one of the decommissioned laptops from a previous scheme. The aim was to help her develop her skills and understanding across devices, and assist her with quickly getting online in a more useful way. We set up the laptop with an internet connection and a new email address. Like many of the residents encountered, Marianne had email on her phone but rarely used it and had lost the password to her account.
At first Marianne found the transition to the laptop very confusing. She struggled with the navigation of the inbox and when opening an email found the fluid interface very difficult to understand. However, she is a determined learner and she practised sending emails.
We also introduced her to the browser on her laptop, and initially showed her how to navigate to the BBC website and access i-player. By placing shortcuts on her browser she was able to go to a few web pages which she found useful.
Initially Marianne tried to use a mouse but she found this very difficult. She found clicking on screen items difficult. She often moved the mouse while clicking on an item and found the cursor movements too sensitive. After several efforts she decided to use the trackpad, because it allowed her to move the cursor to an object and click separately.
Marianne applied herself very well. She practised opening the browser and was able to search something using Google, although this too took her time to get used to. Remembering to click inside the search engine and understanding how links worked was difficult for Marianne. Sometimes she needed to revise what she was doing. Closing a page, using the back button to go to a previous page, and the purpose of the address bar were all useful for her to learn, but were not adopted immediately and required practice.
She learns in a very structured way but lacks the capacity to adapt to the unexpected. This was a common feature in older learners, who often did not respond well to using certain functions on a computer. Sometimes older learners were easily confused by clicking on the wrong item. Marianne responded well to setbacks however and made steady progress.
When Community Fibre installed broadband into the sheltered block, Marianne made the decision to swap services. However, she did not discuss how to do this effectively and ended up paying more than she expected on her previous contract. She was quite upset by this. But we made use of her new email to check that her payments had ended and she was able to see how emails could be used to deal with services effectively.
When the second lockdown was being discussed we began to prepare Marianne for making video calls so she could continue learning from home. It became clear that Marianne’s understanding of using email was still limited and she needed more support. She found it a struggle to recognise a new email, she didn’t understand the sent box and forgot that an email needs to be opened before reading it. Once inside an email, the Teams invite caused confusion as it had information at the top and the link was lower down the page.
Once lockdown began, these issues became more of a problem. When she tried to log into Teams she was finding it confusing. The first few video sessions were a struggle, so we began to use WhatsApp video calls alongside Teams sessions to see what Marianne was doing. This helped and she was able to adapt to video calls.
Marianne then made a start on independent learning and she continues to work on this. But registering on Learn My Way and logging in caused problems for Marianne when she encountered drop down menus which she’d not used before.
She is now at the stage where she’s recapping on her existing knowledge. The Learn My Way site builds up from basic skills to more advanced skills. It is apparent that Marianne will need to keep working on her skills. She has made a great deal of progress and has surprised herself because she never thought she’d be able to learn some of the skills she has, but her knowledge is still limited in many aspects. This became clear recently when Marianne began to use internet tabs. She finds the idea of having more than one page open at a time confusing, especially if a new page is opened by accident.
Marianne illustrates what can be achieved through digital learning as she has gained in confidence and has benefited greatly from being online. She also shows how great the need is for continued support amongst vulnerable learners.
Blessing is a 60 year old resident who speaks English as a second language, and also speaks German. She lives alone in a sheltered housing block in Croydon and works as a carer in the borough.
Blessing first attended a session for help using Facebook, she was one of the more advanced learners that joined the course. She was keen to learn more, but as the course progressed it was clear that she had very limited knowledge. Like many older learners she had been set up with her phone by younger relatives and had little understanding of the internet only using a few apps on her phone.
In the first sessions we showed Blessing how to manage her Facebook page, how to post and how to attach a picture. It was clear she was receiving lots of other people’s posts but had little idea how to manage her page. Also, she was paying for a contract with unlimited internet but very rarely used the internet.
Blessing was given a decommissioned laptop but she had no internet connection in her flat so attended sessions in the lounge. We discussed the potential benefits of her getting a router installed in her flat, rather than having unlimited internet on her phone. She considered this option and is currently waiting to change this when her contract finishes.
Although Blessing had an email set up she did not use it regularly. So we set up a gmail account for her that she could also use for work. She made good progress and developed a good understanding fairly rapidly. During the first lockdown however she was not able to continue with her learning.
In the second period of learning we looked at websites that she may benefit from, including Croydon’s My Account. We prepared Blessing for video calls and she seemed able to understand this. As Blessing did not have the internet in her flat, we looked at how she could use the hotspot function on her phone and get better value out of her unlimited internet.
