Recognising the needs of an older generation

I recall a many instances when I have been asked to share my understanding of technology with those less confident; indeed, you might say that this happens on a daily basis as a direct result of my role. Equally though, for those of us working in technology, what usually happens when you visit relatives or friends? That’s right. You can be fairly sure that at some point the family computer / new phone / pvr (VCR if it’s your grandparents) will be mentioned and you might be able to give some advice, or better still, fix a problem! The frequency with which this happens illustrates to me the level of discomfort or even ‘mystery’ surrounding new technology for some. But why is the gap sometimes so great between one generation and the next, and why is the presence of this gap so persistent?

In order to embrace and educate a different generation, is it our technique that needs to change? Until now has the technology been excluding those less confident users from participating? Do devices like the iPad and the Kindle indicate to us the need for a marked shift if technology design to ensure accessibility and approachability for all?

Some great conversations around this subject were happening this week at the NIACE ‘Our Digital Futures’ conference. I shared some time talking with a librarian who explained how they offer adult learners – most of whom are retired – the opportunity to come and learn new skills in a friendly and informal environment. This approach supported some of the comments that were mentioned during formal presentations earlier in the conference. Formal approaches to learning are fine in some instances. In other cases, particularly when encouraging the reluctant or those who have been away from learning for some time, when formal learning processes may not encourage further enrolment or participation. However, there was a gap in the conversation thread. I learned how at first, taster sessions were attended by only two or three individuals. Not long after this, times changed and now those same sessions are fully registered with a waiting list of enthusiastic learners. Despite enquiring, the reason for this marked changed in attendance was unknown. Was it circumstantial? Did something change; the ‘trainer’, the schedule, or the marketing? Perhaps it was none of these, and factors outside the organisations took hold – word of mouth and reputation? Either way, a viral effect had been established.

As you might expect, examples of success were shared throughout the conference. The viral effect was mentioned by Ian Chowcat in relation to the Digital Outreach Traininer (‘DOT’) project. The project aims to establish peer learning and support networks in small communities; evidence suggests that resulting enthusiasm grows thanks to the efforts of volunteers. A viral theme applied to the older generation of learners? Isn’t viral marketing something for a younger generation, or is the term ‘viral’ really just our present day terminology for ‘word of mouth’, albeit through a different medium? Age UK demonstrate through a number of videos promoting their digital engagement projects just how different the approach to engaging an older with technology may need to be, in the first video the idea of volunteering and and sharing your IT skills with older learners and is supplemented with comments from those who have already benefited from this. The theme is built upon in a second video which further explains some of the techniques you might need to adopt in order to engage with an older learner and match your teaching technique to their learning style. Both films provide important insight into the difference between those or potential learners of a different age demographic than a younger generation who may be (but are not always) more confident in using new technology.

Finally, I want to share the wonderful story of Lorraine and her dad. Here is the typical older father, a little bit reluctant to engage with new technology, even with the support of his own daughter. Just when you begin to think that he needs more help and encouragement, what he actually needed was a little bit of space to get involved in his own way, and at his own pace. It’s really a story worth thinking about, and in view of the growing number of people in this situation, whether we are doing all the right things to encourage more digital participation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let\'s make sure you are human * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.