For many people in their 60s and up, technology is a lifeline. It’s unavoidable. You can’t ignore it.
So how can retirees who aren’t particularly tech-savvy learn to upgrade their tech know-how?
When they enlist family, friends and tech geeks to help, there’s no guarantee these well-intentioned teachers will show and tell so that it sinks in. Technical instructions are often hard to follow, whether in person or in books, manuals or tutorials.
Step-by-step videos with screenshots might seem like a good way to get up to speed. But seniors can grow frustrated when their screen doesn’t correspond to what they see in the video. The best approach depends on one’s learning style. Some older people prefer to work with an individual one-on-one. They listen and learn by doing—with patient coaching every step of the way.
“I feel the best way for anyone to increase their tech knowledge is with hands-on experience,” said James Bernstein, author of “Computers For Seniors Made Easy,” part of a series of books to help older people understand technology. “By ‘getting your hands dirty’ with your computer or smartphone, you can learn from your mistakes. And if you have someone helping you, they can fix anything that you might break.”
Others opt for self-study modules. They are solitary learners who like to watch videos or research how-to articles to master a new device. Many libraries and senior centers host adult education courses on tech topics. That’s a good option for retirees who may benefit from the social interaction that comes with a classroom setting.
“Being among peers is often a more comfortable environment for seniors to learn,” said Mark Leigh, author of “The Older Person’s Guide to New Stuff.”
To cite a cliché, it’s important to meet people where they are. If seniors are inexperienced or impatient, the key is giving them the time and space to catch on.
“The main barrier is trying to overcome the wider world’s assumption that everyone understands and owns the latest tech,” Leigh said. “When it’s discovered that many seniors actually don’t, there’s often an accompanying patronizing attitude.”
What’s worse, that attitude can turn into something more dismissive or even insulting.
“Seniors can feel even more dissuaded from learning new technologies due to a fear of failing to get to grips with it,” Leigh said. “And then they’re further chastised for this. It’s a vicious circle.”
The ever-evolving nature of technology poses another challenge for seniors. Just when they think they’ve mastered a tool, it morphs into something else.
“One of the hardest parts for seniors is when their computer or software has been automatically updated without them knowing,” Bernstein said. “Things are now different and don’t function the same.”
While he urges consumers to download any security updates right away, he advises treating other types of updates with caution.
“For many of us, these changes only make things more difficult or add additional steps to do the same task,” he said. “I always tell people not to update their computer hardware or software as often as the tech companies want them to. Just because there is a new version doesn’t mean it will work better for you. If you can put off updating until you need to, then that just gives you more time with things working the way you are used to.”
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