However, then Blessing had an operation and she was confined to her flat. She lost her connection and had forgotten how to reconnect. We were able to visit her and re-established connection. From then on we were able to continue remotely.
We expected to connect with Blessing easily, but she was unable to connect to Teams. So we had to use WhatsApp as a camera to find out why. It became apparent that she had forgotten some of the aspects we covered. She was right clicking and opening the wrong link on the page which opened a calendar. However, since then Blessing has started independent learning with Learn My Way which should ensure she continues to make good progress.
Blessing’s partial understanding and having some experience of using her phone for work, meant she has been fairly quick to learn. However, she wasn’t always able to attend lessons due to work and her operation, so she ended up struggling with some aspects of what she’d learnt. This illustrates how easy it is to forget information, and how essential it is to maintain contact and continue to provide support even on a less regular basis.
I am confident that Blessing will continue to develop her skills to the point where she no longer needs support. This should be helped by the installation of a router in her home.
Rose is a 94 year old resident who lives alone in sheltered accommodation in Croydon. She has limited mobility, using a zimmer frame to walk and has a carer. Rose took part in the initial survey but did not attend sessions in the communal lounge. She contacted us after the digital guides were delivered to ask for support.
Rose was online, but in her email she made it clear that she didn’t use her equipment often and needed support. She is a good learner and for a woman of her age is surprisingly adept with her computer, which is a desktop computer running Windows 7. In fact, despite her age she is one of the most able learners. Having worked in administration her experience meant she was more prepared for working on a computer than other residents.
In the first session we looked at internet shopping. Rose had a Sainsbury’s account and wanted to use it, but had not used it for some time and the design of the website had changed. Sainsbury’s website is very visual. It is quite ‘busy’ with lots of special offers and drop down menus. Rose struggled with some aspects of it because she often sees things as being literal on the screen. So when a message instructs her to do something e.g. ‘buy’ she sometimes takes it as a compulsory command even though it may be just a recommendation.
We explored the website together, looked at what she had ordered and how to change an order. Then we looked at some other features of her computer she was not familiar with. Her desktop was set up for her use as it featured shortcuts. But she was not really familiar with using Google and she was uncertain about some of the pop ups that appeared from her internet security software. She thought they were instructions and was rather frightened by some of the messaging, which were designed to make users feel vulnerable to threats on the internet.
After a few weeks of looking at internet basics like search engines, website navigation and an introduction to the council’s My Account site, Rose accepted a new smartphone. This was supplied by Clear Community Web, a local digital inclusion organisation. As Rose did not have a portable device, we thought this would be a good chance for her to have something lighter and learn how to use a touch screen.
She received the device on the first day of the second lockdown, so all lessons had to be conducted remotely. We tried to use Teams prior to the lockdown, but Windows 7 seemed incompatible so we had to look for an alternative. A failed attempt with Zoom led us to try Google meet, and fortunately because the functionality and the invite were more simple, it has proved to be a good tool.
Rose has been able to connect and adapt to video calling. Even though she sometimes struggles to hear all the instructions, we have been able to get her set up on her new smartphone. However this was not a straightforward process. Learning purely remotely has been very challenging.
Rose sometimes missed options on the screen either due to size issues or a difficult navigation. She sometimes struggles with recognising icons and their purpose. So her learning needed to be done almost step by step over a period of intensive lessons. The process that has worked best is getting Rose to hold up the phone to the camera so we can see what’s on her screen and then tell her what to do.
The first challenge was the phone set up and initially and Rose struggled with the pop up keyboard. She was pressing the wrong keys and pushing them too hard as she was used to a real keyboard. Her problems were made worse by the phone going into sleep mode. But after practice she was able to complete the process and then we helped her to change her settings.
In order for her to be able to use Google functions easily, we helped her set up a Google account and another email. Her progress with the smartphone will take time so she is working through things bit by bit, beginning with texting.
She has also been introduced to the Learn My Way website and is beginning to revise her knowledge. Because her knowledge and understanding is quite fragmented, this will help her to build a firmer foundation
Nevertheless, Rose’s progress is very impressive and it shows that learning is possible at any age. She is a resilient learner and we have tried to keep developing her skills in a challenging way that helps keep her motivated. For someone of her age with a lack of mobility, using the internet can be so important. Although she has good support from her neighbours this gives her a stronger level of independence.