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Training offline seniors to be online

The Internet is crawling with tech training programs. But as the latest Pew study spells out, fewer than half of those aged 75+ are online. Ironically for the half that are not online, bank branches are closing – with the biggest decline in Florida. The explanation?  So say the banks: "mobile and online banking has eliminated the need for branches."  The Bank of America example: 9% of all check deposits in the fourth quarter came from mobile devices. And I wonder what percentage of those check deposits were made by people aged 75+?  Oh, I wonder if they know that only 18% of that age group owns a smart phone or tablet? But forward motion is inexorable – we know how badly Social Security wanted out of the paper-check business. We also know how worrisome it can be to manage privacy and security on tablets and smart phones.  Which brings us to the topic of training older adults about smart use of technology – where is the training and what does it cover?

  • Train seniors: AARP TEK national and regional training.  AARP is investing in tech training about tablets at each of its national events and broadening its effort to conduct similar sessions in individual cities around the US – including at Boston’s Life@50+ upcoming event.  In these training sessions, attendees are shown how to use some key features of tablets; and the sessions include local teens as part of AARP’s Mentor Up program -- sitting at tables with trainees, helping them go online, answering questions and helping with the devices.  In addition, the AARP Foundation has piloted technology training for low-income seniors.

  • Train the trainers: Google is teaching teens to train seniors in Kansas City.  This effort leverages the Google Fiber project that brought high-speed Internet access to Kansas City.  The initiative matches teens in the Arts Tech Center with seniors who comprise the 44% in Kansas City that do not use the Internet. The goal is providing seniors with 1-1 tutoring following the 60-hour training and preparation program that the teens must complete – the matching process of teens and seniors begins in July.

  • OATS – center-based and 'hyperlinking' the generations. This OATS non-profit program, Senior Planet, in New York City offers training (more than 5000 older adults) including programs to link seniors to young people, and its Senior Planet Exploration Center, offering workshops and demonstrations of technology. Once seniors are online at OATS, they have access to multiple online and in-person training and tips, and the site notes that OATS has provided substantial assistance in helping older adults save money on prescription drugs by buying them online.

  • Volunteer-based programs. Throughout the United States, volunteers give their time to train older adults on the use of technology – from NCOA senior centers (see Tech Boot Camp) to libraries to SeniorNet to OASIS.  These are the most substantial and nationwide way of our present time.  But one wonders about tech training from volunteers – who trains the trainers? Do all of these volunteers know that Android 4.1 has the Heartbleed bug – and that Android 4.3 doesn’t? That one-fourth of PCs don’t have the latest anti-virus protection (yes, it turns out that iOS on iPhones and Macs is vulnerable too.) And beyond that, online fraud (including identity theft and Internet scams promoted through websites) is a growing problem as well.

Driving – a device, not a car – requires training. Driving a car or a motorcycle without a license is against the law. When buying a car, the salesperson usually explains new features. When you buy a home, you’ve most likely taken a tour. But when you buy a device (phone, tablet, computer) in a store, you can easily check out with just a receipt. No training is required if none was requested. When a bank branch announces that it is closing, are customers invited in for an in-person tour of mobile banking, a chance to sign up for a training session? Is there even space in the branch to run such a session?  Does the customer even have a device that could take a picture of a check assuming that they would want to do so?  Do they know where to go or how to consult with a doctor remotely? As we think about the training programs needed now and moving forward – hopefully training on security, online finance, and healthcare technology will be on the must-provide list.


I would love to be a volunteer for those folks to help them get online and make good use of smart phones and tablets. Rewarding and educational for everyone involved I would think. I wonder who in my area I could ask how to get in on something like this. Great piece Laurie!

Look for a branch of SeniorNet in your area. I've used senior net on both ends. I volunteer to help seniors learn about tablets (I'm a "young" senior) and I take classes from SeniorNet to polish my very rusty Excel skills.

Glad to see this and endorse it completely. We have been dealing with the most intimidated and neediest older adults throughout the country for the past 14 years. Those 80,000 people were barred by access, skill,and most of all, intimidation. Generations on Line now has a tablet edition; the pilots, partnered with the Phialdelphia Corporations for Aging and Coming of Age, show the remarkable adaptablility of even the most digitally illiterate elders. let's keep the conversation going.

To get to my bank, I would have to ride the bus, walk a bit to the bank, reverse the process and in New England winters, that would be almost impossible for long periods of time.
Thus, online banking is the only way to go. The bank pays some of my bills and the rest are charged to my Visa which I then turn and pay off while sitting warm and cozy with a cup of coffee.
With SS requiring people to have direct deposit is fantastic, as I remember an elderly neighbor years ago always worrying that it might get lost in the mail or go to the wrong address.
Those who do not have tablets, smart phones (I don't as I refuse to give up my flip top 5 yr old Nokia) or computers are only hurting themselves without their knowing how much better things might be for them with them.


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