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Computer Lessons for Seniors: Does it Compute?

By Joseph, published on 25/02/2019 Blog > Academia > Information Technology > Computer Lessons for Seniors

In the last five years, older age groups have increasingly started using the internet. However, with over 4 million over-65s in the UK having never used the internet, the majority of senior citizens lack the basic computer skills that are commonplace in the modern age.

While it’s the one of the most important things of the 21st century, the internet is largely (and wrongly) considered a young person’s tool. It can be very difficult to encourage the older generations to learn basic computer skills and even harder to teach them to become IT technicians through IT courses. This mindset has resulted in many brands and developers largely ignoring older potential customers because they believe they lack digital literacy.

While mobility can be an issue in the real world, it’s almost non-existent on the web once you’ve learnt the internet basics. After you take a few computer classes and learn how to use a mouse and keyboard, you’ll find that staying in contact with family members has never been so easy. You can even order your groceries online and have them all delivered to your home with just a few clicks of the mouse. Let’s not forget that there are also apps to keep your brain active.

Some members of the older generation remain reluctant to take IT tutorials and learn more about computers in general in part because they can’t really see the benefits immediately.

Superprof now explains other reasons for seniors’ reluctance to take on the keyboard has some advice for those who’d like to learn some computer basics in a fun and enjoyable way!

What the Best Computer Classes Deliver

Teaching seniors the wonders of computing means overcoming a lifetime of cultural conditioning In days gone by, convention dictated that intelligent people got their news from the papers, not the Internet! Source: Pixabay Credit: Stux

Let’s take a look into the past when computing was in its infancy and over-65s were in their working prime.

In the ‘70s and even in the ‘80s, computers were large, bulky, intimidating machines, not very useful outside of the specific functions they were programmed to execute. While they hummed along – or clattered if you’re talking about a punchcard generator, they engendered vague fears of workplace supplantation: how many jobs would computers erase?

We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that today’s Golden Agers stood at the dawn of their adulthood when Future Shock was first published.

This book, written by futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler was sensational for its time. It outlined what a post-industrial society would look like:

  • 15% or less of the population involved in agriculture
  • People employed in the service sector would exceed 50% of the population
  • Physical work takes a back seat to ‘brain work’ – politics, science and, most importantly, technology.

It’s rather frightening to realise how much they predicted has actually come to pass!

Eerily, the Tofflers predicted career impermanence, the deluge of disposable goods that would revolutionise daily life and industries dying, being replaced by technological innovation.

They even foresaw the rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social media: “… relationships tend to be superficial with a large number of people rather than intimate or close relationships that are more stable.”

Granted, this was an analysis of unskilled workers’ transient lifestyles due to shifts in general industry – people having to relocate to where the work is. Nevertheless, it was a chilling vision at the time; a situation that has since come to pass.

And they didn’t predict those giants of social media by name but the implication was clear in the text that people would become more isolated, the more information technology became available to the mainstream public.

Thus, when proposing computer classes for seniors, one must remember the massive changes in the workplace and in social values they’ve seen during their lifetime.

Think about this: gossiping at the backyard fence was an act to be scorned and any nugget of information learned at that proverbial fence was usually met with derision and disbelief.

These days, we must constantly debate what is real news – news with actual value, especially seeing as news travels so very fast thanks to our personal communications devices.

Another aspect of the culture in days gone by that has met its demise: keeping one’s dirty laundry hidden.

Take a moment to think of the #MeToo movement.

Indeed, bad behaviours should be stopped in their tracks and abusers should be disabled from perpetrating more abuse. But how could anyone foresee the very public airing of what, even 30 years ago, would have been such a taboo, private subject as a sexual encounter?

In that sense, the use of social media represents a breach of fundamental social mores to people who, in the ‘70s, were young adults whose social values were already deeply ingrained.

