As a freelance trainer, I have worked with a lot of different people. Some of my favorite clients are older adults. More and more older users are joining the Internet age each day. Many of them, however, are intimidated or even overwhelmed by the experience. Trainers can help these new users ease into the experience by narrowing the focus of their lesson plans.

Trainers shouldn’t be concerned if these older students are interested in using only a few functions on their PC (such as e-mail or word processing), because your students will benefit most if you tailor your training to focus on just those tasks. I’ve found this works much better than providing a general overview of the computer and a detailed explanation of how it works.

My tips in this article will help you design a satisfying lesson that will result in productive users.
In part one of this series on training older students, we examined how to organize your first training session to determine what your students are interested in as well as how to simplify the set-up of the PC.
Practice during and after the lesson
After I’ve determined what the students want to learn and completed the setup of their PCs, we spend the lesson sending e-mail to relatives and friends. As an effective and quick way for them to see what they have learned, I help them send an e-mail to their home computer. Be sure to ask students to gather e-mail addresses before the session so you can help them set up their address books.

I also teach the students to print out e-mails they send and receive, including the e-mail instructions I send to them. This technique gets the students up and running with e-mail and sets up the next lesson on downloading and opening e-mail attachments.

When I get back to the office, I send out e-mail jokes and stories (keep it clean) with instructions attached on how to forward them and reply to them and instructions for other goodies I want the students to learn. Before the next lesson, I make sure to send e-mail with attachments (both text and pictures) so that we can start our lesson with the learning materials in hand.

Beyond e-mail: Access to the Internet
What if your students want to focus not on e-mail but on using the Internet? In that case, I set up the dial-up connection and choose a browser. Then I set up a search engine (usually a metasearch engine like AskJeeves) as their home page and show them basic search-engine techniques.

We discuss what link are, what they look like, and how to access them. I always tell them to “look for when the arrow turns into the hand.” I also talk to them about URLs and explain that they are like street addresses. We talk about extensions such as .gov, .com, .edu, .net, and others.

I ask the student about their interests in finding particular information on the Internet, and then I show them how to search for those subjects. I once had a retired doctor who wanted to look up “metal filings in avian brains that enable birds to use magnetic fields to fly set migration routes every year.”

Although we weren’t successful in pinpointing that topic, the student was happy because he learned how to locate a number of sites focusing on birds. I then showed him how to add bookmarks to the sites he wished to visit again later. This student felt he had achieved something in his first session.

As a follow-up lesson, I ask students to revisit these sites and follow as many of the links as they can. This hands-on browsing method helps students learn to navigate the Internet and feel comfortable with it much more quickly than if they sit in a classroom learning an application they might never use.

Follow up
Always e-mail the students after each session and summarize what you did and how you did it. If necessary, send screen shots of the training session. Use [Alt][PrintScrn] and Microsoft Paint to save those screen shots to use in a Word document to help students understand the session they just completed.

Following these training hints will help students learn faster and feel more comfortable with their computer. They will also be calling you for more training—a situation that benefits everyone.
What kind of special students have you taught? How have you changed your teaching approach to fit a certain set of interests or skills? What have you learned from the experience? Send us a note with your stories about your most educational teaching experiences.

Marsha Glick is the owner of Cybergators, a computer business that includes everything from training to Web design to networking and computer repair. She has worked in both home and classroom training settings, as well as with special-needs computer equipment for the hearing impaired, visually impaired, and physically handicapped.