Have you helped an older person learn to use a computer and the Internet, and how?

Joseph Videtto February 22, 2013
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Hi – My mom’s an older women who was never into electronics or anything technical (she’s about 75).

She has learned to send an email, from Gmail, after 1 year of computer classes. When any of the button positions change, she needs a month or two to learn the new navigation (I need to find a new email client where the button positions will never change again – but that rules out her ability to work remotely from the library or a friend’s house – which she doesn’t really do now anyway).

The new typical web page is so busy with many, many GUI objects/controls/advertisements, even online shopping at Amazon is a challenge for her.

I’m hoping to take her to the next steps after email, given she’s an older person whom technology is an incredibly difficult challenge. I’m thinking things she would most enjoy are:

  1. Shopping online see above – web pages are very complicated to her given the number of objects, and locating the write objects to click and type in – I’m not sure we’ll ever overcome that – I wish I had a script that would allow me to strip everything out of an Amazon page except for the item name, description, price, and reviews.
  2. Internet Radio – she likes old Italian music – though I’m not sure of the apps with the least-busy navigation menus to put her on to access this music.
  3. Facebook, or some type of social website – got her an account, but of course, she’s afraid

Another problem has been her eyesight – she doesn’t like to wear her glasses, the glasses are probably not powerful enought, and so I’ve had to enlarge her fonts. This has created the problem of additional scrolling with navigation sidebars – which she always forgets to do, and takes away the bird’s eye view of the structure of the page (and she’s ‘afraid’ that a larger monitor will be ‘too big’).

Has anyone else had some challenges in helping an older person that grew up in an era where the most complicated device they learned to control was a TV or radio with 1 on/off switch and 1 tuner control, who is afraid and overwhelmed by new technology and the typical busy web page and complex (relatively speaking) navigation required ?

Please share your personal experiences with such a person, and any tips you might have to help them more easily enjoy the new web.

  1. dragonmouth
    March 5, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Does your mother REALLY want to use a computer or are you the one that is pushing her to use one? My grandmother was similar to your mother. We tried to get her to use a computer but it took her forever to learn even the most basic things. Finally she admitted that she really didn't want to use a computer.

    If your mother has poor eyesight then get her a 24 or 25 inch monitor. That should eliminate a lot of the scrolling. Don't worry about her complaints that it is "too big". At least she will be able to see things on the screen better. To simplify web pages, install AdBlock, NoScript and Flash Block add ons for your browser. That will eliminate pop ups, pop unders and any confusing clutter.

    And as others have already said - PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE.

  2. Nitesh Badala
    March 4, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    computer and internet is a vast field to learn. it requires self practice. i suggest learn by self. take a pc with computer connection play it with interest you will definitely learn more then by a instructor

  3. Dave Bakker
    March 4, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    One thing to help with the internet sites is to make a desktop shortcut for each site. One for Gmail, one for shopping , one for music. Then make a laminated "cheat" sheet for each with the short cut Icon on top. This may seem like a lot of work, but really it isn't. Impress the fact that they do not have to remember everything, they just have to know where to look for answers and the cheat sheets will help. I think the biggest fear a lot of seniors have is they think they need to learn everything about computers, and they get over whelmed, when in fact they do not. They just need to know how to use that particular program. I have an older Aunt, who has learned how to use google. Now she says she googles when ever she gets stuck. Hope that helps

  4. Etech Etech
    February 28, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Patience, patience, and lots of patience. You may end up repeating yourself many times, but if you do it nicely they will learn better than if you get irritated.

    Also, teach them that when they don't know how to do something, it's okay to take a guess. Set up automatic backups for them, so that they can't mess anything up permanently.

  5. G. Calamita
    February 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Hello, I would use a web cam and an application to share his/her desktop following step-by-step hhis/her requests or planning an e-learning course (with free GPL apps). It is also a matter of the level of "web education" skill of the person to be involved...

  6. Justin Pot
    February 25, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    The thing that works better than anything else, in my experience, is one-on-one tutorial time. Sit down with her and explain how things work.

