For many, working with a computer or using a cell phone is simply part of their daily routine — they put no more thought into it than turning on a television.
For others who may not have that exposure to technology, computers and other technology can be a daunting, intimidating box of questions and concerns.
Working with a grant from AARP and Older Adult Technology Services (OATS), the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), part of Temple University University College, utilizing the training modules from OATS, has developed a series of programs designed to train older adults in the North Philadelphia area and beyond in basic and more advanced technology concepts in addition to arming them with the information and skills necessary to avoid scams that often target older individuals.
"Google awarded a grant to AARP and OATS, which is also known as Senior Planet, to pilot a project — Digital Skills Ready@50+ — in several cities around the country," said Adam Brunner, Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Temple University. "We applied for and received a $15,000 grant from AARP and OATS to develop free technology literacy programs through OLLI. For the past year, we have been training older adult women, and some men, who reside in North Philadelphia."
The goal of the program, Brunner said, "is to train primarily low-income minority women in the greater North Philadelphia area who want to improve their digital skills."
"The other focus is to hopefully train people who are still in the working world but want to develop the skills they need to succeed and thrive or increase their job eligibility," he said. "We've had a mix of people who are retired and some of whom are still working."
According to Brunner, the OLLI program has trained 59 individuals in skills ranging from email to saving data online to using smartphones. OLLI will also be offering participants scholarships to join the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
"I've focused on five individual workshops that I feel are beneficial to the students. I require everyone in the class to create a Gmail account and then we do one or two classes specifically about Gmail tips and tricks — we teach them everything about having an email account," he said. "We also talk about the Google workspaces, such as Google Drive, and the free online storage that is available. We additionally focus on how to find things online and how to stay safe and protect your personal information while online."
Another class also highlights the ins and outs of smartphones, Brunner said, for both Apple and Android users.
"One thing that we started doing during the spring semester and early summer is offering drop-in sessions where after I do my series of five classes, I invite people back to just show up with questions at our computer lab provided by the Temple Office of Community Affairs at Temple's Main Campus," he said. "It may be questions about what they learned in the classes, or it may be generally about something related to technology that they are struggling with."
The success of the workshops has inspired OLLI to create its own extremely low-cost digital literacy program — Digital Readiness for Individuals 50+ (DRIF+) — to continue providing workshops to the individuals who attended the Digital Skills Ready@50+ program who wish to continue sharpening their digital skills beyond the scope of the AARP grants, said Kim Celano, Senior Associate Director of Professional Development and Continuing Education.
While the AARP grant was set to end on June 30, "AARP was so impressed with (Brunner's) implementation of the program that they recently awarded OLLI $2,000 through the Fall semester to provide additional free workshops to a new group of 30 people who we have not trained before," she said. Individuals interested in joining the fall workshops should contact Brunner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The support for participants in the workshops has also expanded beyond the OLLI program, Celano said.
"(Brunner) was able to connect program participants with the Digital Equity Center," she said. "The DEC provides free refurbished computers to community members who engage with Temple University and show an interest in learning computers in some capacity — the individuals in Adam's workshops certainly qualified."
As individuals get older, Brunner said, "they say that the best thing you can do to build new neuronal pathways and take advantage of the brain's neuroplasticity is to learn a language or to learn an instrument."
"In many ways for some people, learning how to use a computer is like learning a new language. You can't exist in today's world without knowledge of technology — doctor's offices have created portals through which tech-savvy clients can communicate with doctors and hear back within 24 hours, are offering online meetings and telehealth; people get so much information through emails and social media channels," he said. "In order to stay current, in order to maintain contact with family and friends, in order to take advantage of all of the necessary medical and health resources that are available, it is essential that people build their digital skills."
The digital literacy program, Brunner said, "I think is a very positive thing for Temple to be offering people in the nearby communities."
"They know it's a Temple program, they are associating it with Temple, they're having a positive experience with a Temple training program. I think they gain a greater understanding that Temple is a valuable resource and benefit to the community," he said. "Hopefully the programs that we are offering are a jumping off point. I hope our students have gained a strong enough foundation using email and using the Internet so that they can leave this program ready to learn new things and build on their knowledge and skills."
About the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Temple University is a lifelong learning academy where people 50 years and older attend classes and pursue the joy of learning without the traditional academic requirements of tests and grades. Classes are held during the day in Center City Philadelphia, Ambler, PA, and online. OLLI celebrates and enriches aging, by creating a vibrant educational community, where people 50 years and over learn, teach, and discover together.
OLLI also offers opportunities for its students to volunteer their time to help manage the program and shape its direction and activities. OLLI's volunteer leadership has committees that advise the program on policy issues, vet new instructors and evaluate current instructors, assist with fundraising, oversee a lending library for members, and organize regular day trips.