Working with older learners

Many older people are not online so are a priority group for many digital inclusion projects

The statistics
4.2 million people age 55+ have never been online
94% of people who have never been online are aged 55+
Less than 10% of the total UK population is over 75
However 47% of people who have never used the internet in the UK are over 75

Image : messy graphic with text Biggest Issue

Older people often do not see the value and personal relevance of being online

Find a hook which motivates older people to help them to see the personal benefits of going online

  • Many older people lack awareness of the benefits of being online
  • When asked what would prompt older people to go online, 74% of people over the age of 65 responded ‘nothing’.
  • Older people can be fearful of not being safe online, including being scammed
  • Distrust and lack of interest by older people is often a major barrier
  • Bereavement can mean that one partner is left without digital skills
  • Lack of infrastructure (e.g. not having devices, or no broadband connection)
  • Physical barriers – mobility & dexterity
  • Isolation – reaching out to older people who are housebound and providing them with support is resource intensive
  • Older people who are socially isolated are more likely not to be online
  • Self-perception of cognitive ability can reduce willingness/confidence to learn new digital skills
  • Older people who had jobs that did not use digital skills are more likely to lack the confidence to develop new skills

Image: Jigsaw graphic with top tips of what to teach: Basic digital skills; Online safety; Current hobbies; Smart/assistive technology; Communication tools; Order prescriptions

Here’s a great video by Age UK Leeds on their digital drop-in sessions for older people to teach them Essential Digital Skills. As the older people say themselves, it is life-enhancing!

Image : Jigsaw graphic with top tips for DCs : tailor support; no tech jargon; pace learning and repeat; be flexible; focus on hobbies; include families

Image : Jigsaw graphic with top tips for projects : Partnership working; Co-design service with older people; Tailor support; Consider equipment

Partnership working
– engage with and build strong partner relationships with local organisations as a first priority – this will help referrals and provision of support
– link to other services especially befriending services, bereavement support services and groups offering social sessions (such as local lunch clubs)
– embed digital skills support into existing services or activities
– engage with and build relationships with learners’ spouse/family, as the family bond can be a motivational tool 

Co-design service with older people
– involve older people in shaping the design of digital services and learning sessions
– publicise the benefits of learning new skills and share stories of successes of older people
– continue to gather feedback from older people throughout the project and make changes if needed

Tailor support: set up projects to provide learning support which
– is flexible in the delivery of sessions (a mix of 1:1 & group sessions) 
– use volunteers (especially older people) to support peer to peer learning and add capacity to the project
– offers drop-ins to maintain learning and answer specific queries 
– provides ongoing support and repetition of learning 
– is at a pace which works for the individual learner 
– tracks learning so as to build relevant digital skills 
– focuses on the interests of the individual such as a hobby, or family history, or a specific need that they have (e.g. to order prescriptions online) 

Consider equipment
– provide equipment loans (e.g. Tablet loan scheme with MiFi)  
– offer support to older people about how to choose devices and connectivity packages 


Research, reports and publications

Image: Jigsaw graphic with the text Top tip

Always remember that learners may not be typical of their group and may have multiple additional needs => Look at the other guides for tips and resources

Many thanks to our partners Age UK and Centre for Ageing Better who contributed to developing the learning on this topic