The global coronavirus outbreak has exposed how vulnerable the older generation can be in the ever-digitalising world. During self-isolation, learning digital skills is also the gateway to many other forms of learning.
The other night, I was talking on the phone to my grandmother who is nearly 90 years old.
Like many elderly people around the world, she is currently in quarantine due to the social distancing measures the Finnish government is taking in the fight against coronavirus. She is doing OK, but very much misses the usual visits from her children and grandchildren, as well as the weekly loom knitting workshop and going to the library.
I thought it would be a great idea to introduce my grandmother to the video call app I regularly use for chatting with friends. I also wanted to share some digital library resources I thought she might like.
This did not go well
I had no idea how to translate my instructions into language my grandmother could understand
Trying to explain using WhatsApp to my grandmother – who only agreed to get a mobile phone after my grandfather passed away last year – I became painfully aware how ill-equipped I was to guide her in anything digitally related.
We found no common ground, and I had no idea how to translate my instructions into language my grandmother could understand. I was not frustrated by her ineptitude but my own.
Now, I am not an adult educator, but I do wonder how many education professionals, despite their expertise in other fields, are currently facing similar problems as I did?
IN THE RAPIDLY AGING AND FAST-CHANGING WORLD, we need lifelong education for all ages. To reflect this, our first theme number for 2020 is called Adult Education and Mature Learners.
Lifelong learning is important for keeping people in the workforce longer and preparing them for the inevitable changes happening in working life. But it is crucial to remember, as lecturer Anita Malinen emphasises, that retiring should not mean retiring from learning. Learning is also about general well-being, active citizenship, a sense of purpose and staying connected to others – and this is particularly true for senior citizens.
Given this context, we wanted to examine mature learning from varied perspectives. In this issue, you get to visit a refugee camp where seasoned social workers are learning new skills to cope with their stressful job. We also explore what learning the language of one’s new home country feels like as an adult and how seniors and migrants can support each other’s learning through volunteering.
Many elderly people are practically prisoners in their own home, and learning could offer them a much-needed tool to stay active and fight loneliness.
Most of the responses, however, discuss seniors’ digital competence – and more specifically, the lack thereof. Older internet users’ poor media literacy skills can, for example, contribute to spreading fake news.
More importantly, as using digital tools is increasingly the norm in society, inability to do so leads to a greater risk of social exclusion.
The global coronavirus outbreak has further exposed how vulnerable the older generation can be in the ever-digitalising world. Many elderly people are practically prisoners in their own home, and learning could offer them a much-needed tool to stay active and fight loneliness.
But as more and more essential services are being put online and remote learning encouraged, where does this leave those unable to navigate the digital world?
AS PIRKKO RUUSKANEN-PARRUKOSKI APTLY WRITES, we need digital training based on senior pedagogy to facilitate daily lives, and we need it urgently. As traditional contact teaching is not possible right now, learning digital skills is also the gateway to many other forms of learning.
Luckily, we already have examples of innovative digital training initiatives aimed particularly at more mature learners. In Mettmann, Germany, seniors have learned the use of online media through developing an app helping other seniors move around town without obstacles. As part of the Finnish Netikäs-project, a group of older people use Skype to meet and discuss media literacy.
The current crisis has already upset many lives and it will have significant, long-lasting repercussions.
One thing that is clear is that we all need each other in order to adapt to unexpected circumstances. Younger people can learn from the older generation just as much as the other way around. To make this possible, perhaps now is the time to invest in more accessible pathways for learners of all ages?
Auther Heini Huhtinen is the editor-in-chief of Elm Magazine. This blog was first published in ELM Magazine 1.4.2020