Webinar May 19th – Blaze a New Trail Online: Resources for Seniors! followed by Discussion in the Technology and Learning CoP

Blaze a New Trail Online: Resources for Seniors, A Webinar presented by Federal agency partners
May 19, 2016, 1:30 EDT

In honor of Older Americans Month, LINCS is excited to announce a webinar “Blaze a New Trail Online: Resources for Seniors”.

If you teach older adults digital skills, this webinar is packed with resources that will be useful to you.

Scheduled for Thursday May 19th at 1:30 PM EDT, the webinar will address digital literacy and broadband adoption issues affecting seniors. Contributors to the webinar will include representatives from:

  • U. S. Department of Education, Office of Career Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE)
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • U. S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications Information Administration,
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
  • Federal Trade Commission, and
  • Non-profit organizations, World Education, Inc. and EveryoneOn

Register for the webinar, hosted by LINCS RPDC 1, at: https://tinyurl.com/blazeanewtrailonline.

Learn about new digital access and literacy efforts to assist older adult learners, and find out about low-cost deals to help connect seniors to life-long learning opportunities.

Bring your questions and comments.

Following the webinar on Thursday, and through Friday, May 20th, in the Technology and Learning CoP we can discuss how to use the information presented in the webinar, including information about:

  • Why older adults don't use the Internet, and why they do
  • The Pass It On program
  • The modernized Lifeline Program
  • Everyone On
  • What Libraries offer older adults online
  • What LINCS offers older adults
  • The NTIA Broadband Adoption Toolkit

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning CoP



Blaze a New Trail…  Online! Webinar Resources

Department of Education

Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) - http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/index.html

LINCS - https://lincs.ed.gov/

Older Adults and Technology Use - http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/03/older-adults-and-technology-use/

FTC - Pass It On - http://ftc.gov/passiton

FTC Resources


http://Ftc.gov/pasalo (Spanish)




FCC – Lifeline - https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/lifeline-support-affordable-communications

Everyone On - http://everyoneon.org/

Institute of Museum and Library Services 

Keys to Engaging Older Adults @ your library - http://www.webjunction.org/explore-topics/older-adults.html

Older Adults and Seniors - http://connect.ala.org/files/ALAToolkitOlderAdults2016.pdf

Sample Needs Assessment - http://alulike.org/services/kumukahi.html

Creative Aging Toolkit for Public Libraries - http://www.lifetimearts.org/services/creative-aging-toolkit/

LINCS Digital Literacy Initiative - https://lincs.ed.gov/programs/digital-literacy

America's Literacy Directory - https://literacydirectory.org

LINCS Learner Center - https://learner.lincs.ed.gov/

Digital Learn - https://www.digitallearn.org/

Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment - https://www.digitalliteracyassessment.org/

NTIA Broadband Adoption Toolkit -  http://www2.ntia.doc.gov/files/NTIA_2013_BroadbandUSA_Adoption_Toolkit.pdf

Digital Literacy, Consumer & Health Information 

Digital Literacy Dot Gov - www.digitalliteracy.gov

DigitalLearn.org - https://www.digitallearn.org/

LINCS Digital Literacy Initiatives - http://lincs.ed.gov/programs/digital-literacy

GCF LearnFree -  http://www.gcflearnfree.org/

FTC Consumer Information - https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/

NIH Senior Health -  http://nihseniorhealth.gov/

Trainer and staff training

Broadband Adoption Toolkit - http://www.ntia.doc.gov/toolkit

Minnesota literacy Council, Curriculum and Lesson Plans - http://mnliteracy.org/mnliteracy.org/tools/curriculum-lesson-plans

Helping Older Adults Search for Health Information Online:  Toolkit for Trainers - http://nihseniorhealth.gov/toolkit/toolkit.html

Technology Trainer Competencies - http://create.coloradovirtuallibrary.org/technology-trainer-competencies

Below is a message I received from a webinar participant. What collective wisdom and suggestions do you have? "We are in a senior center where we have about 50 people daily come in to play bingo, eat lunch, play cards and socialize. We created a computer class last year where we had about 20 seniors come to learn the basics. It was a huge hit, but we noticed that the age group was not what we were looking for. A lot of people 60-65 showed up, but the older seniors felt they could not learn. Do you have any ideas or recommendations for us?