Seen in that light, it is easy to reason older generations’ disdain and perhaps outright dislike of social media. That is why we’ve got to help them see the better aspects of such instant communication! Staying in touch with friends and family, sharing precious moments, helping someone in need…

The saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ has absolutely no weight when it comes to seniors learning something new.

It is the conventions they’ve lived by all of their lives that must be overcome if one hopes to successfully indoctrinate seniors into the pervasive world of information technology.

Some of the most successful courses in the UK, whose instructors have mastered the art of putting their Golden students in the right frame of mind for learning all about software, computer applications and how to use them are included in this table.

Computer lessons around the UK:

School / Organisation NameWhat They OfferWhere They're AtPhone Number
Age UKBasic computer training
Software usage
Getting online
Locations all over the UK0800 678 1174
Online Centres NetworkComputer classes to students of all agesLocations all over the UK0114 349 1666
Senior Computer MomentsComprehensive computer training and supportDorset, Sommerset, Wiltshire01258 870053 01747 450078 07788 181419 (mobile)
Night CoursesFile management, intro to the Internet, Introduction to email, Introduction to MS Word and ExcelSelect cities in Ireland3531 531 1280
Your Local Community CentreA multitude of literacy courses including digital literacyAll over the UKplease see your local community centre

Take Private Tutorials to Learn about IT

This is probably the best method for teaching older generations about computing in a fun and enjoyable way. There’s nothing better than meeting an IT expert face-to-face (whether they’re an IT master’s student, IT technician, or developer) in order to learn more about their subject.

If you feel like you’re constantly repeating yourself when telling your grandparents how to use their computer, it’s probably because you’re not an experienced teacher or you gloss over steps that are obvious to you but not them. Private IT tutors have the necessary basic skills of teaching to ensure everything goes in.

It’s also much easier to learn something when you know what your learning objectives are. A good number of the older generation often hear things like:

“You won’t get it”, “you’re too old to learn about computers”, or “IT isn’t really for your generation”.

How much do private computer tutors cost? You’re never too old to learn. If you get stuck, you can always get a private tutor. (Source: pixabay.com)

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The older generations are just as capable as the younger ones when it comes to learning about IT and saying things like this only serves to discourage them.

Thanks to private IT tutorials, a quality tutor can catch them up with computers and adapt their sessions to their learning style. They can go over the basics that are so obvious to those who grew up with computers (right click, double click, download, save, etc.).

While there may be a generational gap between the baby boomers who are mainly retired and millennials who’ve grown up with computers, computing could be a great way to bring the two generations closer together.

There are several different types of class for IT beginners:

  • Introduction to IT tutorials where they can learn to type, save documents, etc.

  • Improving their knowledge of computers (processors, hard disks, peripherals, app development) with IT courses.

  • Training for specific programmes (word processors, spreadsheets, powerpoints, etc.)

  • Help creating their own websites

  • Digital culture training

Where can I get computer science lessons? Get to know your computer. (Source: stock.tookapic.com)

If this is of interest to you, why not consider offering tutorials over webcam? It’s a good way to help those who might otherwise struggle to get out of the house to attend classes. It’s far more useful to them than a book full of jargon they’ll never understand.

For those who are really keen to learn more about IT, why not offer classes in programming or coding for websites? You’ll be surprised at how quickly old dogs can learn new tricks!

IT Tutorials for Keeping in Contact

In the last five years, older age groups have increasingly started using the internet. However, those who’ve never used the internet still remain the majority with 4 million over-65s in the UK having never used the internet.

Generally speaking, the older generation is less likely to own mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) or computers. There are very few seniors who have both a computer and a mobile device.

There is a significant number of seniors who have the ability to access the internet but choose not to and there are also those who have no chance of accessing the internet. However, thanks to online computer courses and in-home IT tutorials, seniors can be kept in the digital loop:

  • With their former colleagues through Skype.

  • With their children, grandchildren, and other family members through social media.

  • With associations and groups.

  • With the news through various websites.

Teaching them how to make a website would be a great way to help them learn more about IT. This could be really useful for:

  • Encouraging them to use computers on a daily basis.

