November 20, 2017

Making tech literacy classes more inviting for older adults

I was very surprised to find that my most recent class registration for senior citizens was filled a week after registration opened. At first, I had encountered a great deal of resistance from students to learning technology in the beginning of the project.

I tried many different approaches to win them over to technology, including fun and interesting tools like FaceTime, teaching them internet safety to help protect their information, and showing them a video from www.digitallearn.org, but many people still weren’t interested.

So I moved on, learned more about how to connect with older students, and focused on the students who were interested and enthusiastic about learning new technology skills.

They wanted to learn something new, connect with their family members, make their lives easier with online shopping and banking, do hobbies online, and even make new friends. These were people who were interested in learning the technology, and their main reason for not doing so was time.

I have found a few strategies that I use consistently in classes to promote a friendly and non-intimidating learning environment.

1. Ask questions—and listen to the answers

Most people welcome questions, if you are sincerely interested and give them the time to respond. It’s a great way to show recognition for their knowledge and accomplishments.

During the classes I have learned so much of Atlanta’s history. We have conversations about how streets got their names, how department stores would call you if you were waiting on a favorite item to arrive, the close relationship patients and medical staff used to enjoy, having dinner with the young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family, being married for over 55 years, and their favorite words of wisdom to share and encourage young people.

Nancy Swarn, 96, learning to play the piano on YouTube.

2. Use interests and favorite pastimes to make it fun

Showing appreciation for their interests and favorite pastimes makes class more fun and welcoming for them. They have favorite music, movies, and television shows. They often enjoy shows like Golden Girls, Maude, The Cosby Show, and The Andy Griffith. They may want to learn a new skill or hobby, such as playing piano.

Having videos from these shows up on YouTube at the beginning of class is a fun way to start class—and a fun lesson on using YouTube.

3. Make referrals and connections.

Referrals are very appreciated, such as places where they can take classes and meet other people. Some are also looking for part-time positions to stay busy and earn some extra money. They are interested in work from home opportunities such as teaching English. Showing them how to search for these positions online is an excellent class.

4. Recruit other senior citizens as volunteers

In some of my classes I have a couple of senior citizen volunteers. The presence of other peers teaching the classes is very motivating for them.

It eliminates the excuse that they are too old to learn. It also helps overcome fears and resistance to learning technology.

5. Show interest in their thoughts and opinions.

In one of my final classes, I will facilitate a brainstorming session to find out apps that they would like to see, features on smartphones that they would like to have, and website topics that they would like to see. I’m very interested in learning their responses. They can share from experience what is working and what needs improvement.

Websites like seniorplanet.org, techboomers.com, and aarp.org are great tools to stay current on information relevant for seniors. These types of classes for older adults are great opportunities for learning that they really enjoy. And it is helping to reach the more than 300,000 Metro Atlanta families affected by the digital divide.

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Necole Durham
I'm very passionate about adult education and working in the community. Most of my work has been in literacy programs for refugees and immigrants. Some of the places where I have taught and organized adult education classes are for Columbus State Community College, Cobb County Public Schools, and Jewish Family and Career Services. One of my most rewarding experiences was the first time one of my refugee students from Bhutan, who was in his 60s, realized he could read and seeing the pride in his eyes when he shared what it meant to him.