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Digital Learners – keeping the elderly connected in lockdown through the internet

- 28 April 2020 - MPW Cambridge - Read time: 3 Minutes

Alongside working hard towards his A levels, James – one of our lower sixth students – has continued to show dedication to his voluntary work, and to the embodiment of the MPW spirit, by building strong links in the community, sharing knowledge and empowering others.

With the country now in lockdown, many members of the older generation are having to self-isolate alone, so now, more than ever, the value of James’ work is clear to see. By sharing his skills and providing an accessible learning environment for the elderly, James has enabled the Digital Learners to remain connected to their friends, family and loved ones during this difficult, and often lonely, time.

Here, James reflects on his work so far – explaining how the Digital Learners are continuing to enjoy their sessions despite the lockdown and how they are using their new found skills to inject a sense of normality back into their lives through the use of technology.

Last summer, I started to volunteer as part of a Digital Buddies scheme helping elderly people with their technology. I volunteered alongside other Digital Buddies offering a weekly drop in session at my local library, assisting the Digital Learners with a range of technology problems. We would answer questions on a wide variety of topics, from using iPads to navigating the internet.

According to the Office for National Statistics, over 3.3 million people aged 65+ in the UK have never used the internet. Unlocking the potential of technology and the internet to this age group is vitally important, as the benefit that can be gained from these services is immense.

However, learning about the possibilities technology holds can be challenging and daunting. Many of the Digital Learners had previously asked a family member or friend to teach them how to do something with their device, but had been shown too quickly to learn and be able to repeat the steps themselves. Technology can be alienating for many people, especially when it is unclear how to use it and there is the fear that something may go wrong. One of the most important parts of the sessions is building confidence with technology, whilst busting myths and explaining solutions slowly in an accessible way.

I have really enjoyed seeing the progress the Digital Learners have made and the enjoyment they have gained from their newfound skills. Being able to order online shopping, purchase tickets for the ballet and checking the security of an online website are a few examples of the skills the Digital Learners have gained.

However, a few weeks ago, the sessions were temporarily suspended in the library as the country went into lockdown. The prospect of self-isolating is challenging for anyone but is especially difficult for many of the Digital Learners who live on their own and could have been distanced from the outside world. With the help of the Digital Buddies, the Digital Learners have been able to improve their confidence with services such as email, WhatsApp and FaceTime which have proven to be invaluable especially during the current situation. I have been delighted to hear stories of successful Facetime calls, giving them the opportunity to show their friends the garden and communicate with family members in other countries. One of the Digital Learners was able to join a virtual church service, with all of the congregation using a video conferencing app from the safety of their homes!

In fact, we have been able to continue to hold our Digital Buddies sessions through a video conferencing app. In the sessions, we are able to chat about how everyone is handling self-isolation, staying in touch with relatives and any other technology questions. Furthermore, the app allows us to share our screen with the Digital Learners which has been a fantastic help when explaining how to do a task or solve a problem. The Digital Learners are able to do the same, assisting us in explaining the steps required to complete tasks on their devices.

Maintaining the same level of community spirit is crucial in combating loneliness and keeping spirits high in this challenging time. These sessions offer the Digital Learners an opportunity to have an informal chat whilst learning valuable skills. Being able to help connect the Digital Learners to their family and friends is incredibly rewarding. The feeling from seeing the face of someone when they have discovered how to use FaceTime for the first time is incomparable. After all, we are socially distancing not distancing from society!