While some seniors have embraced new technology in a way that could put some millennials to shame, others have faced hurdles and barriers to learning, and have struggled to adapt to evolving technology.
Whether you’re a caretaker or family member becoming an honorary teacher, or a senior hoping to become a better pupil, here are some DIY tips to make the process more fun and effective!
For New Learners
You may be chomping at the bit to become independent with your computer or device – but remember that becoming computer literate is not something that happens overnight. It sounds cliché and obvious, but when you’re surrounded by others who seem to breeze through websites on a computer, and then jump to their smartphones without missing a beat, it can contribute to some unreasonable expectations… and cause frustration.
Think of it like this: Computer skills are part of lifelong learning. As technology evolves, everyone one of us will be exposed to new skill-testing challenges. Even the best computer scientists in the world will encounter new programs and devices each year, and will need to learn to use them, just like you!
The trick is in fostering new habits. With repetition and practice, you can ensure your new skills become second nature. The best way to do this? Build your own custom routine, whether you’re taking outside computer classes or learning from home.
Sample “Zone” Topics:
Split your month into 4 weeks and name each week as a specific “Zone”. Every day for 30 minutes, spend time on your computer or device doing anything you like, but make sure you put a special focus on the skills from the assigned “Zone” every day.
Week 1: Turning on the computer, practice how to force quit, how to open and close windows, how to connect to the internet, basic troubleshooting with hardware (studying which cables plug into the monitor, computer and modem, if applicable), turning off the computer.
Week 2: Opening a word processor, practice typing and changing fonts, saving files, renaming files, finding files, and deleting files.
Week 3: Surfing the internet, using Google to find specific topics, using a social media platform, logging in and out of accounts, sending email.
Week 4: Downloading music or movies, using a webcam for a video call, uploading pictures to albums, using Google Maps, and other fun tools.
You may want to keep a “computer skills journal” or binder with some basic instructions or steps. Many seniors find they retain information better if they have written information down first, and it might work for you, too.
For New Teachers
If you’re helping and guiding a senior with their computer skills, it comes down to the 3 P’s – be Present, provide Prompts, and be Patient.
Being present means sitting, and staying, with a senior while they are working on their computer skills. Perhaps you can pick one specific time of day to help, and reinforce the routine. Communicate how long you’ll be practicing together, and do not get up and walk away mid-session, even if it’s just for a minute! This will make seniors feel rushed. 30 minutes to an hour is usually the perfect amount of time to spend working on computer skills together.
Providing prompts means asking questions or giving hints when a senior is practicing a skill they’ve already learned. “Let’s take a look at the top left hand corner!” or “What is the icon for your music player?” are good examples of prompts that will get a senior thinking!
Being patient is the most important thing. Many times, people teaching a senior in their lives how to use a computer comes with a certain amount of frustration for the teachers – not just the students. If this is your first time teaching a senior on a computer, you may feel tempted to jump ahead, close windows for the senior, open the programs for them, in order to get them to the next skill on their learning list, but… This will not help the senior to build habits! Never take control of the mouse (or device) during their session if you can avoid it.
You can help a senior succeed by adjusting the accessibility settings on their computer or smartphone, too. Setting the screens to use larger fonts, providing a stylus or ergonomic mouse, or turning on a screen reader may provide a big boost to the learning outcomes.
Remember, for seniors looking to make computers and smartphones a part of their daily lives, the best thing is to start practicing today – eventually simple basics become second nature over time. Make sure that you include FUN in every practice session – focus on using a computer to explore interests or use programs that will enhance a daily routine.