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10 Tools for Teaching the Elderly How to Use a Computer

By Edited Jul 26, 2016 2 2

The focus of this article is on providing you with a resource that will help you maintain some focus as you attempt to teach an elderly person how to use a computer. It is not my intention to offend anyone who is older and struggling to use a computer, but inform those who are found in the role of "teacher" about how they can better be prepared for teaching computer usage. For some people, teaching someone how to use a computer is a rather simple task; and similarly for some individuals learning how to use a computer is also not that difficult. With that said, it is commonly accepted that older folks have much more difficulty figuring out how to use a computer. Since I have experience teaching how to use a computer to a variety of people (most notably my grandmother), I have compiled a list of 10 tools you should keep in mind and consider before and during your teaching sessions. If you have any more to add, be sure to leave a comment below!

1. Patience

While this may be perhaps the most obvious "tool" on this list, it is one of the most necessary. All others are simple when compared to this. It is not my intention to ridicule the elderly by any means, but there is no denying that they will get frustrated when learning how to use a computer in a way that is very similar to a student in high school getting frustrated with algebra. For many older people, computers are an absolutely foreign language, so this is certainly understandable. There is no need to get angry with them, as understanding a computer is very important; and you do not want to spoil it for them with anger or a fit of rage. In the case of teaching someone how to use a computer, patience is certainly a virtue.

2. Start with Basic Exercises Detailing How to Use Computer Accessories

This may be another obvious stepping stone for teaching the elderly how to use a computer, but it is one many likely skip over. If you jump right into teaching the complexities of computer usage, you will likely leave your "student" very confused. Before even turning on the computer, be sure to go over some of the basic pieces that they will be interacting with on a day to day basis. How does the keyboard and mouse work, for example. While this will likely not be a very time consuming task, it is important to start off slow and make sure that the person you are teaching understands basic concepts before moving on to more complicated ones that will undoubtedly incorporate the usage of these basic ones.

3. Teach Them How To Move the Mouse Around the Screen

Once you have turned on the computer, provide your student with some "free time" to do essentially whatever they want (while you supervise them of course). Much like a child who wants to explore his world, a computer is unmarked and foreign territory that needs some exploration that is not structured. Let them move the mouse around the screen and watch as the curser moves as they move the device. Let them click on things and learn some basic concepts on their own if they can.

This point is also important because you want the elderly to be able to maintain their sense of freedom as they learn how to use a computer. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the computer (and internet) is a very freeing device.

4. Teach Them How to Open a Program

If they have not figured it out already, be sure to teach them the steps of opening a computer program. A good one to start with is Microsoft Word (or any other writing software). They can open this program, and more importantly they will also be able to explore the program itself (which they will probably be using frequently, like my grandmother does to write letters and stories). You can also teach them more about the keyboard as well, and allow them to write out their own lines of text. Be sure to write down the steps to open a program, as while this may seem very simple to many people; it is not always a simple task when someone is just learning.

5. Break Each Day Up into Lessons

The computer is not a simple piece of technology to learn, even though it is one that is very important in our modern world. As you are quite literally "teaching" someone to use a computer, it is important to not teach too much at once. Breaking each day up into lessons is an excellent way of tracking progress. Additionally, leaving extra time so the individual may ask questions is also a great idea.

6. Give Them Homework

Who said when you get older you stop getting homework? In order to learn how to use a computer, homework is absolutely necessary. Be sure to include written instructions, and you may also want to consider buying an inexpensive computer book aid that includes step by step instructions for doing things on a computer. One I recommend is titled Computers for Seniors for Dummies.

7. Inform them that the computer works like any other device

One of the most critical aspects of teaching someone how to use a computer is assuring them that a computer is much like any other device they interact with, and it is actually rather simple to use once you get a hang of it. Modern computers have an excellent graphic user interface (GUI), and interacting with computers can be a very simple task. A major problem for many older people is that they have a tendency to quite literally "fear" the computer (and new technology in general). This is natural and has been scientifically studied to be an accurate notion, so reassuring them that they are normal and learning how to use a computer is not too hard once they relax and practice will lead to positive results.

8. Teach them how to open the internet

The internet is one of the last things I would consider teaching someone who is new to computers only because an inexperienced person may click the wrong things and unintentionally contract a computer virus (or worse). With your guide, teach them how to open the internet; and allow them to get acclimated to the many aspects of surfing the internet such as the search bar, the address bar, and their favorite pages.

9. Inform them of the risks of surfing the web

As we all know, the internet can be a great place for accessing information and entertainment; but it also has a dark side. It is important to detail the many common risks of accessing the internet so they may try to avoid things as best as possible. You should really supervise them on their first several browsing attempts to look for any unwanted behavior (such as clicking on questionable advertisements).

10. Be sure to ask if they have any specific questions you can help them with

The last suggestion I have for you is one that is both obvious and important. Be sure to let them ask you questions, and do your best to answer them. The best way to learn is for the student to ask questions.



Teaching the elderly can be a difficult task. Learning how to use a computer is not easy, though it may seem easy once you have been using it for a long period of time. Younger people tend to take for granted our own ability to use a computer, that it leads to unfortunate disrespect of older folks. If you are willing to spend a good deal of time teaching someone how to use a computer, then you are really doing a lot of good for someone and allowing them to access a variety of important information that, in their world, has never been available to them.
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Comments

Jan 6, 2012 8:15pm
footloose
This is so important, for seniors to become computer literate. Kudos to you for this caring, thoughtful article.
Jan 7, 2012 11:46am
Ulalume
Thanks a lot for the comment! While there is a good amount of focus online in teaching people in general how to use a computer, I do not feel there is enough focus on teaching the elderly how to use a computer. When quite honestly, they are one of the few groups that continue to be relatively computer illiterate. It's sad to think that they are missing out on all the great things the computer can be, especially because they can be motivated to check out a variety of news articles and read a lot of things that require going to a library for. The computer is one of the many things we take for granted.
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