So your older aging parent really wants to get going with a digital device? If so, please think carefully about the learning process.
In a well-known New York City joke about Carnegie Hall, someone asks a cab driver, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Without missing a beat the answer is “Practice, practice, practice.” This joke has many incarnations and you can read about some of them at the Carnegie Hall website
- Practice is essential if an older elder hopes to develop digital device skills. If, as one adult child commented to me, “My dad is interested in all this technology, so he’s taking a class,” I respond positively, but I add a caveat about practicing. I’ll remind my friend that an older elder parent needs to understand that the class or the tutoring session is only the beginning. To use technology well an individual needs to be motivated to set aside practice time (or my friend will need to figure out a plan to reinforce the class activities). It is all about understanding the elder parent’s technology learning curve, and it may be a lot of work. And it doesn’t help that, as we age, our brains become a bit less efficient at learning new things.
2. Often older elders, when they take a tech class or get tutoring, experience a tug-of-war between note-taking and hands-on device activity. Keep in mind that many of today’s older seniors were born into a world of pens, inkwells, and chalkboards — so they copied information and learned early on to take notes. But taking notes during a digital device teaching session is not an efficient way of learning. Hands-on experience contributes the most to successful mastery and basic handouts or detailed notes from you or the instructor will be reassuring.
3. When an older elder gets a new device it is best to start by breaking the information into small learning steps. So when setting up a mobile phone, if texting is the highest priority, work on texting, back and forth, and skip the phone calls, emails, solitaire, contacts or other cell phone bells and whistles until texting is mastered. Be reassuring but firm about the other phone features. Once texting is mastered, move on the phone calls or another topic. Go slowly and pick up speed.
4. If your loved one already has a phone, chances are some of the features are confusing. So encourage mom or dad to take a break from everything except the most desired skill and reinforce it. Those of us who use technology day in and day out tend to try to teach too much way too fast, setting up the mobile phone or tablet the way we might set it up for ourselves with everything working, ringing, notifying, and connecting at the same time. It may be necessary to backtrack if your parent already has a phone.
5. Share all your technology experiences sparingly. Just because you organize your songs in playlists, very few older elders will understand or care about this skill. If you organize your mail into all sorts of special folders and subfolders it is probably not a skill your parent needs to master. If you read all your books on a Kindle, it’s probably not a useful skill to teach an older parent, at least not until way down the road.
6. Make sure that the emphasis on technology aims to benefit the elder parent and not the adult child. It may be easier to text, but if that is difficult for a person to learn, it is best to drop it.
7. Device location matters. As I mentioned in a recent post about my parents’ move to assisted living, with older elders the location of a device is a life clue that supports effective use. Move the device or the elder, and it may be necessary to refocus and review.
The goal is to build habits and new digital habits take hold only after repetition and practice.