Tag: adult learning

We flipped the switch this morning to open registration for the 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference! This is NTEN’s annual conference, and we are expecting more than 2000 nonprofit technology professionals to gather for three days of educational sessions, connection, and fun!


The 19NTC will be hosted in NTEN’s hometown of Portland, OR! We are planning more than 200 educational sessions in five categories: IT, Fundraising, Leadership, Marketing and Communications, and Program. Sessions are suggested and chosen by the nonprofit technology community, and we support our speakers to create engaging sessions that reflect the excellence and diversity of this sector.

Around the 19NTC

But the fun doesn’t stop at the session room door! We are also creating a bustling exhibit hall, packed with the very best nonprofit tech resources and ideas, a Career Center, games and places to connect with your favorite tech companies, as well as NTEN staff!

Further afield

Our host city of Portland, OR, is a uniquely quirky place and we want to help you explore it! Every conference attendee will receive passes for the duration of our conference to ride our world-class transit system from their hotel to the conference center, and take in the best Portland has to offer.

Early bird registration is open now. Register now to lock in the best rate!

We can’t wait to see you.

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.

Jessica Jones is a 2017 Digital Inclusion Fellow.

With smartphones, tablets, Google apps, and more, when was the last time you completed a task without using your tech? Let’s be honest: How many of us even remember a time when technology didn’t rule everything around us? Cash may rule everything around me—but so does technology.

As a 90s kid, I find myself reminiscing with friends about texting with the Nokia brick, using AIM and Myspace, and of course the cringe-y yet memorable dial-up sound when trying to go online. However, the bigger picture is that though these experiences were a reality for some, it is not the reality for all.

“Most everything is computerized, and we are lost without computer knowledge.” – Ethel Brown, Student (97 years old)

For first-time users as well as some senior tech users, learning a new tech concept can be a difficult experience. Because of this difficulty, it can cause these users to feel animosity towards technology. Negative criticism plus the continuous growth and change in technologies and trends creates a user experience that I call “technology overwhelm.”

“Technology overwhelm” is becoming overwhelmed by the massive amounts of tech tools out there and not having the knowledge or support to explore, understand, and master these tools. In fact, the following barriers influence this tech overwhelm experience:

  • Discouraged to learn, ask questions, or even ask for help
  • Embarrassed or lacking confidence
  • Feeling left behind by the generational tech gap (those born with tech vs. those who did not)

Despite these instances of fear and embarrassment, we can combat tech overwhelm with digital empowerment: the ability to use technology independently to achieve your goals. By using digital empowerment as the framework for tech education programs, you can target students’ specific needs and interests, creating an effective and interactive learning experience.

The most important realization I’ve learned with my students is how left behind they feel—teaching them concepts that do not apply to their lifestyle is detrimental to their learning experience.

“I’m a beginner. I really want to learn, but the computer classes I’ve taken don’t make space for me at my level.”

Here are five ways to beat the tech overwhelm, and cultivate a positive outlook on technology within your students:

1. Assess your students’ needs

Perform an assessment to determine your students’ needs, interests, and experience. This assessment can be a printed or electronic survey. To create an interactive experience, allow students to share their experiences with one another openly.

One way is the World Café method. Create your survey questions, with maximum of 5 questions. Write one question on separate sheets of paper. Split your students into 5 groups and give them 5 minutes to answer the question. Then have each group rotate. That way, everyone has a chance to answer your survey questions and feel supported by learning the other experiences of their classmates.

2. Establish community rules

Because everyone has different learning levels, experiences, and even moods, take time to establish community rules. As a class, ask each student individually to state one rule. Ask the class as a whole if they agree with this rule. If yes, write the rule on a large sheet of paper. If no, instead of dismissing the rule, take the time to workshop it until everyone agrees. Continue this process until you and your students are satisfied. Keep the rules posted throughout the duration of your program. This helps set the tone of your class and keeps everyone in check, preventing potential friction between students.

3. Create an accountability buddy system

“I get by from a little help from my friends” applies to education as well. Pair students together to create an internal support system both for in-class activities and after class support.

4. Break up the monotony

Avoid boredom by incorporating interactivity into your program. Play music that your students enjoy at the beginning and end of class. Use icebreakers to help introduce or enforce new topics. In fact, explore these top 10 icebreakers that are flexible to fit your specific topic.

