Since I teach computers predominantly to seniors, my “Silver Surfers”, I am in a unique position to observe the challenges they face adjusting to the technology age. I have observed this with their use of cell phones, DVD players, TIVO, but predominantly with computers. In so many ways they are left behind and are running to catch up. They struggle to acquire basic computer skills. Moving and clicking a mouse while trying to assimilate what is happening on the computer screen is daunting. They are urged to join this race by well meaning family and friends who don’t realize what a challenge this will be for them, and the friends and relatives at times lack the patience to help them. Nothing is harder to take than struggling with the computer and have someone say, “Oh! It is easy. Just do this…..” I have watched perfectly intelligent and quick-minded people doubt themselves to the point of thinking they are “stupid” or worse yet, they think they have a learning disability. Of course this struggle doesn’t affect only seniors, but they seem to be the most vulnerable to this thinking. I caution them constantly to realize that learning to use computers is equal to learning a language they have never spoken before. Would they feel stupid if they struggled to learn French? I encourage them to approach it as if they are learning a language, realizing that they need to practice, practice, and practice some more.
While thinking through this problem, specifically for seniors, I have come to some conclusions as to how family and friends can help encourage their use of computers.
- Realize they need things kept very simple. Don’t buy the latest and best computer. The new operating systems are hard for many to understand and use. This is especially true if they are already used to Windows XP and they are forced to learn Vista or Windows 7. Find a good refurbished desktop or laptop for them. Most refurbished computers have Windows XP, and this is much easier for a beginner. Computer Recycling Center in Santa Rosa, CA, on Santa Rosa Ave, has excellent refurbished desktops and laptops.
- Make directions VERY simple and basic. Have them take notes or better yet, create notes for them so they can refer to the notes when they get stuck. These notes should be step by step.
- When teaching, don’t assume they know anything. What seems basic to you may be vital for them to know to fully understand what you are teaching.
- Try to refrain from telling them how easy it is. It may not be easy for them. Telling them this over and over only serves to make them feel inadequate. This contributes to their feelings that they are “stupid” or that they can’t learn.
I can’t stress enough the need for patience and understanding when you are helping someone new to computers, especially the elderly.
I’m very proud of my Silver Surfers. Many of them have come a long way. I anticipate my classes growing with expectant excitement. As the world of technology grows and rapidly expands, we need to include the elderly so we are not leaving anyone behind in the technology race.