Modern devices can be great for older adults, helping them stay connected and keeping them mentally engaged. That’s what makes them such a great tool for seniors – and such an indispensable part of daily life.
The problem is, some older adults struggle to learn how to use new technologies.
What steps can you take to make the learning process easier?
How to Teach New Technologies to Older Adults
Older adults may not be familiar with new technologies like touchscreens, Bluetooth, and the modern state of the internet. Here’s how you can help them master almost any new device or technology:
1. Validate their struggles
One of the best things you can do initially is validate the struggle they’re experiencing. Too often, younger people adopt a condescending or impatient attitude against older adults struggling with seemingly basic technologies. If you do this, you’re only going to make the process harder for both of you. Instead, adopt a kind and compassionate stance, understanding that it’s hard to learn today’s complex new technologies if you lived most of your life without an internet connection.
2. Understand what they know and don’t know
You’re going to be a much more effective teacher if you understand what your student already knows and what their current limitations are. Does this person understand how to access the internet? Do they have internet access at home at all? Have they ever owned a smartphone before? Do they know how to use a search engine? Try not to make assumptions about what this person knows or doesn’t know; find out and respond accordingly.
3. Start with the basics
Don’t overwhelm your student with complex tasks or a multitude of different functions all at once. Instead, start with the basics. If you’re teaching this older adult how to use a smartphone, teach them how to make and accept phone calls before anything else. If you’re teaching them how to email, start with simply sending and receiving emails between two people. You can always teach new things later.
4. Simplify things (if you can)
If possible, try to simplify the technology to the best of your ability. For example, if you’ve gifted an older adult an iPad, you can delete or hide most of the apps that aren’t relevant to them. This way, they won’t be distracted by things they don’t fully understand, nor will they feel overwhelmed by new things to learn. DailyCaring, an advice site for caregivers of parents with Alzheimers, has created a gift list for seniors with these challenges in mind. It’s a great place to start if you’re not sure what would work best for your loved one.
5. Avoid jargon – and use metaphors when possible
Telling an older adult that they need to sync a Bluetooth device probably isn’t going to lead them to the right solution. Avoid using technological jargon, even if it’s familiar to most other people, and instead use simplified language with metaphors whenever possible. Metaphors and analogies make it easier to understand complex ideas.
6. Remain patient
You’re probably not going to be successful with your first few lessons. Your student is probably going to forget much of what you teach them, and they may struggle to understand even the most basic instructions. Throughout this process, it’s important to remain as patient as possible. This is a potentially long and difficult process, so focus on taking one step at a time.
7. Write down instructions
Many older adults are more comfortable with written instructions, using pen and paper, than with verbal instructions or saving documents on a device. If it helps them, consider writing down simple, step by step instructions for tasks like connecting to the Internet or sending an email.
8. Make them feel confident
Older adults are going to feel much more secure in their technological abilities and will be much more likely to use the devices you give them if they feel confident with the technology they’re using. It’s on you to help them feel that confidence. Provide them with reassurance and compliments when they do things right, and when they get things wrong or forget things, try not to scold them or make them feel stupid.
9. Go over the basics of cybersecurity
Elderly people lost more than $1 billion to online scams in 2020. The unfortunate reality is that elderly people are frequent targets of online scams, due to their unfamiliarity with cybersecurity basics. You don’t need to turn this person into a cybersecurity genius, but you should teach him some of the most important fundamentals of being safe online. Teaching them to set strong passwords and never give out those passwords is a great place to start. It’s also important to teach them about some of the most common online scams and how to determine if a company is reputable.
10. Teach them how to help themselves
Perhaps most importantly, you should teach this person how they can help themselves. Teaching them the fundamentals of Googling a tech question and watching videos or reading articles for the answer can set them up for a lifetime of learning and technological success.
Adapting to Your Student
Not all older adults are going to learn at the same pace or in the same ways. It’s important for you to adapt to your student, whoever they happen to be. Does this person respond well to engaging, one-on-one sessions? Or do they prefer independent discovery, with occasional guidance when they need it? Try to remain adaptable throughout this process.