Steve, and others,

The answer to this question, interestingly, may be in the question itself. The basic idea is to start with the learners' interests, goals, or needs, to find something that so motivates them that they will struggle to overcome the technology learning challenges. In this case, it might be interests such as bingo or cards, that could be played not only face-to-face when they come to the center but with the same center members -- or others -- online. Online lunch eating, however, is more difficult, although I once attended a face-to-face traditional Wassail singing party in Massachusetts in which we sang and ate and drank with another group who were in the U.K. There was a little lag in the singing that made it less than perfect, but the lag in the food and beverages was not noticable. : - )

Another answer may be using Skype, Google Hangout or Join Me or another free video conferencing program, to keep in touch with grand (or great grand) children, or with other family members who are at a distance -- highly motivating for some seniors. Another interest that motivates some people, including older seniors, is sports, for example soccer. Getting the soccer (football) scores from one's home country motivates many to learn to find and use home country websites.

David J. Rosen



I love all of the ideas that David shared and those ideas reminded me of how powerful it is to give seniors the ability to access all of their old favorite hits through technology. To see a senior's eyes light up as an old tune rekindles a memory is great! When the senior can also watch video footage of a live performance of that same tune very often the feet start tapping the legs start twitching the hips are gyrating even in their beds and the smiles are infectious all around. Technology certainly has the means to connect us in ways we could never imagine before. It also has the ability to connect us to our past and help us reflect all of the joy and sadness we all experience in life. Does anyone have favorite tools they use to digitally reflect back to a time in their life to remind themselves of what the world was like back then?

A few months ago, when I made a trip to Florida to help my “snowbird” mother settle in for the winter, I tried to help her (87) and an uncle (93) learn to use Windows 10 on their new laptops. My mother had been using computers for almost 20 years, starting with Windows 98 and then Vista, and my uncle was forced to upgrade from Windows XP when Microsoft stopped supporting it. Both were highly motivated: my mother wanted to see pictures of her great-grandchildren and my uncle wanted to manage his stocks online. Windows 10 can be a bit confusing, but the interface is not that big a leap from what preceded it. Because of age-related memory problems, however, teaching them to use it was as difficult as teaching someone who had never used a computer before and was unfamiliar with the real-world experiences on which the visual metaphors of the interface are based.

In the “NIH Senior Health” link that Steve posted, there is a section on “Forgetfulness: Knowing When to Ask for Help” (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/forgetfulness) which might be of help to anyone trying to teach computer skills to the very old. Exceptional patience is a must.

Another thing to consider is that people born before WWII went through a different educational system and came of age in a less technology-influenced environment than those born after the war. Again, interfaces are based on metaphors for the real world experiences, but if your real world doesn’t contain these experiences, these metaphors aren’t going to make sense. In this case, they will have to first learn the experience and then the metaphor.

And on the subject of music, here’s a link to “The 1920s Radio Network” (http://mediaplayer.whro.org/1920s)which plays music from the beginnings of recorded music (i.e., circa 1900) through big-band-influenced music of the 1960s. I listen to it myself from time to time and try to imagine what it was like living in that era, so it can also be a useful lesson in Americana.

David, Diana, Ed and Robert,

On behalf of Jackie who works in the senior center, I want to thank those who shared your ideas. I passed them on. Below are two more sets of suggestions and a thank you from her.

From Diana Satin:

·  Have the non-attending seniors identified a goal for using computers, such as reasons named in the webinar? 

·  Can the seniors who've attended be the recruiters, teaching assistants, and/or tutors? They may be able to reach the others effectively. 

·  Do they need a different structure for the lessons so that they feel more confident about trying the class, and so that they feel success immediately once they start the class? Some examples include pairing them up with one another or with a class graduate, having supplemental 1:1 or small-group tutoring sessions to practice what's learned in class, breaking the course content into smaller chunks that might be less intimidating, or the class meetings or courses could be shorter.

