Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tips for Older Adult Computer Classes

Jessamyn West, a rural librarian, recently posted a video showing her teaching a computer class to older adults at the Tunbridge Public Library.

Here is a picture of her class that she posted on Flickr

She also posted suggestions for librarians who are trying to decrease the digital divide in older adults. Here are some of her suggestions and my comments:

1) "Encourage people to get laptops." and
2) "Invest in wifi."
Jessamyn pointed out that people can then use the library's wi-fi to connect with the internet if they can not afford Broadband service at home. She mentioned that learning and practicing on the same computer is very helpful for people. I agree that wifi is definitely a selling point for libraries. In addition, since people can bring their computer to the library, it is easier for staff to answer any questions that the patron has about their computer. Librarians do not have the time or resources to go to patrons homes and fix their computer problems, but we can do simple troubleshooting for patrons, if they bring in their laptop.

3) "Solve Problems"
I wholeheartedly agree with Jessamyn that having an informal, open class for general tutoring and answering problems is very important. Formal classes are great for people who want to learn a particular skill, such as word processing. However, if a patron just wants the answer to one question, it is not convenient for them to wait through an entire computer class. This class also provides an avenue for patrons to ask questions not generally covered in the courses provided by the library.

4) "Larger groups"
Jessamyn recommends teaching classes with multiple students (2 or 3). Her reasoning is that older adult patrons will be less stressed if the teacher is not focussed solely on them and that having a more social atmosphere is more conducive to learning. I agree that many, though not all, older adults will feel more comfortable in small groups. However, if the group gets too large, then I feel that some patrons will not be able to get the personalized help that they need - which can also lead to stress.

I would like to add another suggestion about teaching computer skills to older adults. If my students seem to be following along and understanding everything well, I have a tendency to add too much information - which can lead to information overload. It is important to fight this tendency! Instead, it is much better to reinforce a few steps during the class and have people practice those steps many times, rather than to try to cover a lot of content.

Also, several of my students have told me that they feel much more comfortable and confident if they have a printed list of straightforward steps for a particular task, which they can keep and continue to refer to as needed. It can be overwhelming to new computer users to try to memorize all the steps to a task. If the teacher has been using a computer for many years, it is easy to forget how much there is to memorize and how foreign the computer terms and menus can be for a new user.

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