    Regarding interface changes being frustrating: this happens when people focus on step-by-step instructions instead of explaining concepts. Attempt to explain not specifically how to do something but what you're trying to do, and why it's done a certain way. It can be frustrating, but once breakthroughs start happening it becomes a lot easier.

    Teach her to spot the patterns of how things work, not to look for a specific button with a specific name. Focus on concepts and less on instructions.

    That's how it worked best for me, anyways. I've managed to teach people who aren't computer savvy to update a WordPress blog by teaching not how to specifically do things but why things work a certain way.

    I hope this is helpful. Best of luck to you.

  7. JC
    February 23, 2013 at 5:30 am

    I see you mention "fear" - that's common for a lot of adults when confronted by "technology".

    I used a lot of very basic illustrations comparing tech stuff to things they would likely meet, use or be familiar with in everday life. Stuff like that helps a lot.

    For example while reading an online newspaper, point out how simple it is to see a headline - just as in a paper newspaper. Then show them how to tell the computer "that's the story I want to read" by using the mouse and double-clicking the headline.

    Explain terms like "link" using something like turning a page in a book to get to the required page.

    Show her how to right-click and choose "Open in new tab/window" as well, 'cause older folk have trouble double-clicking.

    Also explain the concept of "one left-click = select, double -left-click = computer, go do it", and the "right-click = options on wherever the mouse pointer is located". Get her to play solitaire to get used to clicking and dragging - most folks like solitaire if they've never used a computer.

    Hope these help.

    Teaching an older relative can be a huge challenge, but basic similarities and examples work really well.

  8. Nevzat Akkaya
    February 22, 2013 at 11:47 am

    The first thing come to my mind when Web page easiness and simpleness is considered is Mobile interfaces. Show her the mobile version of websites instead of full blown desktop interface. That would definitely make her life easier. Unfortunately not all web pages offer this but, worth trying. You can also try changing browser identification (user agent) so that the browser shows itself as a mobile device and the responsive web pages show accordingly.
    This article might help on this : http://www.howtogeek.com/113439/how-to-change-your-browsers-user-agent-without-installing-any-extensions/
    For Firefox, there is also an addon : https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/user-agent-switcher/

    Good luck.

  9. Rosa Christensen
    February 22, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Maybe a Duka computer is for her, it's preset for elderly people and it has a touch screen with a facebook button and email button and a solitare button etc. They are really great for the older generation that find change and such on websites challenging, as well as the computer she will get a subscription to a hotline she can call so they can help her :)

  10. ha14
    February 22, 2013 at 9:55 am

    for email why to not try postbox?

    How to Use Voice Commands to Control Windows 7

  11. salim benhouhou
    February 22, 2013 at 9:05 am

    yes i did once , just by showing him and work in front of him and answer his questions if he doesn't get something .

  12. Alan Wade
    February 22, 2013 at 7:33 am

    The only thing I would add to Saikat,s answer is to concentrate on one task at a time. If you pick the internet then show her how to connect to one site only. Give her time to get used to it then move on to another site. Things will speed up as her interest grows.

  13. Saikat Basu
    February 22, 2013 at 6:44 am

    One of the solutions could be to use readability extensions like Clearly and Readability which will strip the webpage of clutter and bring the text front and center.

    Why don't you try Eldy - http://www.eldy.eu/. It could help. Also, go through a previous comment on the topic (it is linked right below yours) - How to teach a senior user with low a frustration level how to use mobile devices and the Internet?

    I tried to make my mother understand Facebook. I taught her one section at a time...I was pretty successful for a while, and then she didn't use it for a while. So, you can imagine the old maxim - out of sight, out of mind. But yes, take it real slow...get your mom comfortable. The best tool is - Patience.

    The second best tool I have found is to use analogies. Compare an online webpage to a real-world scene. You have to be a bit creative here. For instance...you can compare Facebook to a meeting at the town square. Link what they are supposed to learn to what they are already familiar with. Give them the confidence that the computer works just like any other device which they have used previously. Using a sewing machine is more complicated than surfing the web :)

    Hope this helps.

    • Scott Macmillan
      February 27, 2013 at 7:36 pm

      I have helped many seniors learn and lots of patience and answering every question is the key.

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