From Steve Quann:

I think, although it might sound trite, success flows from interest to comfort to competency.

So I think one key point is the goals Diana spoke of. It is this relevance that motivates or sustains them when they go beyond comfort level to move to competence. 

I was struck with their interest in games. You probably had teachers use solitaire or other games to get then engaged and then comfortable as they learn to use the mouse in an easy and fun way.

Another is photos. I recall seeing our 85 year old relative flipping through grandchildren photos. This was with a tablet and if you have them, many people have found them an easy way to start.

I know folks might want a real course and they can do it. I just think starting with relevance like health and fun first with one computer and people coming up to participate with online bingo or jeopardy games is one way to get to comfort. (Might be good exercise too!)

After the interest and comfort the competency comes much easier and flows from a need or desire to learn something new. 

Thank you from Jackie:

You have been so helpful and really allowed my creativeness to flow.

You mentioned games and the tablet idea and suddenly I knew just what to do to introduce tablets and computers to our seniors!

The other ideas were helpful as well and really allowed me to understand just where I was going wrong in my own thinking.  Thank you again, I really appreciate everything you’ve done for not only us her in the office, but for our seniors as well.


If you attended the "Blaze a New Trail... Online" webinar yesterday, and even if you didn't, and have comments or questions about teaching older adults technology skills, please post them now.

Here are some of my questions for you:


1. Do you teach older adults digital literacy, computer, or portable digital device skills to help therm increase their technology comfort and competence and use technology to meet their needs, accomplish their goals, find and evaluate information, or pursue their interests? If so, tell us about the opportunities and challenges you find in doing this.

2. Did you know that the numbers of seniors who use the Internet are increasing, especially among those who are younger, wealthier and more educated?

  • Are you seeing more seniors enrolling in your program(s) to gain digital skills?
  • If so, do you offer them digital literacy classes?
  • What do you use for assessing their computer or portable digital device skills?
  • What do you use for a digital literacy curriculum?
  • Do you need suggestions for assessment or curriculum?

3. Which of these uses, if any, do you find that older adults in your programs are interested in?

  1. Communication with family and friends, including Facebook, social gaming such as at the AARP site and Skype or Google Hangout
  2. Getting and/or sending photos
  3. Reading for pleasure (ebooks, ezines, and sites of niche interests)
  4. Connecting with others who have the same interests or hobbies or past experiences (high school friends, Veterans' groups, Peace Corps friends, scrabble friends, etc. 
  5. Civic engagement such as news, community (church, Sr. Center) events
  6. Services such as taxes, library, online banking, VA and SS benefits
  7. Health literacy such as e-charts, email to a doctor or other medical practitioner, medical knowledge (not only for themselves, but to learn more about ailments and diagnoses of loved ones), sending vital signs or daily weight to their medical team
  8. Emergency preparedness such as weather updates

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning CoP


This discussion can continue throughout the upcoming week (of May 23rd) in case there are people who joined the Blaze a New Trail Online webinar who were not yet LINCS Community members, and who want to join us. Of course, Technology and Learning members, whether you saw the webinar or not, can contribute and, for example if you teach seniors, consider answering the questions I posted on Friday.

David J. Rosen

Technology and Learning CoP Moderator


The assumption behind the phrase 'digital literacy' is that the potential user currently lacks some skills or knowledge that is necessary for success online. But the designers of the technologies we use lack some skills and knowledge, too: how to create simple, usable, accessible products that attract new users. This especially applies to the potential users we're now aiming at -- 'last adopters -- who may lack confidence, feel stigmatized, have physical, sensory, or cognitive limitations, and who may have had bad prior experiences with technology. Designers should become more literate about users!

And they are doing so, for many reasons. Sometimes improving usability or accessibility serves all users. For example, the move from desktop to tablet has made digital literacy easier, because using a mouse is less intuitive than using a touchscreen, for one.

