Es labāk palikšu  savā komforta zonā, nevis saskaršos ar neveiksmēm

I’d rather stay in my comfort zone than be confronted with failure

25.01.2021

Madara Mara Irbe, RASA (Latvia) and Grazyna Busse, HIPOKAMP Association (Poland)

     Learning ICT skills at this particular moment since the classic in-class learning model has been canceled due to the pandemic situation is even more difficult for older adults in Latvia and elsewhere in the world where the level of ICT skills is very low or non-existing at all in the target groups. Riga Active Seniors Alliance ICT instructors Ņina Priede and Dainis Olders share their experience in their observations and encourage us to think in more creative ways of carrying out ICT education for older adults.

     “There are several challenges to take into mind when understanding the elderly person. First of all, perception of how things work and are coordinated in the physical environment is contradictory to the digital environment. It is quite challenging to train the coordination of the mouse on the screen on your own. Without help and support from others, without the physical guidance of the instructor, and without digital training environments and tools that can be applied in class it is impossible to gain this skill from zero,” Madara remembers from observing the learning environment in the ICT training activities.

     “From our experience, sometimes it is helpful, to suggest using touch pad – for some persons it is more comfortable,” states Grazyna.

     “Another challenge in both in-class and online sessions is the neglecting behavior and attitude towards allowing oneself to fail and learn from the experience. This is due to the cognitive perception of oneself that is developed throughout life, experience, status and level of intellect one has and projects onto other jobs and new challenges such as acquiring ICT skills. This ‘old’ way of thinking does not allow making any mistakes or accepting them and it limits the capability to let negative feelings and inner frustration go, thus resulting in a slower learning pace. This is challenging to tackle in the online environment, as it is hard to reach out to the person that is suffering from these inner conflicts and does not express his or her need for help,” Madara states with regret.

     “We agree absolutly! It is also the prejudice and ageing that is connected with much less abilities to learn. Moreover, the attitude: “ICT is no longer for us, we are too ancient to be modern” creates barriers for learning opportunities. In stopping this, it might be worthwhile to consider that this reaction is indirectly created by the children and grandchildren, as we have observed until now. That is why, me personally and the engaged specialists and assistants in HIPOKAMP are of the opinion that intergenerational sessions are not the best choice for those seniors who are starting their journey in discovering ICT skills, if we look upon this from the pedagogical learning and theoretical point of view. Of course, we are open for further discussion and deepening this topic,” Grazyna states.

     “In Latvia we had good experience in our intergenerational courses as the seniors were more energized and the learning environment overall was very dynamic in comparison to the peer-to-peer learning environment,” replies Madara.

    However, Grazyna reflects that “we have observed a common lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem that has been expressed very often.”

     Madara continues with a suggestion to observe different learning tasks and identify in which the younger generation interferes in a positive and in a negative way in order to balance the effects and conclude the learning activities with positive outcomes both result-wise and emotion-wise!

     Nevertheless, there are several more open questions for further discussion. The first open question is how to enable seniors who have some degree of interest and motivation in acquiring ICT skills to interact in the digital learning environment, however have zero level knowledge in achieving this? How can their relatives or friends help in this situation? Correspondingly, the second open question is how can senior networks work collaboratively towards gaining a more open mindset towards accepting failure and learning through experience when acquiring ICT skills? How can a stagnating mindset be changed and advanced for the benefit of the individual himself or herself?

     Grazyna replies: “Probably, there are a lot of different methods and we have to search for them, test them and implement as soon as possible. Otherwise, we loose all these elder persons for ever. This is the issue for next projects and future partnerships that could be developed in the direction of the person-centred approach and individualization of the learning process. As we know, in a group there are several sometimes completly diffrenet areas of interest: that what is the motivation and inspiration for one person can be boring and discouraging for another one.

It means: there should be created different pathways of learning for each learner.

     In our previous project “Radio Theater at Home” we have experienced positive results from combining methods of learning by connecting and including activities and  topics from other areas into ICT education. It allowed to get the essential element: inspiration, motivation, meaning and a real goal that is of personal interest to each individual. Our assumption is that artistic activities are the best way to induce open- minded thinking, to activate the imagination and phantasy, which are also very important in ICT learning. Such topics that stimulate co-learning synergy and motivation could be history, music and dancing, theatre and art classes.

     I agree absolutely with dr Katarina Popović  Secretary-General, International Council              on Adult Education: “Effective learning requires leaving the comfort zone sometimes                     and experiencing cognitive dissonances or discomfort when our stereotypes or “blind spots” are questioned.(…) The complex issues of human motivation, reluctance, fear, shame and needs can hardly be solved by quick technological fixes. The question is, obviously, not whether the digital technology should be used, but how.”

     We, as assistants in the digital journey of older adults have to be aware of this and be able to explain, why it can be difficult: because we all don’t like to leave our “comfort zones” and really learn, not only take part in educational proposals.”

    Kevin Wood from Cybermoor Services Limited reflects that for seniors “it is most difficult for elders to become familiar with the terminology used. Although they regularly talk with friends 30 or 40 years younger, the discussions become complicated when it comes to iPads, laptops, phones, as it just sounds too technical”. Seniors use the Internet in a limited way for on-line banking, purchases, e-mail, Word, Sudoku and Facebook. This reflection shows that it is necessary for younger generations to understand the information space in which the seniors are currently living to be able to have fruitful discussions about these new technologies that the younger generations have had no trouble adapting to as they have grown up with them.

     Zanda Rubene, professor of the University of Latvia in philosophy of education, has been keen on researching a diverse set of gaps among generations, in one of her webinars on generation differences Zanda explains this situation with a simple example from her life. “I am driving home from a conference in Vilnius to Riga when my mother calls me and asks when I will arrive. I reply to her that the navigation shows that I will be home at nine. After this statement my mother was silent. To her mind only a ship can have a navigation and she cannot unerstand how this navigation could be present with me on my way home in my car.” This simple illustration reflects how easily our senior friends and family members can get lost in our discussions due to the changing perceptions of words and their meanings.

     When applying this situation within the ICT skills training environment, we can see the crucial role of the instructors in clarifying any misunderstandings that could potentially create learning barriers in class or virtually. Likewise, we can relate to the future ICT learning environment at home when each person in the senior’s personal network plays a role in digital skill development. Kevin reminds the readers of the importance of repetition and support: “It’s ok being shown or told which buttons to press to perform a certain function but unless you are using that function regularly it is easy to forget, and there are just so many functions and buttons. Seniors with limited exposure to an IT environment makes it very difficult for them to improve their knowledge and experience of the Internet and therefore the capabilities available within the world of IT.”

     It is the involvement of the senior’s network that can make a difference in encouraging digital idependancy. It is crucial for seniors to be persistent learners and open to technologies as this attitude in turn will reveal a greater potential of the positive benefits the digital era offers to everyone. Help and support in improving ICT skills can be sought, there is a growing number of opportunities out there and so many people within our personal network are willing to help in the search for knowledge and digital independance.