The idea of helping people get online with little support, is rather like expecting someone at the entrance of a maze to find their way to the middle without any problems. Courses that offer a few weeks of introduction to digital skills, with a different topic each week, may be suitable for some learners. But some learners require far more support and need to work at their own pace. This is particularly important when working with older people.
At school, students learn by repetition, revision and homework. So we should not expect this to be any different for people who may find the whole process quite overwhelming. In society, we largely accept that older people need more support, and this should be the case when teaching digital skills.
There are a number of obstacles we should consider when introducing digital skills to older residents. Some may reject the opportunity of digital learning without knowing what it means. Older residents may suffer a lack of confidence due to having the feeling of being ‘left behind.’ This may lead the learner to react in the way outlined above. Some may find some aspects of learning difficult due to a physical condition (e.g. eyesight or decreased manual dexterity). Older learners in many cases have no experience of digital and this should also be taken into account when preparing learning. They often do not possess the language that accompanies digital technology, which can not only cause confusion, but also contribute further to a lack of confidence.
Consideration should be given to areas that are accessible to older people. In Croydon, training sessions have taken place at local libraries and communal lounges within sheltered accommodation blocks and this has helped residents to form a routine with their learning.
Promoting and advertising to the elderly
Any promotion of a scheme should avoid exclusive or specialist language. Where such terms such as ‘digital,’ ‘download’ or ‘online’ are used there should be a clear explanation of these. When promoting schemes, it is probably more useful to focus on the outcomes that can be achieved through the use of digital (e.g. cheaper prices, convenience, faster service etc).
Helping with connection
Those with little experience will almost certainly need connection advice. Concepts such as Wi-Fi connection or 5G are vital to understand as they may affect cost. (The Croydon Digital Learning guides give a simple explanation of this.)
Helping with deals
Media packages are complicated. Terms such as minutes, texts and data are all potentially confusing, and older people are vulnerable to being sold services they do not need. For example, if an older person spends most time indoors, a router may be a cheaper option than an unlimited phone deal. Rolling contracts and upgrades may not be fully understood and may seem like bargains when they are not.
Help with devices
Older people may also need help choosing the right device(s). Laptops and tablets may be more suitable than phones due to screen size, but other factors such as portability and cost should also be considered.
One of the repeated concerns of older learners is that they are scared of making a mistake and causing an irreversible problem. It is important to alleviate these concerns early. Emphasise that learning is fun, and with time they will feel less anxious and have the confidence to carry out the tasks they are learning. It helps if they understand how software works and know that they can easily start something again or ‘reboot.’
It is important to deliver training in a way that suits the individual learner. Patience is often the key to success when dealing with older learners. It is essential that training builds confidence as they may have feelings of being left behind. You may need to take a range of factors into consideration, such as; lack of experience, hearing impairment, feelings of confusion and insecurity, or being overwhelmed. Such obstacles take time to overcome but there are strategies that can be used to make delivery effective.
Many older people are not used to using a keyboard or a mouse, so it is important that the basics are understood. Allow time for practice so they can gain an understanding of functions such as; the mouse’s scroll wheel, left and right click, the return bar etc.
Email is a great way to start with an older learner. Because it has parallels with traditional mail which aids with explanation and understanding. The process of registering and setting up an account with a password is also good preparation for other sites. Sending emails between a learner and a trainer is also a good way to stay in touch and send information.
Using the Google search engine is a good place to start with using the internet. Basic searching is fairly straightforward and the back button can be used to return the learner to the beginning.
For many learners this will be a completely new experience so it is easy for learners to become overwhelmed by the new information. The best approach will be to keep new information short.
Repetition, exercise and revise
Repetition of session content is necessary because information will not always be retained. It is important for learners to be able to make notes, but more importantly to repeat information and allow time for learners to practice what they have seen. This may continue over a number of sessions so recap information from the previous session at the start of the next.
It is important to help the learner when they register to sites with passwords as these can cause confusion. Encourage learners to make a note of all passwords and the upper and lower case letters and numerals used, as these can cause frustration if forgotten.
Older people may find working with traditional media more comfortable and use of a notebook is advisable when learning. However, it is important that notes are kept organised and in clear sections, as mixed up information can cause problems.
Avoid deadlines but set goals
Learning should not be rushed. If someone cannot understand something the first time, it is important to be patient and continue until they understand the task and can move on. The importance of building a foundation of knowledge is so important. Although setting goals with tasks is a good incentive, there should be no feeling of failure if a goal takes longer to achieve.
When tutoring, it’s very easy for someone with digital experience to take for granted what is ‘common sense’. For an older learner this can cause real problems and misunderstandings. Equally, it is also easy to assume that learners cannot do something because they find it difficult. It just might take more time.
Building trust and keeping in touch
Older people often enjoy the company that digital support brings and can benefit from the social aspects it provides. It is more than just instruction, it is often a chance to be social and therefore regular contact with learners is important. Digital inclusion is a way to solve isolation problems and quick and easy communication methods such as group texts can also be used to bring people together.
Family / carer / volunteer support
These may be important to the progress of an older learner but have drawbacks. Many older people are given devices from family, who may not always have the time to support them with their learning. Any scheme that provides loan devices must ensure they provide consistent and regular support.
Explanations need to be clear and presented in a way that is easy to understand. Terminology related to digital technology should be explained and then repeated to get the learner accustomed to it so that they understand the context of its use.