It’s a typical Tuesday afternoon in Golders Green. A small group of people aged between 65 and 90 have just arrived. They relax on the sofa and armchairs in our cosy lounge and wait for the iPad Basics course to begin. Over on the other side of the room, members are coming in and out, getting ad hoc support and improving their digital skills—whether this be using a PC, iPad, Android tablet or smartphone.
We’re a few weeks into our first iPad Basics course, which runs for 10 weeks and each class is approximately 1 1/2 hours long. Today, our students are learning how to use Youtube and how to search for information on the Internet using Google. At the end of the class, student Celia says, “I am not with it today. I feel awful and I hate that I can’t do things that a three year old child can do. It’s too late for me to learn.” Another student jumps into the conversation, adding, “Everything is too complicated. Even if I learn now, what’s the point, since I am not going to remember it.”.
At this juncture, I decide to take a slight departure from the set syllabus and work with the students to explore their rather negative, and of course unfounded, views about their abilities and skills. Working with a student cohort of older people, it’s important to find ways to help them remove the emotional barriers that stop them from learning.
I ask the students, “What’s the difference between you guys and a three year old child, when you’re all just learning a new task?”. Another student, Alex, says, “It’s the brain. The little ones have a brain that works like a sponge and it can absorb any new information.” I reply, “Fair enough!”, and ask them, “What else do you think is different?”. They take a little bit of time to think about it. Then, the answer I was looking for comes out of Celia’s mouth. She says,“It’s fear!”, with a facial expression that indicates she is even afraid of admitting it.
Children are not afraid of trying new things, as they are not familiar with the concept of failure. This is, of course, something we always need to be mindful of when working with older and disabled people.
It is widely known that fear of technology is one of the main causes of digital exclusion, but there is also a huge lack of awareness of the benefits that technology and digital skills have to offer. Many of our students can feel tired, both physically and emotionally, and this can lead to them being less willing to try new things. Having said that, people who visit Jewish Care Explore are amazed to discover the wealth of simple and easy to use technologies to support them.
Every human being—whether they be young or old, disabled or not—has some level of curiosity. Deep down, we all want to have new and engaging experiences, be part of the world around us, communicate, participate and belong. Technology can play a vital role in all of this, making our lives easier and more meaningful.
At Jewish Care Explore, we understand what makes older and disabled people feel reluctant about using technology. We have the knowledge and digital skills to best support them in overcoming this reluctance. We make no assumptions about what our students know or don’t know about technology, and we understand that everyone has a different learning style. We’ve created a bespoke syllabus that takes into consideration the need for a slightly slower pace, as well as the importance of repetition and reinforcement.
Our courses are taught in carefully selected small groups, in order to ensure that we meet all of our students’ learning needs. We’ve also discovered the incredible value of keeping the dialogue open and continuously evaluating students’ progress.
We offer three foundation courses in digital skills — iPad Basics, Android Tablet Basics and PC Basics — along with courses for learning email, surfing the Internet, using Facebook and Skype across all three platforms. All of our courses are focused on ensuring our students acquire the digital skills they need for everyday life.
We also have a pool of volunteers who assist our drop-in customers who require ad hoc support. Our height adjustable desks, monitor mount systems and lots of other assistive hardware and software for PCs and tablets are available for all of our members to use, to help make technology more accessible for them.
Our graduates’ happy faces and expressions of delight of tell us that we are on the right track. At the end of our iPad Basics course, Esther said, “I really enjoyed the class today” and I felt exactly the same. We walk alongside our students, exploring the unknown together, knowing that good company on any journey makes it seem shorter.