Learning computers can be a very exciting experience for seniors and technology novices.
However, the process can also be a little bit intimidating. Telikin, has had
thousands of conversations with seniors first learning how to use the computer and the internet and they offer this tips to help your parents, grandparents, or senior friend get started on the computer.
1) Provide Encouragement
Many seniors and first time users doubt their ability to learn how to use a computer, so it is
essential when you introduce technology to let them know that they are capable of learning!
Ordinary people, just like them, successfully learn to use computers all the time. Allay their fears
and concerns by providing reassurance that they are just starting out, and like all beginners, will
eventually master the basics and move onto more advanced concepts.
2) Start with the Basics
This is especially true for those who have never even touched a computer before. It may
be necessary to explain the parts of the computer – What is a mouse? How do the screen/
touchscreen, keyboard, and mouse work together? What are the icons or buttons on the screen,
and what are their functions and meanings? It is crucial not to dive right in, but to start with a
basic outline of the foundation and most common features.
3) Move in Incremental Steps
Overwhelming the new user with too many instructions and features at once will only
discourage them. Start with the basics, and once they seem to have a grasp on those, move on
to one application at a time. A computer game, such as solitaire, can be a great ice-breaker for
beginners because it is familiar, fun, and provides immediate feedback about performance.
Email is another good starting point because it can be easily related to traditional mail. Once
the user starts reading and sending emails to their family and friends, they will be motivated to
build on their success and learn additional skills.
4) Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
As with learning any new concept, repetition is important. It is likely that the user will need to
be shown a task several times before being able to accomplish it independently. Demonstrate a
given task multiple times by slowly going through the steps, stopping to answer any questions.
Encourage them to continue practicing the task independently. Be sure to emphasize the
incremental and repetitive nature of learning. Compare learning computer skills to learning
other tasks that are unlikely to be mastered in one session, such as driving a car.
5) Find Out Their Motivation For Learning Computers
You should not assume you know what the user would like to do on the computer. Instead of
asking them which application they’d like to learn, ask them what they would like to accomplish.
For example, they will probably not say, “I want to learn how to use the web browser,” but they
might say, “I want to read about my antiques collection.” You can then explain how the web
browser can be used to research antiques. If they wish to communicate with family or friends,
then you will know to start teaching email and video chat first.
6) Explain the Benefits of a Computer
This tip goes hand in hand with the previous one. Many seniors say, “Why would I want to learn
to email or use the internet?” If you provide tangible examples of what a computer can
do for them, they will be more motivated to learn how to use it. Explaining how they can see
pictures of their grandchildren or how they can look up health information with a computer will
allow them to consider what they are missing by not using one.
7) Describe Tasks, Concepts, and Features in a Relatable Manner
Because beginners have limited computer experience, certain concepts may be difficult for them
to conceptualize. For instance, the idea of websites may be a little confusing. Explain how a
website is like a book – it has a cover (home page), a table of contents (side navigation buttons),
and many pages within it (each different screen within a site).
8) Be Patient
This tip rings true for anyone teaching any kind of new skill. Remember that your attitude
will affect the user’s attitude about the computer. Provide plenty of practice opportunities for
them and understand that there are individual differences in learning. Seek feedback from the
senior about what they find both challenging and rewarding about computer use, and tailor
your instruction to their responses. Use more preferred computer activities to reinforce those
that are less preferred; for example, if games are a preferred activity, when teaching internet
searches, have the learner search the web for games.
9) Provide Support
No one wants to be left with a machine that they cannot use and simply collects dust. Assure
your parents that you (or another teacher) will be there to help them learn how to use the new
device. This will allow them to be more open to trying things on their own, because they know
their helper can address questions as they arise. New skills might be taught in a one on one
session either in person or remotely. Remote access allows the teacher to “drive” the learner’s
computer and provide “how to” information.
10) Use Encouragement
This point is so important when helping first time computer users that it needs to be repeated.
Your enthusiasm about and dedication to helping them will not only make the process easier for
you, but it will also relax and encourage the senior. Encourage the new learner by exchanging
emails with them, having them video chat with family members, sharing new photos, and
bookmarking their favorite sites. As they enjoy their new ways of connecting and exploring the world, they will gain confidence to learn additional skills.