Patience needed to teach older adults new technology


Gwinnett Senior Learning Center is a volunteer organization that trains seniors to use computers. Classes are offered in spring, fall and winter quarters at two locations: Bethesda Park Senior Center, 225 Bethesda Church Road, Lawrenceville; and George Pierce Park Community Center, 55 Buford Highway, Suwanee.

Sampling of GSLC classes

  • Essentials — Beginner's course on using email and the Internet.
  • Basic Word Processing — Learn to open and change documents; use spell check, bullets, numbering; insert photos and create and format a new document.
  • Excel 2007/2010 (spreadsheet) — Use Microsoft Excel to create budgets, checkbook registers and track investments.
  • Genealogy — Use Family Tree Maker to develop reports of your family history.
  • Facebook — Two-hour workshop on setting up a personal Facebook. Learn how to control privacy settings, add pictures, find friends and post comments on the popular social networking website.

Source: Gwinnett Senior Learning Center. For more go to

BlueHair Technology Group is a non-profit organization educating seniors on the latest technology and tools so they can communicate with family and friends.Classes offered throughout the year at public and private venues in the metro area.

Sampling of classes offered

  • Apple iPad training — Basic operations including sending emails, adding contacts, taking pictures and videos, editing and sending pictures, downloading Apps and listening to music.
  • Apple iPhone training — Basic operations including using the phone app, sending emails and adding contacts, taking pictures and videos, using the Map app, searching the Internet, downloading apps and listening to music.
  • LinkedIn Basics — Seminar on using the popular business networking site.

Source: BlueHair Technology Group. For more information go to

Sonny Hawkins of Alpharetta knows enough about the computer to keep track of his favorite websites. The 84-year-old former Milton High School teacher and football coach follows his beloved Bulldogs on and has even shifted some of his genealogy research online through

He’d like to do more, he said, but there’s a matter of remembering those pesky passwords. And he really doesn’t want to bother his adult son, a busy pastor in Calhoun, with yet another technology question.

The younger Hawkins works from the same model Apple as his dad and has the two computers linked so he can solve any problems that might arise. The relationship works beautifully, says the senior Hawkins.

“Older people need someone to sit with them one on one. If you do that, then I can get it. But, then there’s a problem with short-term memory and after awhile I’ll forget it,” Hawkins said.

“With older people, it’s repeat, repeat, repeat. You have to have patience.”

Computer skills are not intuitive for this generation, so every detail has to be broken down and repeated quite often, said Richard Porter, who is also a retired high school teacher. He now teaches computer skills to older adults with the all-volunteer Gwinnett SenioR Learning Center.

“A lot of people come in afraid they might break something. I tell them, ‘Look at the keyboard and see if you can find the self-destruction key.’ They look around for it. Then I tell them, ‘There’s not one. See, you can’t hurt it,’” Porter said.

GSLC offerings include a popular beginner’s class on email and the Internet, plus various other courses covering Microsoft Office, genealogy, newsletters and even Facebook. Class size is limited and volunteers help guide the students as an instructor teaches.

Using the mouse is difficult for most seniors to master, Porter said. Some have no keyboarding skills at all.

Many seniors find it easier to use mobile devices to browse favorite sites and stay connected with family and friends.

After Jane Ratliff of Johns Creek taught her 86-year-old mother how to use an iPad she realized there was a large group of other seniors who could also use these skills. So she founded BlueHair Technology Group, a nonprofit that educates older adults on using iPhones and iPads.

Ratliff said mobile devices are much easier for seniors to operate, with the added benefits of being portable and having countless apps available on things they enjoy.

“It opens up a whole new world to them, especially if they are living away from family. As mobility declines, isolation increases, and this keeps them connected,” she said.

Classes are held at various public and private venues throughout the metro area. Class sizes are also limited and community volunteers assist students during the sessions. Classes start with basic functions and continue through using apps.

Like Porter, Ratliff must also alleviate fears of breaking the device, or asking a dumb question. While classes may plod along at a snail’s pace, the outcome is satisfying for both student and teacher.

“At the end of the class, students line up to tell me how grateful they are for teaching them,” said Porter, adding that he never received such praise from high school students.