Have a listen to yours truly interviewed by Allister Jenks discussing the topic of Teaching Technology to The Young and Old on this week's Chit Chat Across The Pond segment for Allison Sheridan's NosillaCast Mac Podcast show "#462 Watershot underwater iPhone case, IcyDock EZ-Dock, AnyFont, teaching technology to the young and old"
Of course you should listen to the whole episode because ya might learn somethin! (Click the link above to see the entire post for the full show content.)
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This is my written contribution to the show:
CCATP — Melissa Davis on Teaching Technology to The Young and Old: Hard or Just Scary?
I love to compare 7 year-olds with 77 year-olds. I happen to be the parent of a 7 year old (and a 4 year old). I’ve worked with people of all different ages helping them or teaching them how to use Apple tech and most of my clients these days are in the 60 to 80 year old age group.
A person’s life experiences work to shape their personality and vice-versa. Most small children, who presumably haven’t had much exposure to computers, who haven’t yet developed much of a fear for anything, will use and embrace technology because they naturally explore things in their environment. Nowadays babies are born to parents who capture their very first moments with their smart phones. They’re accustomed to this thing their parents tote around – in addition to them – that glows and makes noise and constantly gets shoved in their little faces. Of course there are also parents who are careful to keep their babies away from the exposure to backlit displays for their own reasons. There are inconclusive studies out there that suggest backlit screen exposure can be harmful to developing eyes. I can not confirm or deny any of it at this point so I’m working off of experience with a healthy dose of caution and practice of moderation. Of course the nature vs nurture debate will come up here as well.
Let’s think about the type of exposure. This could be a void of technology exposure in the home and limited to school or vice-versa. It could be a third-world country. Think of the documentaries you’ve watched where film crews go to these countries to document the lives of the people there. Watch how some react to having people moving about with these large and small cameras and computers. Some are cautious, others are curious.
Think about a generation of workers in the 80s and 90s who were introduced to computers in the workplace. So many times you’ll hear people say, “I use a computer at work all day, the last thing I want to do is stare at a screen for longer than I have to.” That generation is skeptical of computers. They’ve been taught computers and devices are for work, not play and that work could never be much fun. Work is not something to enjoy. Their exposure to computers has been, “if I press any other buttons besides the ones I’ve been instructed to press, I might blow up the computer and my boss will fire me.” That kind of exposure breeds fear so no wonder some people in their 50s and 60s can be somewhat apprehensive to computers. They’re also the generation that believes Big Brother is out to get them. We’re seeing that again now with NSA. We’re all very cautious about using devices because of how they infringe upon our privacy or how we might get into trouble by using them.
Lots of people either forget or don’t understand that you can operate software without being connected to the Internet! There are fun things you can do with computerized devices that don’t involve being “online.” This is where I have to teach clients about using the Mail app versus Gmail.
People both young and old may see learning how to use computerized devices as a chore or a task they need to learn and want to get it out of the way so they can go do something else. You could have children in which you’re trying to teach them something specific, say word processing, and you’re getting into the nitty-gritty of how to format a paragraph of text for a report. They may be daydreaming about the video game they want to play while you’re trying to teach them something fundamental.
Older folks have short attention spans also. They get “fried” or “OD” pretty quickly. It’s no secret to us that time practically evaporates when we’re working on something technical whether it’s troubleshooting a problem (that time seems to go the quickest because you’re under stress to work some magic to fix it) or teaching someone how to do something.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer is that everyone learns things a little differently. When you’re working with someone you need to find out how they learn best and adapt your method of teaching them.
Consistency also is key and hard to stick to when your working in a field where everything changes so rapidly. How do you keep consistent? Many people crave consistency. One way I try to achieve this is by drawing parallels across different apps. This is one of many things I love about the Mac OS. I can say things like, "Remember this last lesson we talked about how to search for things within an application and I told you to look for the little magnifying glass? Well, what do you see right here? Notice how the symbol is the same?"
Another way to achieve consistency is by modifying the interface preferences — make everything look the same, enlarge the fonts, and if you customize the toolbar for them, try to put similar tools in the same spots to reinforce muscle memory.
What have you learned by teaching the old and young?
- Relating analog to digital examples helps.
- Do not take little things for granted. I cringe every time someone says, “Yeah, ya just hit enter.” There are people that don’t understand what it means to “Hit a key” and they don’t even know you meant a key on the keyboard for starters. Do not assume everyone understands all jargon. Look through their eyes and start slow and basic, then drop it down one more level lower because chances are you’re not aiming low enough. Ask them about their experiences first and try to gauge what terminology to use. Explain how you're trying to strike a balance of not insulting their intelligence but also not going way over their head, too.
- When you say “to your left” be prepared to say, “your other left.” People get nervous when they’re being instructed and fumble over basic things and it’s natural. Do not make fun of them for it. You’re no better!
- Don’t do it all for them, put them in the driver’s seat. If you always do it, they won’t learn it. Be gentle at times when you do need to do it first in order to understand it and tell them so. I explain, “In order for me to teach you this, let me do it first and then I’ll break it down for you.” Say things like, “Don’t feel pressured to remember this all at once. We will get there. I’ll go over it as many times as you need.”
- Explain as you go along – verbalize as much as you can while you're whizzing the pointer around the screen.
- Teach people to leave themselves a little breadcrumb along the way.
- Have a boat-load of patience and get used to repeating yourself, hearing the same stories and questions over and over.
Sometimes clients need to stop and tell you a story. It’s how they process information and deal with overload. It’s OK. They know the clock is ticking and you’re charging for it. It took me a while to learn this and I felt very guilty at first, but friendships develop at a deeper level and it’s incredibly important to for trust especially when you’re working with people who are showing you their online banking and other very personal information.
It’s all personal. Very personal. Emotional. This is the most true when teaching people how to work with digital photos or how to make a birthday card or calendar. Be sensitive to this.