5. Collect feedback to improve

Most importantly, be sure to receive feedback from your students. If you don’t, you have no idea how your current teaching model is truly impacting them. You can create a printed or electronic evaluation form. Or create an interactive experience with the Keep, Delete, and Include model: Write each word on large separate sheets of paper. Have each student grab a marker and write their thoughts on each sheet of paper. Then review each section as a group just in case some of the evaluations are unclear.

The key to empowering your students is by meeting them where they are and helping them grow from there. Once you’ve mastered that, you’ll see nothing but smiles as a result.

This article first appeared on the Khan Academy Engineering blog and is reprinted here with permission.

For the past few months, I have been working as a Software Engineering Fellow at Khan Academy. This program gives engineers from non-traditional backgrounds the opportunity to build their experience by working on real products alongside full-time engineers. During my time as a fellow, I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing engineers and work on projects that have had immediate impact on Khan Academy’s users. I was attracted to this role because of my own background working for education nonprofits. The fellowship has given me tangible engineering experience while allowing me to pursue my passion for increasing educational equity for all learners.

A few weeks ago, we had our internal Healthy Hackathon where everyone across the company worked on projects related to anything from improving KA products, creating internal tools to make everyone’s lives easier, creating applications to improve greater society (beyond education), or anything that fosters curiosity, collaboration, and fun.

I worked on a project called “Read-to-Me” that used Mozilla’s Web Speech API to read widget content created in Perseus aloud in our Early Learner products. This minor improvement allows young learners who are still building their reading skills to have additional support when completing exercises on our platform. I was excited to work on a project that would better support all early learners regardless of their backgrounds. Many of the gaps in achievement that form between low-income and students of color and their more affluent counterparts begin in early childhood. This project aligned perfectly with my desire to increase equity in education. Additionally, I was able to work with/learn from two experienced engineers and play around with a really cool experimental web technology!

I had so much fun working on this project, but it wasn’t without challenges. Perseus is one of the most complicated parts of our codebase, and it was hard to decide where and how the API should be used in existing code that had a lot of complexity. We didn’t end up shipping Read-to-Me (it definitely needs a few rounds of code review and some design help), but I am really proud of what we were able to achieve. Through this project, I learned a few lessons that I hope will continue to support me as I continue to grow and reach my fullest potential as a software engineer (and hopefully this will be helpful others too).

Endless curiosity beats getting the answer right away

One way that I have learned to persevere through tough spots is by channeling my curiosity about the problem I am trying to tackle. I spent a lot of time looking at Perseus code (probably too much time) figuring out how it works under-the-hood and mapping it back to behaviors I saw in the exercise editor. A lot of it didn’t make sense, but eventually, I was able to figure out a suitable place in the code to implement the API. It wasn’t perfect, but it ended up being enough to help my hackathon team move forward with our project.

There’s a world of technical challenges out there just waiting to be solved. Be open and willing to dive in even if it means going through multiple iterations before reaching a solution.

Try it, you’ll like it

I’ve been very hesitant to try experimental technologies. Because I am early in my career as an engineer, I fall into a trap of wanting to become really good at React or some other established technology before diving into something new.

The reality is one could spend a lifetime learning to be really good at something, and engineering is one of those professions where one must constantly learn new things (or even refresh on old concepts). Playing around with the Web Speech API made me more excited to explore other experimental technologies in web development. I learned that as I continue to build upon fundamentals, I should make space for joy, fun and exploration in coding.

It’s okay to break things

A part of learning, growing, and understanding tools/technologies is being in the muck before we have clarity around how something works, where something should go, and how something should be built. Sometimes we don’t know the path forward, and we still have to be okay with saying, “onward” until a solution crystallizes. When learning, we must break things and experience confusion. I’m pretty sure I spent most of the hackathon debugging weird error messages as a part of figuring out how Perseus works than I did creating an elegant solution. It was only by breaking something that I was able to figure out how to move forward. This lesson will probably be the most difficult to live out everyday in my work because failure is hard, even for individuals who have a cultivated a growth mindset for a long time.

