Teaching Computer Skills to Older Adults-Adapting to their needs



I have been thinking for quite some time about writing an article on my experience in teaching computer skills to older adults. I currently teach a short course titled Computer Skills for Adults - Pre ECDL at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST). The course is not particularly directed towards older adults; however I tend to have a good number of learners that fall under this category in every intake. In this article I would like to focus on some difficulties that I normally encounter, together with how I deal with them to ensure a positive learning experience. You might agree with my approach, or you might also have other suggestions. In fact comments and experiences are greatly appreciated.


1.Fear of technology

For many older adults, computers and the internet may seem to be highly complex technologies. However we all know that this is not the case, as with proper training and practice, things become easier. I believe that it is all about making them feel at ease. Apart from the usual icebreakers, I provide various reassurances; for example I emphasise that no particular harm is done if they click somewhere by mistake. I also regularly give tips on basic troubleshooting and common problems that they might encounter. Normally as lessons progress, they build more confidence and this element of fear is slowly mitigated.


2.Physical Changes – limited vision, impaired hearing, issues with motor skills

These provide a challenge both for me as a trainer and for the learners. In order to cater for problems with vision, I try my best to use large fonts both for any projected slides and also printed handouts. I also teach them how to use features that can enlarge fonts on their computer. When it comes to hearing, one might encounter different levels of impairment as well. I normally deal with such impairment by repeating instructions more than once, using an appropriate volume to project my voice, together with trying to be in a position where everyone can hear me properly.

Limitations in motor skills are normally quite challenging as learners find it difficult to use the mouse and/or keyboard. My approach depends on the limitations encountered. There are cases where, for example, I adopt a direct teaching method employing physical guidance. I also normally slow down the pace when possible, so that learners with such difficulties can take their time to finish tasks.


3.Diminished working memory

This is commonly manifested when learners try to recall steps for a procedure. In some cases this may be just after the explanation, even for simple steps such as closing an open window. In order to cater for this limitation, I focus on repeating and also reinforcing information. This is also followed by the provision of regular summaries and ample time for questions. It is also important to maintain an appropriate pace to enable the learners to follow and learn all the required steps. Lastly I also supplement the explanation or demonstration with printed handouts that include steps in a logical order and screenshots to help in the process.


4.Difficulty to stay focused

I have often noticed that a majority of learners tend to get distracted easily and thus lose focus. It is therefore one of my key tasks to help them stay on track. One of the approaches that I often adopt is the effective use of questioning techniques to help them stay focused, and for me to better understand their situation at that point in time. I also go around regularly checking their computer screens to ensure that they are following my delivery.


There is obviously much more to say, however I wanted to stick to the salient points. In conclusion I would like to say that in order to work with this category of learners, one requires a good amount of patience. It is important that trainers understand that what may be common sense and so easy for them, may not be so for their learners.






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Themes addressed


Having worked and volunteered in the area of supporting older learners with technology skills for many years.  You have identified some of the main challenges faced by a tutor/teacher when conducting these sessions for desktop/laptop computing. You make good appropriate suggestion to compensate for these challenges, particularly pacing the session to their needs. Which can be difficult if you have a class of different abilities and ages

A couple areas I would like to relate to you from my experience.  With distraction and losing focus there could be two situations here occurring or in fact both at the same time.  It maybe that if your older learner is on some medication to treat a long term condition. It could well have an impact on their ability to focus on trying to gain a new skill.  Also distraction and non-focus can occur if the theme you are using to present the skill has no direct interest or use to the person who is learning it.


In terms of the motor skills, I am presuming that Malta College have adaptive mice and keyboards that can be used to help alleviate the difficulties. However, a desktop/laptop might not be the best method of learning technology skills for your learner.  Many of my older learners achieved successful learning through engaging with a tablet.  In fact one learner who had used a computer for many years, suffered a brain condition and lost their confidence in being able to use a mouse and keyboard.  After I introduced them to using an iPad, they said that it built up their self esteem, because they could once again start to engage as they had done before on the Internet.

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Dear Lynne ,


THanks for your wonderful reply. I am in fact now also going to propose a course oriented towards tablets.  The course is not particularly directed towards older adults however as I mentioned I normally have a good number in each cohort. I also had a student last year who had alzheimers. This was quite a challenge, however we managed well by having another adult friend next to her who was also working with her , particularly when I was also helping other students.



Ramon Mangion

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