Research and Outcomes
ABC Television’s Transformation Nation featured Net Literacy’s Senior Connects and Safe Connects programs across the county in syndicated programming.
Senior Connects training is primarily conducted as (a) senior centers, (b) retirement apartments, and (c) independent living facilities.
The most challenging population group are those residents that live in independent living facilities. As contrasted to seniors that have membership in senior centers or living in retirement apartments, seniors residing in independent living facilities tend to be a little older and have a greater incidence of physical or cognitive impairment. In fact, depending upon the facility, up to 25% of residents in independent living facilities may have some form of cognitive impairment, including early stage dementia, or early state Alzheimer’s. Much of the research has focused on residents living in independent living facilities, because in addition to impairments, this represented a population group that tended to be less technologically-savvy and more technophobic.
To maximize resident participation and graduation, Net Literacy student volunteers always receive “train the trainer” instruction prior to commencing a Senior Connects training class.
This research study was conducted in five independent living facilities – one in a rural community, two in an urban community and two in a suburban community. It was difficult to conduct standardized research among five independent living facilities selected because the population groups were diverse from an economic and demographic perspective. As an example, the average age of the residents were younger in the suburban facilities as contrasted to the urban or rural facilities. A significantly larger research project must be conducted in order to make statistically significant projections to a universe of independent living facility residents. Consequently the primary purpose of the research and surveys conducted was to fine-tune the tactics utilized by the students to teach Senior Connects and not to conduct a statistically significant survey that could be projected to a universe of seniors with a specified confidence level.
A Rural (one healthcare and rehab facility)
- 145 occupants
- Average age – 73
- Total number of residents in first and second classes – 47
- Senior ‘student’ completion – 100%
- Percent of senior ‘students’ accessing the Internet twice each month or more frequently, one year after training was completed – 96% (verified by survey and by asking the activity director)
B Suburban (two more affluent independent living facilities)
- 365 occupants and 184 occupants, respectively
- Average age – 70 and 67, respectively
- Total number of residents in first and second classes – 53 and 62, respectively
- Senior student completion percentage – 93% and 97%, respectively
- Percent of senior ‘students’ accessing the Internet twice each month or more frequently, one year after training was completed – 93% (verified by survey and by asking the activity director) – note: one of the senior ‘students’ had moved and one had ‘passed’ which impacted the number of residents using the Internet one year after training was completed.
C Urban (less affluent facilities whose residents were older on average).
- 220 occupants and 39 occupants, respectively
- Average age – 79 and 84, respectively
- Total number of residents in first and second classes – 87 and 14, respectively
- Senior student completion percentage – 100% and 75%, respectively
- Percentage of senior ‘students’ accessing the Internet twice each month or more frequently, one year after training was completed – 93% (verified by survey and by asking the activity director) – note: two of the senior ‘students’ had ‘passed’ which impacted the number of residents using the Internet one year after training was completed. Excluding the two residents that passed, 100% of the senior ‘students’ were accessing the Internet on a regular basis.
It should be noted that once computers were place in the libraries or multipurpose rooms in these facilities, residents viewed computers as being “in their home.” Subsequent training occurred at the suburban and urban facilities, but statistics were not maintained. Students worked with the facilities’ activity director or other personnel to announce the training and encourage residents to “give it a try” and work with “friendly high school volunteers that wanted to have fun with seniors teaching them what’s interesting to them on the Internet.”
Pre-class senior citizen survey results:
- 80% had not previously used a computer
- 55% had previously used a typewriter
- 10% had used a computer at work (although some didn’t remember how to use it)
- 39% had unsuccessfully taken classes in the past
- 43% had adult children asking them to learn how to access the Internet
- 27% were convinced by a friend that took an earlier class
Post-class senior citizen survey results:
- Primary reasons of those not completing a class: sickness or moved from facility
- Primary reason why those completed the class: liked working with the young students who they found “friendly,” “patient,” and made training interesting because they showed how the Internet could be used
- Most important factors why the residents took the training: computers were located inside the facility, other residents discussed their successes, and working with students was a break in their routine, one-on-one training with students, less “scary” because “everyone” understood it, learned I couldn’t break the computer
Success factors based upon observation, questions, and other qualitative information from the Net Literacy student volunteers that helped modify the strategy, tactics, and curriculum in independent living facilities. The Senior Connects “magic,” as others have described it, includes:
- Build computer labs inside independent living facilities
- Middle school and high school students teach senior citizens and create a bond between the seniors that they teach
- All training is conducted on a one-on-one basis
- Training was made available at no cost
- During the first lesson, pass RAM, a mouse and a keyboard around an allow residents to ‘touch’ the equipment – thus demystifying computer equipment
- Purposely drop a mouse or a keyboard on the floor during the first session to show seniors that it is difficult to ‘break’ a computer
- Training and collateral materials have been modified to include larger sized font, more pictures, and minimal techno-jargon
- During the 55 minute class, 10 minutes are allocated to “explore” the Internet with the senior citizens – exploring their interest and identifying their own personal “value proposition”
- Senior citizen ‘students’ are most interested in or agree to take classes because:
- Emailing family and friends is a priority
- They value receiving pictures from family members
- Other friends and neighbors at the facility successfully learned how to access the Internet through Senior Connects training – and the senior felt that they were “smarter” than the resident that successfully learned
- Using ebay (deemed a virtual “garage sale”) is interesting
- Researching health topics and concerns is important to them – especially because they do not want to discuss some of their serious health concerns with other residents
- Obtaining real time news is valuable
- Social pressure from senior ‘students’ that had learned how to access the Internet through the Senior Connects program made them feel “left out”
- Hobbies (e.g., playing bridge 24X7 with other bridge players through online bridge-oriented websites) was a value proposition that they had not considered
- Not being considered “to old to learn”
- Senior citizen ‘students’ have barriers to entry that include:
- Can’t afford computer or broadband in apartment
- Took a class in the past and “it went to fast”
- Feeling that they are “too old to learn”
- Fear of “breaking something” while “touching” a computer
- The Internet is a dangerous place
- There’s nothing of value for me on the Internet
- The Internet is a waste of time
Note: facilities and residents provided this information with candor because Net Literacy promised to use the information in the aggregate and not disclose the identify of any individuals or facilities.
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