Skills for the 21st Century

Cognitive and Literacy Skills for Success in a Fast-Paced Technological Age

How Those Over 60 Use E-mail

Posted by durencls on April 23, 2010

Ok, while we have been focusing on cognitive skills important for technology usage, Bill and I are tech geeks, and we also look at/track interesting information about teaching technology ‘hard skills’ as well.  This recent article from Science Daily, for example, caught my interest:

 How Do Older People Use E-Mail?

Often the folks hardest to reach with Technology are those born several generations past. These folks might say, “I don’t need this stuff,” or “I’m too old to learn technology,” and honestly believe they have too few years to bother learning or that their brain is simply wired wrong.  In truth, with medical advances, we as a society are living longer – folks at 60 may live 20 – 30 more years, and more and more folks in this age bracket are joining Facebook and shopping online (so ‘brain-wiring’ is more likely a motivation issue – not medical).

Here are the conclusions from the article that I thought were very important for Adult Educators trying to teach ‘hard tech’ skills to this age group:

Researchers have demonstrated that older people use email within a restricted circle of two different social groups: relatives (a few emails a month, but which are detailed and emotional) and close friends (more frequent and exchanging information based on their social life).

 They use email to communicate with their social circles; they don’t use it as a means of establishing relationships with people they don’t know. For this, they have other more down to earth strategies in their lives such as going to a social centre to a dance, and meeting people there,” confirms the researcher.

This emphasizes the idea that technology should be taught within a PURPOSE that is MEANINGFUL to the LEARNER. All too often we see technology seemingly taught for its own sake  – “Look, here’s the internet and here’s all the cool things you can do with it, ” or “Here is Microsoft Excel – and here’s how you accomplish all the basic functions.”  This teaches the technology, but without really connecting it to what the learners (including teachers!) want or need right now.

Using this research as a basis, a better approach might be, “Bring to class the e-mail address of 3 relatives who regularly use  e-mail and who you want to try communicating with online.”  Then set them up an e-mail account, and teach them how to:

  1. Send a basic e-mail to those 3 folks (session one)
  2. Read a reply, and how to reply to a reply (session 2 – you might send them a message to be sure they’ll have one)
  3. Add an address into their address book, and how to file away and trash messages  (session 3 – during this session, take pictures of each of them and later send each of them their own picture)
  4. View an attached picture and when NOT to view attachments & why (session 4 – for homework/practice have them send e-mail to at least 2 peers in class)
  5. Forward a message (with their picture attached) to their family  – asking for a picture in return. Practice replying to friends, adding addresses to address book, filing messages, etc. (session 5 – homework for next session is to buy a small flash drive for $5-6)
  6. Save the pictures sent to them via e-mail to a flash drive (previous ), and how to attach a file from the flash drive to an e-mail or reply. Practice filing messages, forwarding, sending & replying with attachments. (Session 6)
  7. Determine what spam/junk mail is and how to deal with it. (You may have to forward them some so they can see).

…etc.  Hopefully – you can see the idea. And HEY, the above is not a bad start for AE or ESOL learners of any age who have low tech skills!

The pace of tech change is not going to slow down for those who are older. It is our job as adult educators and technologists to help older learners see how tech can assist them to achieve their goals. We need to take up the challenge to effectively help them use even the simplest and most established of these technologies so that they will not be left isolated and alone as they live further and further into the 21st century.


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