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Digital Skills for Older Adults

Updated: Jan 21

Digital skills are like building blocks that are stacked on top of each other to form the foundation of knowledge, security and ultimately confidence that gives an older adult the wings to learn more.

Building blocks

According to the 2023 Australian Digital Inclusion Index, there will be an ongoing need to keep up to date with digital technologies and their applications as technology continues to evolve and become embedded into our society.

Research indicates that direct contact and positive experiences using computers generates improved attitudes and self-confidence in older adults on their digital skills journey (González et al 2015), which highlights the importance of understanding digital needs and learning styles for lifelong engagement.

Traditional Digital Skills for Older Adults

Traditional digital skills training has been an ongoing option for older adults both online and in person including programs from basic entry level to more structured and specific requirements such as:

  • Good Things Australia who provide a range of online computer courses designed for basic entry level.

  • The Be Connected government initiative and local U3A branch that offer both in person and online courses.

These courses assist older adults feel more comfortable around digital technology and aim to alleviate concerns they might be facing.

Lived Experiences

A report in the Journal of Future Studies (Nycyk 2015) found that the ongoing technological needs of older adult learners continues to change in line with current trends and influences from community groups, therefore expanding their learning into different topics, not just basic computer and software use. For example, social media platforms such as Instagram provide older adults with the ability to find out about, edit and share photos as well as providing a sense of connectedness and community through the use of the platform.

Not only do learners request step-by-step instructions but also learn the consequences of privacy and terms of use so they can decide if they want to use the platform.

This is also experienced by U3A Network Victoria’s Vice President Glenn Wall who says more and more U3A members are learning digital skills from this ‘lived experience’ approach.

U3A have developed a Community of Practice program focused on capturing lived experiences from older adults such as hobbies like genealogy which rely on digital technology of some kind. These specific interest areas inadvertently introduce older adults to digital technology and they become ‘digitally enabled’ while learning in an enjoyable casual environment. Other examples of lived experiences include activities such as social networking, internet browsing, watching short video clips and online shopping (Rinderud 2021), as well as new technologies on the market specifically designed for older adults such as the cloud-based VitalBand watch, robotic pets (Halpert 2019) and the gamification of a range of activities from golf scoring cards to cookbooks (Smith 2023).

Positive Experiences Through Self-socialisation

Understanding how older adults interact with digital technology through personal interests and lived experiences is an important insight for this cohort in the coming years especially when combined with the optimisation of pathways to entry.

Research by Aleti et al (2023) suggests there are three optional pathways for older adults when engaging with digital technology:

  1. Both traditional digital skills training and lived experiences suit older adults who prefer to search for information on their own which is known as a self-socialisation pathway.

  2. Reciprocal socialisation pathways suit those who prefer to communicate and exchange skills through peer to peer mentoring which could be through lived experiences as well as dedicated mentoring programs available such as U3A’s Community of Practice program.

  3. Outsourcing is the understanding that older adults will allow others to complete digital tasks on their behalf depending on the circumstances.

With the World Health Organization suggesting there will be nearly two billion seniors over 60 years old by 2050 as well as the growing evolution of digital tech, providing positive digital experiences to this cohort through lived experiences and appropriate pathways will be key.

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