How to Teach the Elderly More Computer Skills

Written by kurt schanaman
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How to Teach the Elderly More Computer Skills
The elderly need a crash course in modern computer technology to become computer proficient. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Computer technology has made vast amounts of information available to the fingertips of all people, great and small, young and old. Though this information has been made available, teaching the elderly how to access that available data can prove difficult. The "abstraction," or bigger idea, of the World Wide Web is something many elderly cannot understand because they haven't had exposure to even the most basic computer and network terminology. Elderly respond well to visual aids, hands-on experience and real-life parallels.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Working laptop or PC computer with Internet access
  • White board and erasable coloured markers

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  1. 1

    Teach the basic terminology of the parts of computers to the elderly student first. Use a white board and markers to draw out the various components of a computer including mouse, monitor, CPU and power buttons. Provide simple short-sentence details about what each component of the computer system is used for, then reinforce each of these concepts by helping the elderly students in making use of the items on an individual basis. Save the basic white board drawing for the next lesson.

  2. 2

    Instruct the elderly students that a computer is actually like a big filing cabinet containing folders and documents. Elderly people are quite familiar with doing things the "old way" with filing cabinets, and this will provide you with a tool for teaching them how an internal hard drive functions. Draw a picture of what a hard drive looks like onto the white board, and below it try to draw a file folder hierarchy to cement the idea of an "electronic filing cabinet" inside of the computer.

  3. 3

    Demonstrate how file folders can be created, how digital data can be saved into them, how digital data can be moved from one to another, how individual items can be deleted permanently and how the folders can be renamed. To do this, place some text documents, sound files and images onto the hard drive of a demonstration computer but keep them outside of any file folders. Using a Windows computer for simplicity and uniformity in the classroom, use Windows Explorer to demonstrate each of these concepts through the use of the left and right mouse buttons.

  4. 4

    Demonstrate the concept of removable "filing cabinets" that can carry a whole filing cabinet's worth of data on a keyring. Use a USB thumb drive in one of the computer's USB sockets to demonstrate how they show up in the drive and file hierarchy. Show the elderly students how they can drag and drop text, image and sound files into that new folder for copying. Remove the thumb drive and insert it into another demonstration computer if one is present to show how the data was preserved. Ask your elderly students to create a new folder on the other computer and to then copy the data from the thumb drive into the new folder.

  5. 5

    Show the elderly students what the Internet is by drawing a simple network of computers onto the white board. Explain how the Internet is simply a bunch of computers with filing cabinets in them, all connected together throughout the world with a bunch of wires and radio waves.

  6. 6

    Demonstrate to the elderly students what a web browser is. Keep it simple at first and stick with only one of the available browsers. Since Internet Explorer is included on every Microsoft Windows PC and laptop, use this browser rather than complicating things with others. In this step, show the students how to start the browser, how the forward and back arrows work, where the address entry bar is located and how to use the "Bookmark" feature.

  7. 7

    Show the elderly students how to use web addresses to access websites on other computers. Enter something well-known and useful, and begin with a search engine such as Google or Yahoo. In this way you can now paint a mental picture to the elderly student that the Internet is like a large library. The "aisles" have addresses and the items on the shelves are "pages" of information, much like books on shelves. Demonstrate how to use keywords in the search engine to bring up a list of addresses where the desired information is located in the global library.

  8. 8

    Provide a list of online resources that provide further information about the web and computers, which explain further how things work. Be sure the resources make the information very simple to grasp for the elderly students when they are reading them online. Have each student manually enter the addresses from the paper into the browser to build up hands-on experience, then help to show the student how to browse the links on the pages that appear on the screen.

Tips and warnings

  • Remember that it can become difficult for human beings to memorise things as they increase in age. Teaching computer skills to the elderly requires a greater emphasis on visual presentation and hands-on reinforcement.

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