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Group Workshop Futility | Their best option is a terrible way to learn technology

An AI-generated image of an elderly man standing in front of an elderly audience at a community center. He’s holding an iPad and appears to be trying to explain something to the audience
Midjourney prompt: a community center workshop facilitator showing a very confused audience of senior citizens how to use an ipad.

Looking around for technology training for seniors what you’ll predominantly find, whether online or in-person, are group classes. If you’ve ever attended one of these, or seen one happening – probably at the Apple Store – this is how it usually goes down:

Throng of seniors descends on scene early to get a good spot at the front, pens and notebooks at the ready. Trainer arrives and sets expectations about what they will cover, and that they won’t have time to address individual challenges. Then the trainer optimistically launches into a demonstration of one small specific task, like how to take photos, using a demonstration device to show what they’re doing. Hands shoot up right away. The trainer politely calls on someone. Their question is so arcane or specific to that person’s personal needs (or completely off-topic) so as to be nearly useless to the rest of the group. Trainer attempts to offer a short answer and move on, but that one question asker has their foot in the door and they’re going to wedge it open. They’ve come to get their questions answered – everyone else be damned. They become relentless. Even if someone else manages to get a word in, they don’t let up, going back to their specific use case repeatedly.

The trainer makes incremental progress through what they’d originally set out, trying to include as many other people as possible. Then they announce that time is up, thank everyone and ignore the still-raised hands that are waving desperately for one last question. As the trainer walks away an insistent cluster follows them, including Question Asker and all the others who couldn’t get a word in. They bail the trainer up for a few minutes until the manager comes to intervene, telling the cluster of seniors that the trainer is needed elsewhere, inviting them back to the next session tomorrow. This is group workshop futility. And despite being their best option it group workshops are a terrible way to learn technology.

All credit to Apple for making these free sessions available, but it’s not a great outcome for anyone involved. And the result is similar no matter the sponsor or venue: the seniors invest a lot of their time to compete for a little sliver of information that may or may not help them.

So why do technology training workshops play out like this? The answer is that the group settings are an ineffective way for anyone to learn to use technology, but especially seniors.

Most seniors need to learn technology – to pay bills, access healthcare or manage wealth. Many seniors want to learn technology – to stay in touch with family, organise photos or enjoy cat videos. No matter if their motivation is personal or necessary, they are crying out for help. But most solutions out there are not effective for their specific needs, and will not impact the senior digital illiteracy epidemic.

The great news, though, is that proven solutions are known even while they are not the norm. OnRamp Academy plans to change that.

Next time I’ll start showing you how.

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