  • Using their new skills (typing, downloading photos, sharing things on social media, etc.)

  • Continuing their computing training on the web.

Here’s some advice for ensuring that seniors remain motivated during their tutorials:

  • Plan regular breaks to ensure they remain focused.

  • Focus on the benefits of the skills they’re learning with concrete examples (buying online, managing accounts using Excel, etc.)

  • Take them through every step of the process while ensuring that they’re allowed to do the work. Make sure that they’re operating the computer and not you.

  • Make sure that all the programmes they’ll be using are easy to access on their desktop.

Free Computer Courses and Lessons on the Web!

If they already know how to browse the world wide web, they can continue learning how to use their personal computer or laptop on their own with useful video lessons. There’s a plethora of useful resources on how to use computer technology on websites like YouTube.

Additionally, there are free IT tutorials explaining specific concepts and functions such as:

  • Operating Systems (Windows, Mac OS, Ubuntu (Linux))

  • Essential programmes

  • Internet connections (networks and WiFi, for example)

  • Browsing the internet (opening windows, tabs, searching, etc.)

  • Using keyboards, mice, and touchpads
    There are also videos covering more advanced topics and computing as a subject with information on things such as:

  • Learning more about binary. Did you know that 9 is written as 1001 in binary?

  • How 8 bits make up a byte. This can used to represent a letter just like 01001010 represents the letter J

  • IT architecture including information on how microprocessors, hard disks, and memory work.

  • Programming languages.

How do you browse the web? Navigating the web is easier than you first might think. (Source: rawpixel.com)

There are so many useful free video resources available on the internet for those wanting to learn more about IT. This is free training that everyone should make use of!

IT or Computer Classes?

Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a profound difference between Information Technology classes and Computer classes.

The latter involves learning how to type (if needed) and how to use keyboard shortcuts, how work to a mouse, how to access, write and receive email and how to navigate the Internet. Internet safety is generally also covered in these classes.

Once those aspects of the technology have been mastered, the next step involves learning how to use online applications such as Skype, and, depending on the class, learners might also pick up on smartphone applications like online banking and weather forecasting.

Instant messaging, social media and other helpful apps can also be discussed.

Other application software such as the MS Office series – Word, Excel, Powerpoint and others can also be covered. Naturally, those programmes’ MacOS counterparts, Pages, Number and Keynote are taught as well. Or they might be covered in a separate curriculum.

Beyond that, senior learners may choose to take extra classes in Adobe Print and Photoshop, Corel Draw and others.

In short, by taking a computer course or two, the seniors in your life will know how to access and make use of the Internet, and how to use select software applications. They might even learn how to design and maintain a web page!

IT courses are a completely separate kettle of fish.

When you consider that televisions, telephones and telecom equipment in general fall under the general term of information technology, it is hardly apt to equate learning about computers to learning how they function.

Indeed, IT courses generally centre themselves on the building, maintaining, repairing and programming of information technology. Because computers, those programme-driven machines, comprise such a large part of information technology today, writing code and programming also fall under the header of Information Technology.

With that distinction being made, nothing says that senior citizens cannot learn programming, how to establish a home network or how to perform computer maintenance.

If IT courses in computer maintenance, network maintenance or programming spark a fancy, you might try your local community centre to see if such courses are offered under their continuing education programme.

If not, you could suggest it!

Looking further in your area: colleges and universities often have non-degree courses in IT. Mostly they address a specific facet of the discipline; computer repair or programming languages, for example. Depending on the institution, classes may be held during the day, in the evening or on weekends.

Anyone of any age can learn how to repair a computer! There is no age requirement for learning how to troubleshoot and maintain computers! Source: Pixabay Credit: Annca

IT Courses Online

Once your dear Senior has taken a computer class and mastered how to use their computer, they would know how to access the Internet.

How about putting that newfound knowledge to work by directing them to online courses?

