As British society increasingly becomes ‘digital by default’, Beth Britton explores how to support older people to build their digital skills and make the most of this connectivity revolution.

Digital Inclusion

In an increasingly digitally dependent world, older people who are not skilled in using web-based services still number in the millions. In fact, in their 2018 report, ‘The digital age – new approaches to supporting people in later life get online’, the Centre for Better Ageing claim that:

“4.8 million people over the age of 55 are not online – making up 91% of all ‘non-users’.”

Of that 4.8 million, the Centre for Better Ageing believes the majority are people experiencing the lowest levels of wealth, health and education. Their lack of connectivity potentially affects their access to everything from government services to banking.

However, for older people who manage to buck this trend, digital inclusion can be a revelation. It helps them to stave off loneliness, improve connectivity with relatives, and open up opportunities for online shopping.

What do older people need to begin their digital adventure?

The obvious requirements are a device (tablet, smartphone or laptop) and internet connection (access to stable Wi-Fi).

Slightly less obvious is that a degree of encouragement may be needed to get them started. Sometimes older people just need a little reassurance that it’s not as difficult to join the digital world as they may think.

You rarely see adverts featuring older people using devices. This ageist attitude can be off-putting to those taking that first step.

Many care providers now actively encourage digital inclusion, with iPads being a popular option. It’s important to remember, however, that having these items available is only the first step. The goal should be supporting older people to learn how to use these devices and building their confidence to do so by creating positive experiences.

Learning digital skills when you’re older

If younger family members are willing to teach their older relatives, or even just support them to access online courses this can help to build an older person’s digital skills. Some organisations offering these courses are:

Community Courses

Age UK has a search facility on their website to check for IT courses in an older person’s community. There may also be beginners IT courses run by the local library, day service or college.

Alternatively, social care professionals may also be able to impart their knowledge of local schemes where volunteers (perhaps IT students) can teach basic digital skills to older people.

This film from Age UK shows a group of older people learning to stay in touch with loved ones from volunteers at a digital drop-in centre.

What are the most useful digital skills for an older person?

According to the Tech Partnership’s Basic Digital Skills Framework, there are five basic digital skills that can be used to measure digital inclusion.

  • Managing Information – using a search engine to look for information, downloading and saving something found online
  • Communicating – sending a personal message, learning to use simple messaging services like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger is a good place to start
  • Transacting – buying items or services online (inc. banking), installing apps etc.
  • Problem Solving – verifying information; finding a method of solving a problem using a digital service or online content
  • Creating – completing online application forms, or creating something new from existing images or video

Online Shopping

Once an older person has become savvier in navigating the web, they can begin exploring online shopping. Being able to do online grocery shopping is useful because:

  • It’s simple and convenient.
  • You can shop at a time that suits you
  • It’s easy to keep track of what you are spending
  • It helps avoid tiring shopping trips
  • There’s no more carrying heavy shopping bags home
  • It can be a good time-saver

Digital Unite has a great guide on how to get started shopping online.

Online Banking

With many bank branches closing, using online banking to check balances and move money around could save an older person from travelling long distances unnecessarily.

The Money Advice Service’s Beginners Guide to Online Banking is a great place to start if you want to know more about banking online.

Problem Solving

The internet can be great for finding items that can help make an older person’s daily living tasks easier. Supporting an older person to find these items can really help to build confidence and pleasure in surfing the internet.

This could include learning how to do something with a YouTube video, or talking to people with similar interests on forum-style websites like Gransnet.

Need more inspiration?

Look out for more Vodafone ‘TechConnect’ events coming to venues across the UK this year.

See Vodafone TechConnect events

These events help people aged 50+ to learn digital skills including:

  • Texting
  • Chatting on WhatsApp
  • Setting up an email address
  • Downloading apps

About the author:

Beth Britton is an award-winning content creator, consultant, trainer, mentor, campaigner and speaker who is an expert in ageing, health and social care.