Although I don’t intend to take down an entire website for the sake of learning, there’s something to be said for having the courage to try things even if it means they won’t necessarily work out. There’s so much learning in our shortcomings. I hope I have more of these moments because it means I’m learning and growing not only as an engineer, but also as a human.

Who knew I would gain so much from a hackathon! I’ve had an amazing experience so far as a Fellow at Khan Academy, and I hope to carry these lessons and so much more throughout my career. Onward!

As a Digital Inclusion Fellow, I have fallen in love with the art of teaching digital literacy because my job as a teacher is to envision a future for our students that includes technology as a tool for realizing their dreams. It’s an educational investment that’s worth the time: Students emerge from our program confident in their ability to use technology to be problem solvers and motivated to become lifelong learners of technology.

The Digital Empowerment program at Martha O’Bryan Center is designed to serve residents of public housing communities with an age range of 18 to 60 years old. They have a wide range of skills, abilities and experiences. The primary reason students attend class is to attain employment and succeed in the workplace.

Key aspects of our program design

Assessments & personalization

The main goals for new users are to help the student overcome their fear of using the computer, to encourage them to get comfortable using the keyboard and mouse and to show them that using computers can be joyful. New users start with a special pathway composed of mouse exercises, typing exercises, and videos.

Once students have completed the new user pathway, they progress to taking assessments, which are then used to create personalized learning pathways that specifically target skills that students need to work on within each module. Students work towards mastering one module at a time.

Real-world application

Built into the pathway are practice exercises where students apply what they have learned. For example, one activity asks students to print off a map to their favorite restaurant while another challenges them to apply to a job via email and attach their resume.

Students also have opportunities to learn about Microsoft Office, Google Drive, and the cloud. For the MS Office modules, practice activities consist of students working through a step-by-step outline where students use all of the fundamental functions within the application. For Google Drive, they learn how to organize files and access them from anywhere and how to collaborate.

Milestones & certificates

Certificates serve as a credential for employment and enable students to brag about their computer skills to employers. We offer Northstar Digital Literacy Certificates in computer basics, world wide web, Windows 7/10, email, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and social media.

Students must pass with an 85% or better to earn the certificate. Some students may struggle to pass the tests. We remind those students that mastering the computer skills is much more important than being able to pass the tests.


Students who dedicate themselves to the program by attending a minimum of 6 classes can apply for our Advanced Digital Literacy program. In our advanced class, we do a deep dive into Google Apps for productivity and personal branding and free online classes such as MOOCs, Khan Academy, and Code Academy.

Graduates from the program are invited to be on the “Wall of Fame” in our computer lab, with their picture and words of encouragement for future learners. Additionally, all students walk away with a new Chromebook.

Continued Learning Opportunities

For more advanced students who have earned all of the Northstar certificates, instructors act as consultants to help students learn other tech skills for achieving their goals.

All of the graduates from our program can apply to be volunteer instructors in the computer lab, which enables them to continue building their professional development skills.

Content resources

As a former college instructor, I adore classrooms.

So when I started planning a one-on-one Computer Help Lab for the United Way of Utah County, my mind immediately went back to everything I loved about my own experiences as a teacher and a learner: quiet spaces, detailed progress reports, highlighters, over-sized white boards, certificates of completion, and computer desks neatly in a row.

But, as I began interacting with the low-income clients we served, I realized that I’d made a mistake in this approach.

The majority of our clients did not share my positive experiences with formal education. Many of them had not completed high school or gone on to college. They associated academic spaces with frustration or failure. Formal tech spaces that mimicked an academic environment often made them feel anxious and uncomfortable. It was, in practice, a barrier to their ability to develop digital literacy skills.

Whether or not your nonprofit is focused on digital literacy, you may notice that many nonprofit tech spaces lean to formality by default, especially when these spaces are designed to serve low-income or at-risk populations. Add a computer into any space and leaders immediately start thinking about rules and rewards.

In some cases, a more formal environment may be called for, but permitting formality to be the default in tech spaces is a problem.

When my assumptions changed, so did my approach. Although our Computer Help Lab is held in a public library, I worked to design a consciously casual environment. Doing so brought joy to our programming—and significantly increased the number of returning clients.