MOOCs – massive online open courses are non-degree classes held strictly online where participants – often numbering in the thousands, collaborate in their learning.

This class structure permits students to learn about any subject they desire (provided it is offered) at their own pace. They are generally free, although some courses do offer a certificate of training for a small fee – a much smaller fee than attending a traditional higher learning or continuing education class!

Coursera has been consistently voted one of the top providers of online classes. Working in concert with universities around the world, they offer classes in just about everything from archaeology to algorithms and data processing to deep learning for artificial intelligence.

Just now, their website is promoting a Python for Everybody course and a Programming Basics module! No, they’re not giving every student a python; they are teaching a programming language. 

Coursera’s top competitor, Future Learn, also has an expanded course catalogue.

Rather than a presentation of what they have on offer at any given time, their home page invites you to search for what you want to learn about… and there’s a good chance they would have a class on it!

Just now, as a case in point on our topic of IT lessons, they are offering a 3-week course in cyber security (hosted by Newcastle University), a 2-week class called Digital Skills (to learn all about mobile design and development), and yet another: Introduction to Digital Media Analytics.

Other highly rated MOOCs are:

  • Udacity
  • Iversity
  • Cognitive Class
  • edX

A web browser search of any of those names would bring up a link to those pages.

From there, a simple scan of their individual course lists, followed by selecting the one that sounds the most intriguing… and, next thing you know, your beloved seniors are happily exchanging ideas and information with the other students in their classes! And they’re not limited to learning about IT, either!

Perhaps the best thing about online learning is that there is no bias, implicit or otherwise.

When seniors log in to their classes, they are a student with the same drives (pardon the pun!) and capabilities as everyone else. With the degree of anonymity afforded online, neither their teacher nor classmates will have any idea that this person in their class is a grandmother or grandfather; they talk down to them or try to simplify anything. Older students are simply one of the masses and will be addressed that way.

That is perhaps the kindest and most productive way to accord a learner, regardless of age, the respect s/he deserves!

Other Resources for Seniors wanting to Learn about IT

There are plenty of organisations whose mission is to help seniors improve their computing skills by offering:

  1. IT lessons

  2. Help with creating CVs and looking for work (a lot of seniors struggle to find work because they lack the necessary IT skills required).

  3. Help with creating websites

  4. Lessons on how to use modern communication devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

These organisations aim to alleviate the effect of digital exclusion whereby older generations have little or no access to modern technologies nor the ability to use them.

In addition to the programmes designed for the elderly, there are also websites with lessons to help them learn more about computers and even programmes to simplify computers for first-time users.

Here are some examples of the different things they could learn about: “Computer maintenance tasks”, “using a USB key or external hard drive”, “using computers, tablets, or smartphones for beginners”, or even “using Linux”.

How do you use a tablet? When you learn to use computers, you should also learn to use tablets and smartphone. (Source: kaboompics.com)

The site Skillfull Senior, for example, teaches the older generation the basics of using their computer and includes animated tutorials showing them how to do things like:

  • Holding the mouse

  • Ergonomics so that they can use their computer without causing unnecessary physical pain.

In addition to the animations, the tutorials also include a voiceover so that they can listen to what they have to do.

There are also plenty of IT Training courses for the elderly run by Age UK so that they can start using the internet.

There’s also Barclays Bank’s Digital Eagles programme which includes online training sessions or in-branch sessions. There are plenty of different sessions depending on which IT skills they’re wanting to learn.

For example, with Barclays Bank’s Digital Eagles, you can learn fundamental skills such as:

  • Setting up an email account

  • Doing your shopping online

  • Searching the internet safely

  • How to stay safe online

  • Using YouTube

  • Using Skype

It should be remembered that seniors learn to use the internet as a useful tool rather than a source of fun like the younger generations tend to. Hopefully this information has been useful in helping you either plan IT tutorials for the elderly or has given you some useful information for helping seniors learn more about computing.

Or, even better: it has inspired to to take computer programming courses yourself!

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