TO SWITCH Dublin Multiplier Event  

 Later Life Online: Closing the digital divide for older adults in Ireland and across Europe

The digital world has become increasingly important and more than ever we need confidence and skills when using the internet to keep in touch with loved ones, look after finances, and arrange for things like travel. Without this, people can feel alienated and frustrated, especially our older citizens.

This May, AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation of Ireland, ran a half-day event with discussion and workshop on new findings in closing the digital divide. We heard from older – or “later life” – learners, who described their experiences of gaining more confidence and competence with technology and digital skills. The event included Adult Literacy for Life policy updates, digital teaching tools demonstrations, as well as roundtable discussions on the topic. Later Life Online was the Multiplier Event for the TO SWITCH Erasmus+ project, which AONTAS has been partnering on for the past two years.

Adult Literacy for Life: A broad definition of digital literacy

The morning began with an Adult Literacy for Life (ALL) strategy update from Yvonne McKenna, a director who leads the ALL team at SOLAS. ALL is a national ten-year adult literacy, numeracy and digital literacy strategy with a single vision: “An Ireland where every adult has the necessary literacy, numeracy and digital literacy to fully engage in society and achieve their full potential.”

The strategy takes a broad definition of literacy, and uses an ‘Integrated Approach,’ which means many different organisations and government departments working together towards the same goal. Yvonne spoke about the current challenges we face with digital literacy. The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) is a European measure of digital competences. According to DESI, when the ALL Strategy was first designed, 47% of adults in Ireland lacked basic digital skills. ALL aims to reduce this figure to 20% over the next ten years.

Building Confidence Online: Learners’ experiences of the TO SWITCH Project

With Yvonne McKenna having framed Later Life Online within the national policy context, Christina Lynskey, Mags Keena-Dillon, Martin Byrd and Lina Klenauskaite from Dublin Adult Learning Centre (DALC) discussed their experiences of taking part in the TOSWITCH project. The learners were all in Liz Stein’s class at DALC, Liz took part in TO SWITCH training in Trento, Italy last year and then designed a “Getting Started with Gmail” course afterwards.

Christina, Mags, Martin and Lina all took part on this course and shared their experiences with us at Later Life Online.

As well as Liz’s course at DALC, the project included learners and teachers from Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Spain, Norway and Romania, and was a proactive response to the challenges posed by an ageing population, at risk of isolation due to the increased digitisation of our lives. The TO SWITCH Project aimed to provide our older citizens with the tools they need to stay connected at home, in the workplace, and in their community. You can find more information on the project on the Later Life Online Padlet page.

Collaborative Solutions: Sharing ideas and useful teaching tools

After hearing from the learners at DALC, Mark Kelly and Ashling Johnston from An Cosán presented on the work they are doing as part of the Digital Inclusion team. Their Digital Stepping Stones tool allows people to self assess their digital skills, both in terms of how they feel about using digital tools as well as their level competence in tools and tasks. Mark and Ashling are currently working on follow up modules as part of their Get Yourself Online programme.

The morning ended with some fantastic roundtable discussions. Attendees first discussed the challenges facing older citizens in getting online and building confidence in the digital space. Language was seen as key here. It was mentioned that the term "digital literacy" could put off older adults, as it implies illiteracy if they lack these skills. Using more inclusive language that emphasises acquiring new skills and knowledge may be more effective in engaging older learners. Infrastructural barriers were highlighted, like broadband and transport to classes, as well as emotional barriers with some older citizen perhaps not having the confidence to go to a digital skills class.

The second discussion session focused on solutions to the challenges faced by older people experiencing digital exclusion. Here, outreach and advertising in places you wouldn't first consider, like on church notice boards or at supermarkets during the day, was suggested. Developing intergenerational programs was mentioned, such as one facilitated by Age Action Ireland, which fosters an environment where older people can engage in intergenerational learning. This "wisdom exchange" allows younger generations to share their digital expertise, while older individuals offer their wealth of knowledge and experience.

With over 70 attendees, sharing ideas and experiences, Later Life Online provided a learning space for educators, learners and policy makers to work together to close the digital divide for older adults in Ireland and across Europe. If you would like to access the slides from the event or explore related resources, check out the Later Life Online Padlet page.

For further information on Later Life Online or the TO SWITCH project, contact Conor Thompson, Project Officer at AONTAS