For many senior citizens, learning new technology and staying updated on using computers often becomes a humbling experience that can turn into acute humiliation.
That’s why computer instructor Kim Harvey finds the computer classes at her libraries booked solid, mostly with seniors all eager to “step up their game.”
“Some seniors may feel embarrassed that they lack basic computer skills,” said Harvey, staff development and computer training coordinator for the Jackson/George Regional Library System. “It’s very important for them to keep up with society.”
She said the majority of her students throughout the system’s eight branches are at least 60 years old.
“Their children and grandchildren are buying them laptops and iPhones, but may not have time to teach them how to use them. (Seniors) don’t want to ask for help, but they will if they have to.”
Harvey noted a distinct difference between teaching computer skills and programs to seniors vs. younger adults and especially children and teenagers. The younger generations catch on much more quickly; not necessarily so with seniors.
“I have to go at a slower pace and start at the beginning, then make sure that they have a good basic understanding before I teach them more,” Harvey said. “Sometimes, seniors need a lot of repetition. They will (repeat) the same class until they master that skill.”
Harvey also has established Tech Days, where a student can make an appointment and work one-on-one with her.
“It’s extremely successful,” she said, “and a lot of people sign up for that and are more likely to come to that.”
Harvey is finding seniors much prefer one-on-one or classroom training to just trying to follow a tutorial on a website.
“It’s not just lessons, it’s application to computers,” said Judy Lytle, one of Harvey’s students. Lytle is a retired teacher at the University of Southern Mississippi. “There have been a lot of changes (since she retired 11 years ago). I needed a little bit of help coaching and I heard about Kim. Once you’re out of the system, it’s great that there’s someone you can go to, to ask questions.”
Computer technology’s rapid changes are challenging enough for adults, but can be overwhelming for seniors. Landline phones are being replaced by cellphones. Desktop computers gave way to laptops, which in turn are being replaced by tablets and smartphones. And social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) brings in a whole new dimension.
One fear Lytle had about trying to learn new computer software was the danger of inviting malware and viruses into her system.
“Kim is a marvelous teacher, she starts up at where you are,” she said. “Each time I go for help, she’ll clear up everything and keep you updated.”
Lytle still goes to see Lytle twice a month to keep up with updates. She just bought a new computer and now puts together programs for her church. She also cherishes the ability to communicate online with her younger family members.
“It has definitely opened up the world for them,” Harvey said about her senior students. “They can text to their grandchildren and follow them on Facebook and the other social media. They learn enough to keep up with the family.”
For seniors who still need jobs, going online is the chief way to seek employment.
Seniors are encouraged to have a positive attitude about this new chapter of their lives.
“I always give a pep talk at the start of each beginner computer tech class,” said Sarah Csekey, a librarian, in her column, “What I’ve Learned by Teaching Seniors Computer Technology,” published in November 2014. “It goes something like this: “If you get frustrated with the computer, take a moment and think of all the things you can do really well. You’ve mastered some amazing skills, that you could do without thinking. Remember how awesome you are at those things, and remember that this is something totally new.”
For more information about computer classes, check with your local library.