Is there somebody in your life that you would love to introduce to the digital world? But you’re not quite sure where to begin, or harder still, how to convince them the internet can make a positive difference to their life? You’re in the right spot.
Supporting someone to get started online is a rewarding and important experience. By helping them use technology and access the internet you can help them feel included, improve their enjoyment of life and preserve their independence.
In this guide we take a look at how you can spark somebody’s interest in the digital world, along with things you need to keep in mind when helping a digital L plater.
In this article:
The benefits of being online
Many older people tell us they initially had no interest in getting online, but once they did they never looked back. There are many positives to being online.
Research shows it reduces social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
Builds independence. Older people can do things for themselves, like order the weekly groceries or pay bills online without relying on family or carers.
Keep in touch with family and friends. Nothing can replace face-to-face conversations, but when that's impossible, the next best thing is staying in touch via video calls, messages and photo updates.
Access to important information on things like health, super and the pension.
Saving money. There’s a wider choice of products and services online, exclusive online offers and the ability to easily compare prices.
Barriers to getting online
There are many reasons why people don’t use the internet. They may use their age as an excuse: “I’ve gotten this far without it”, or they may think it’s too complicated or worry they might make a mistake or break something. Or sadly, some may just be afraid to ask for help. In these cases, reach out and take the first step to show them (don’t tell them) how the internet can enrich their life.
For some, access is the issue. If the person you’re helping doesn’t have access to the internet or a device, you can encourage them to join a free computer class at their local library or community centre. Use the Be Connected network map to find a centre that offers free classes.
Some people worry the internet is not a safe place. They may hear about scams on the news or hear about friends who have been scammed. You can provide reassurance and explain that by following a few simple rules, you can stay safe online. It’s a little like driving - as long as you follow the road rules, you should be safe.
How to inspire somebody to get online
How can you convince someone that technology can make a positive difference to their life? Ask them questions to find out what they’re interested in. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Ask what songs they loved listening to when they were younger. You can help bring back happy memories by searching for songs on YouTube together.
- Are there any friends they lost touch with and would like to reconnect with? Together, search for friends on Facebook. Maybe even help them set up their own Facebook account so they can message their friends.
- Would they like to see the house or area they grew up in? Or do they have a favourite holiday spot they’d love to revisit? Get exploring with Google Earth.
- What are their hobbies? Gardening, cooking, painting, traveling, reading - whatever it is, there’s bound to be a podcast on the topic, or articles and videos with hints and tips, or groups they can join who share their interest.
- Make a video call to somebody they haven’t seen in a while.
Things to keep in mind
Learning to use new technology can be daunting, but you can help make things easier. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when helping someone else get started online:
- Don’t assume prior knowledge. Ask questions. Listen. Everyone has a different skill level so adjust your teaching style to suit your learner.
- Write things down or print things out so they have step-by-step instructions to refer to when you’re not around.
- Be patient and don’t rush through things. Be prepared to go over the same thing several times. One of the most frustrating things for anyone trying to learn something new is when their guide rushes ahead and does things too quickly. Slow down, give them the space they need to give it a try.
- Avoid using jargon. Words like ‘search engine’ and ‘bookmark’, for example, are internet-related terms that come easy to experienced users but not for beginners. So take the time to explain what the terms mean and use comparisons to the offline world where possible. For example, a ‘bookmark’ lets you save your favourite web pages just like a real-life bookmark reminds you where you left off in a book.
- Make it accessible. If the person you’re helping has a vision or hearing impairment, make sure their device has the accessibility options set up. For example, increase the text size or screen contrast to make it easier to see and read.
- Practise, practise, practise! It will take more than one session to get the hang of things.
How to get started
There are many resources available to help older people get online, including Be Connected. It’s a free government program designed specifically with beginners in mind, and it’s a great resource for people who want to help others get online too. Take a look at what it has to offer:
Free courses on the Be Connected website. There’s a broad range of short courses to suit many interests. You can start with the absolute basics (what is a computer, what is a mouse etc), or jump straight to the fun stuff like how to make video calls, how to buy and sell things online and how to explore the world with Google Earth. Take a look at the topic library for a full list of courses, all with printable tip sheets in English and eight other languages. You’ll also find short articles on how to avoid scams like tax & Medicare scams and phishing scams.
Free computer classes. For people who don’t have access to a device or who prefer to learn in a social environment, Be Connected also offers free computer classes through its national network. The major benefit here is they can meet new people in a similar situation and learn from each other. Enter your suburb in the Be Connected partner map to see a list of organisations in your area. You can see more or fewer options in the selected area by using the plus (+) and minus (-) buttons in the bottom right hand corner of the map.
An app to get you, the mentor, started. The Get started app helps you take that first important step to support somebody else get online. It includes step-by-step guides, fun activities, tips and tricks and videos to help you explain the basics.
How to be a digital mentor. Whether you’re interested in helping one person or many people get online, Be Connected has a short course to help you develop the right skills needed to support someone else on their online journey. Please note you need to be signed in to the Be Connected website in order to view this course.