So, the designers are doing their jobs better. What can we in the digital literacy/inclusion community do to help? Here are a few items:

  • Increase awareness of usability and accessibility issues in using technology. This is not about medical conditions; it's about a gap between what the gadget demands of the user, and what the user can comfortably perform. Many people with functional limitations do not identify as having a disability; they shouldn't have to.
  • Review digital literacy materials and programs for possible barriers/speed bumps, and make improvements as feasible.
  • Infuse train-the-trainer programs with awareness of usability and accessibility issues and solutions. Emphasize practical details and limited scope -- no one is expecting you to become experts or spend millions. The range of easy-to-use, built-in solutions keeps growing, and together they are probably sufficient for 90% of seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Do focused outreach to disability-oriented organizations and other places where these issues may be relevant.


Hi Jim,

Welcome to the Technology and Learning Group. Glad you are able to join this discussion.

Sometimes, when I am presenting to groups of educators about technology I hold up a pencil and say,  "I would like to introduce you to this technology, its advantages and disadvantages, and in this session teach you how to use it." Everyone laughs, of course. "The point," I say, "is that electronic technology should be designed so that it is as easy to use as a pencil." People generally agree, but a couple of times someone has pointed out that at some point in our lives, for most of us when we are children, we need to learn how to hold a pencil and, of course, how to form letters and words, to read and write, and perhaps to draw.

Years ago I attended a lecture on adult literacy given by adult basic skills researcher, Dr. Thomas Sticht, in which he briefly referred to the other side of the literacy coin, writing plainly and simply. He said that if it were up to him no one would graduate from college without being able to write at a fifth grade level. Of course, it's not necessarily easy to learn to write clearly, plainly and simply -- at a fifth grade level. Mark Twain apparently once apologized to a friend for writing such a long letter explaining that he didn't have time to write a short one.

One of the things you appear to be raising is the issue of good design, or perhaps Universal Design. A well-designed tool or affordance that allows one to do something should not be difficult to figure out. A glass door, for example, no matter how attractive the design, is a failure if when approaching it one cannot without thinking figure out how it opens.  Tools should be designed so well that those who have not used them before can easily figure out how to use them.

My favorite personal example of poor design was a new feature several years ago on a Toshiba portable laptop I was given to replace an outdated Toshiba laptop I had happily used for years. When I unpacked it I didn't see a manual and didn't know that computer manuals were now digital. To make matters worse, I couldn't figure out how to turn the laptop on. I looked everywhere for the familiar on/off logo, tried every possible button. Nothing worked. Finally, I called a tech friend who was also puzzled, but had heard that some new laptops had a recessed sliding plastic door over the button to prevent accidentally turning the computer on or off, ultimately not a bad feature. The recessed slide was the same color grey as the case and, for those like me who didn't know about the sliding door feature, it was impossible to anticipate it. Perhaps all Toshiba had needed to do was to put an inexpensive piece of removable plastic tape with an on/off logo, and an arrow pointing the sliding door. The problem I think is that in the rush to get new products out the door they are not tested by people who are not already familiar with the product.

Thanks, Jim, for raising these important design issues.

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning CoP


David posted something similar as I was writing this, so I’ll put it under his comment.

Let me add a couple concrete examples of how bad interface design can make sites difficult to use or inaccessible.

Last week, I needed to download forms from a couple of government websites. In both cases, when  I clicked on “click here” to get the form, nothing on the subsequent screen appeared to have anything to do with the form. For the one I absolutely needed, I made an educated guess on what to click on and found it. I could never find the other one, and gave up.

My first thought in both cases was that the designers needed to take a remedial writing course, because these were essentially communication issues, not technology ones. If you call something by one name in the first paragraph, call it by the same name in subsequent paragraphs, or at least make it clear they are the same. If you call a form by one name on one page, call it by the same name on the page you link to.  Don’t force the user to make a leap of faith.

The interfaces I find most navigable, be it a software interface or a website, are those that are based on the hierarchical tree structures we find everywhere in the non-digital parts of our lives. We find these hierarchies in the way our government is organized, organizational charts, family trees, writing (topic sentence followed by supporting information), library shelves (books are organized by topic), and so on. This is something we need to understand in order to make sense of the world around us, and when we use a digital interface, it’s a lot easier to use it if the designer has followed these familiar models when feasible. Sometimes, though, it’s not feasible because of the nature of the content.