Seniors help seniors improve their digital literacy skills

The Literacy Society of the North Okanagan is a non-profit organization that works with community partners and volunteers to help meet the literacy needs of people of the North Okanagan. The organization offers several different programs, including a successful digital literacy program, run for seniors, by seniors.

The program aims to teach low-income seniors how to navigate their cell phones and/or tablets with the ultimate goal of enriching the quality of life of the seniors it serves.

“A lot of people don’t realize what they can do and what they can access with their cell phones, so our goal is to always guide them. We show them how to connect with family to reduce isolation, help fill out forms to get access to benefits or medication, and share other important digital literacy skills that can impact their lives in a more meaningful way,” says Elizabeth Eckert, the Digital Literacy Coordinator at the Literacy Society.

The program is split into two different formats. The first is a 3-hour workshop with up to eight attendees, a facilitator and multiple volunteers, which focuses on the basics such as how to adjust the brightness of the screen, how to save the battery life, and how to use the calendar.

The second is a one-to-one, no-cost support session where seniors can book any number of 1-hour sessions to learn, with a volunteer, how to further navigate their phone, tablet and laptop. This provides an opportunity for seniors to learn about aspects that are specific to their needs.

Elizabeth says the most commonly-asked questions are around email support, how to stay safe online, how to do online banking, and how to access the BC vaccine passport.

The program began running in 2018 but had to shut down for some time due to COVID-19. However, in October 2021 the program was re-launched and is now offered safely within BC Public Health regulations. With more than 16 workshops having taken place since October, the Literacy Society is running the program almost weekly – and it’s 100% free for the community.

“Ever since we re-launched the program in October, we have seen astounding success. There really is a huge demand for this kind of programming in the community, especially due to the way that the pandemic has impacted our lives.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the reality of senior isolation and loneliness in Canada and demonstrated the need to empower seniors with digital literacy skills. Digital literacy and access to technology are critical for seniors to connect with their community and gain access to basic needs like food, government support and healthcare.

The role of volunteers

The majority of the program volunteers are seniors themselves who are technically-savvy and are looking to give back to the community. Some are retired teachers and IT professionals, and a few have even taken part in the program themselves.

“Our volunteers are so wonderful and are always eager to help. Many of them are even learning new things themselves and are branching out and switching from Android to iPhone or vice versa because they now feel more confident in using different phones.”

Elizabeth explains that the volunteers are supported with a manual full of digital literacy lesson plans from ABC Life Literacy Canada’s Youth Teaching Adults program. Youth Teaching Adults offers free downloadable lesson plans on topics such QR codes, how to set up Gmail, and how to use Zoom to connect with loved ones.

“The manual that we created with the lesson plans is extremely valuable for the volunteers because it allows them to teach different topics without having to be experts themselves,” she says. “The simplicity and creativity of the lesson plans are exactly what we needed, and the learners love being able to take them home as individual handouts as a way to practice what they had learned.”

Literacy Society of North Okanagan continues to run their digital literacy programming each week. Spaces are limited, so be sure to sign up well in advance. To book your space, email or call 250-275-3117.

If you want to learn about new technology on your own, download our at-home digital literacy lesson plans.