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Sep 01 2017 - 12:00am
Helping Seniors Learn to Use the Internet
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Another digital divide, the so-called ‘grey digital divide’, may prevent older segments of the population from getting online. Previous research has shown that older people prefer to acquire necessary computer skills through self-study or informal assistance. Non-professional educators then, have a significant role to play in providing technology training for adults.

New research examined how 14 untrained teenage tutors used scaffolding to teach internet skills when paired with an older learner. Researchers examined how teenagers chose to use scaffolding tactics to guide learning and when they made decisions to fade scaffolds. While this study focused on the tutoring process, participants confirmed that the results were mostly positive.

Tutors were free to decide how to shape their interactions with older students over the course of the 14 tutoring sessions. Verbal statements made by tutors and students were coded and classified as one of fifteen scaffolding techniques identified by researchers. These supportive techniques ranged from hinting to executing aspects of the skill being taught. Results show that tutors most often used the strategy of providing hints and all tutors (but one) made use of some scaffolding. While younger tutors tended to employ more direct scaffolding, such as hinting, older tutors relied more on indirect tactics. However, across all tutors the use of scaffolding was inconsistent, particularly when it came to fading scaffolds away.

Finding new modes of teaching and learning is a valuable tool in addressing this grey digital divide. Results from this study demonstrate that while teenage tutors can apply some instructional strategies, they should receive training to support older learners, especially when it comes to fading supports away to allow older learners to test drive new skills. The study’s authors go on to suggest that training for teenagers be included in school curricula as intergenerational instruction occurs in many informal contexts. However, cultivating teenagers’ enthusiasm for teaching their parents and older relatives tech basics might require some work.

Tambaum, T. (2017). Teenaged Internet tutors’ use of scaffolding with older learners. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 23(1), 97-118.

Image: by stevenpb via Pixabay