Do individual learning paths and involvement of seniors' network help the elderly to gain digital skills?

This is the second blog when our ICTSkills4All project partners discuss their experience and suggestions how to improve the digital skills training for the elderly. 

The conversation continues with Madara Irbe from Riga Active Seniors Alliance (RASA), Latvia, Grazyna Busse from HIPOKAMP, Poland, and Kevin Wood from Cybermoor Services, UK.

In the previous blog we talked about a few challenges that elder trainees experience while trying to learn how to work with digital devices and what issues trainers face supporting them in this journey.

However, there are a still a few open questions:  

The first open question is how to enable seniors who have some interest and motivation in acquiring ICT skills to interact in the digital learning environment, however have zero level knowledge in achieving this? How can their relatives or friends help in this situation?

Correspondingly, the second open question is how can senior networks work collaboratively towards gaining a more open mindset towards accepting failure and learning through experience when acquiring ICT skills? How can a stagnating mindset be changed and advanced for the benefit of the individual himself or herself?

Grazyna Busse from HIPOKAMP, Poland, says that there are a lot of different methods and we have to search for them, test them and implement as soon as possible. Otherwise, we loose all these elderly persons for ever. This is the issue for next projects and future partnerships that could be developed in the direction of the person-centred approach and individualization of the learning process. "As we know, in a group there are several sometimes completely different areas of interest, and what motivates and inspires one person can be boring and discouraging for another one."

In other words, individual learning paths should be created.

In the previous project “Radio Theater at Home”, HIPOKAMP staff experienced positive results from combining methods of learning by connecting and including activities and  topics from other areas into ICT education. It allowed to get the essential element: inspiration, motivation, meaning and a real goal that is of personal interest to each individual. The assumption is that artistic activities are the best way to induce open-minded thinking, to activate the imagination and fantasy, which are also very important in ICT learning. Such topics that stimulate co-learning synergy and motivation could be history, music and dancing, theatre, and art classes.

Trainers at HIPOKAMP absolutely agree with Dr Katarina Popovic, Secretary-General of International Council on Adult Education, who says, “Effective learning requires leaving the comfort zone sometimes   and experiencing cognitive dissonances or discomfort when our stereotypes or “blind spots” are questioned.(…) The complex issues of human motivation, reluctance, fear, shame   and needs can hardly be solved by quick technological fixes. The question is, obviously, not whether the digital technology should be used, but how.

We, as assistants in the digital journey of older adults, have to be aware of this and be able to explain, why it can be difficult: because we all don’t like to leave our “comfort zones” and really learn, not only take part in educational proposals.

Kevin Wood from Cybermoor Services Limited reflects that “it is most difficult for elders to become familiar with the terminology used. Although they regularly talk with friends 30 or 40 years younger, the discussions become complicated when it comes to iPads, laptops, phones, as it just sounds too technical”. Seniors use the Internet in a limited way for on-line banking, purchases, e-mail, Word, Sudoku and Facebook. This reflection shows that it is necessary for younger generations to understand the information space in which the seniors are currently living to be able to have fruitful discussions about these new technologies that the younger generations have had no trouble adapting to as they have grown up with them.

Zanda Rubene, professor of the University of Latvia in philosophy of education, has been keen on researching a diverse set of gaps among generations. In one of her webinars on generation differences Zanda explains this situation with a simple example from her life, “I am driving home from a conference in Vilnius to Riga when my mother calls me and asks when I will arrive. I reply to her that the navigation shows that I will be home at nine. After this statement my mother was silent. To her mind only a ship can have a navigation and she cannot understand how this navigation could be present with me on my way home in my car.” This simple illustration reflects how easily our senior friends and family members can get lost in our discussions due to the changing perceptions of words and their meanings.

When applying this situation within the ICT skills training environment, we can see the crucial role of the instructors in clarifying any misunderstandings that could potentially create learning barriers in class or virtually. Likewise, we can relate to the future ICT learning environment at home when each person in the senior’s personal network plays a role in digital skill development.

Kevin reminds of the importance of repetition and support: “It’s ok being shown or told which buttons to press to perform a certain function but unless you are using that function regularly it is easy to forget, and there are just so many functions and buttons. Limited exposure to an IT environment makes it very difficult for seniors to improve their knowledge and experience of the Internet and therefore the capabilities available within the world of IT.

It is the involvement of the seniors’ network that can make a difference in encouraging digital idependancy. It is crucial for seniors to be persistent learners and be open to technologies as this attitude in turn will reveal a greater potential of the positive benefits the digital era offers to everyone.

Help and support in improving ICT skills can be sought, there is a growing number of opportunities out there and so many people within our personal network are willing to help in the search for knowledge and digital independence.

By Madara Irbe, RASA, and Grazyna Busse, HIPOKAMP

Images from training in Latvia (1,3,4) and Poland (2)


ICTSkills4All  is an Erasmus+ project that explored the two models of training older adults in digital skills through intergenerational and peer learning. If you want to learn more about it, join on 10 February for the event Empowering older people for the digital world

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