As a phenomenon defining the modern age, the internet has been considered the preserve of the younger generations creating a huge obstacle in encouraging and teaching older people to become computer-literate.
Teaching technology classes to senior’s means we start at square one. I used to think this meant basic mouse and keyboard skills, but, after a couple of years of delivering technology classes to seniors, I’ve realized that I’m making a big assumption.
Teaching tech literacy doesn’t negate literacy itself. When I tell them, “Think of all the things you can do really well,” I always assumed that included reading and writing. But a couple of years later, I realize that there are many people who have done quite well in life without having to learn to read and write.
I used to make sure I delivered my classes to all the styles of learning with great hand-outs, dynamic presentations, and clear instructions but that was under the assumption that my class knew how to read and write. It took me a while to understand this fundamental barrier to success. I thought a tech class of senior citizens was a class that knew everything except computers.
I had overlooked a lot of the clues. The keyboard stymied many students. Unless they had worked with typewriters, the keyboard was brand new. So, a mystified senior who can’t type didn’t clue me in to a literacy problem. I shrugged it off as a tech problem instead.
When students weren’t following the easy steps on my hand-outs, I thought that they were frustrated or distracted. I didn’t clue in that they couldn’t read. When we worked in Google and I asked them to search the name of our city, I thought it was just clumsy fingers and arthritis-riddled knuckles that caused them to type in the wrong letters. Half-a-dozen obvious examples of illiterate seniors finally got my attention. Now I have a before-square-one plan!
Before square one plan: drop the assumptions
First of all, I use more pictures and fewer words in the hand-outs.
When we do step-by-step learning, I make sure I don’t simply refer the class to the hand-out if they are lost. I say the steps out loud and demonstrate on the projected computer for them.
When we play around in Google, and I ask them to Google a specific word, I demonstrate by typing that word for them. Most people can copy the letters on the screen.
The biggest difference is knowing to expect functionally illiterate people in a computer class targeted to older seniors. Drop the assumption that people who have run companies, raised families, and dedicated their lives to their communities can read and write. It is possible to get by without literacy skills.
Luckily, the Internet is very forgiving for people with low literacy levels. Correct spelling has become obsolete. Most computing is icon-based. Many of the most popular apps can be enjoyed without reading or writing, just clicking. We can help enhance and connect seniors, regardless of their ability to read or write, through computers.
For me, it just meant dropping assumptions and moving my “square one” back a few spaces.