While I didn’t have the ability to significantly alter the physical space, I was able to overhaul our materials and our Computer Mentors’ approach to clients. Here are six of the lessons I learned about creating consciously casual tech spaces.

1. Watch your language

At first, it was easy to fall into an academic mindset by advertising “classes,” “certificate programs,” and “lectures.” But, clients were more enthusiastic about advertising that avoided an academic slant. Programming became more successful when, instead of classes, we held:

  • celebrations
  • meetings
  • sessions
  • support groups
  • discussion groups
  • round tables
  • clubs
  • circles
  • associations
  • hangouts
  • cooperatives
  • breakfasts, lunches, dinners (or brunches, snacks, etc.)

2. Don’t overdo forms

When I originally asked new Computer Help Lab clients to fill out forms, some quickly decided they didn’t need help after all. Even when they were offered a paper version, there was resistance. I soon realized that many of these clients felt shame or frustration about their writing and spelling skills. Some had lower literacy skills, some were English language learners, and some had learning disabilities.

Instead, our mentors began starting off each session with a casual conversation about a client’s hopes, strengths, and interests. We talked to new clients about what brought them to the lab, then filled out the paperwork on our own later.

The result: Clients had a better experience during their first few minutes in the lab and were more likely to return for help in the future.

3. Create space for stories

Once we became more open to casual conversation, clients began unexpectedly telling us their stories. The vast majority of clients at the Computer Help Lab want to share some of their history and struggles with their mentors early on.

We heard stories about poverty, food insecurity, injury, loneliness, homelessness, and concern for the future. We also heard stories about friendship, writing poetry, woodworking, generosity, adventure, and family. Learning how to listen to client stories became a surprisingly important part of the success of the Computer Help Lab.

Although it added an additional five to ten minutes of time to each session, it allowed our clients to feel understood and it made interacting with technology less intimidating. We never asked for these personal stories, but we learned how to be better listeners.

4. Demonstrate vulnerability

As part of overcoming the “sage on the stage” formal environment, we encouraged our mentors to demonstrate their own vulnerability and problem solving skills. When it comes to constantly changing technology, we’re all learners.

“I don’t know, but I know how we can find out,” became a common refrain in the lab. Rather than pretending, we found that modeling vulnerability to clients created an atmosphere where experimenting, failing, and searching was encouraged.

5. Approach relationships as assets

One of the biggest changes we observed when we created a more casual tech space was the relationships that formed between clients.

While some clients preferred to learn on their own, many were interested in chatting with each other, working together, and sharing their knowledge.

As mentors, we learned to let go of control a bit, to allow the lab to be a little more chatty, a little louder, and a bit more chaotic than the academic spaces we were familiar with.

In turn, learners began swapping tech tips, sharing information about their job searches, and offering each other rides. Our programming wasn’t the only resource; clients became a resource for each other.

6. Appreciate tokens of gratitude

During their time in the Computer Help Lab, we’ve had clients accept much-needed offers of employment, find low-income housing, connect with long-lost relatives, prepare for career transitions, and begin recovering their tech skills after brain injuries.

As mentors, we’ve stopped brushing off “Thank you” with a “No problem” or a “Just doing my job.” Instead, we realized that accepting a “Thank you” with a warm, sincere “You’re welcome” helped validate the relationship between the mentors and the people we served.

Although our Computer Mentors never accept money or gifts, we have joyfully accepted a variety of tokens of appreciation: a client conducting an online job search told us her favorite jokes, the person struggling with a brain injury told us the spoiler to a popular TV series he had worked on, another client living in her car let us borrow a beloved book of photographs, and another person struggling with a career transition showed us his favorite YouTube video on poetry. We also happily accepted client-initiated handshakes and hugs.

Cultivate conscious casualness

In our case, creating a casual tech space was an exercise in prioritizing the comfort and learning of our clients.

While casual design can feel initially feel unfamiliar to nonprofit leaders, it can ultimately help clients feel more at ease and make more progress in these spaces. The daunting task of dealing with new technology can feel so overwhelming to clients that they need a space designed where they can take a breath, have a laugh, and try again.

Designing successful tech spaces doesn’t start with rules, boundaries, and strictness. Designing successful tech spaces starts with conscious casualness, relationships, and joy.