Seniors learn how to stay safe online

For more than seven years, Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap Society in Salmon Arm, BC has been running a Cyber Seniors program to help local seniors learn to use technology in a safe and approachable way. The program is designed with a “seniors helping seniors” approach – other seniors tutor their peers in a one-to-one setting across six one-hour sessions. The program takes place at five locations in the area multiple times a year and has proven to be a bit hit with the community.

“This program caters to what the student requires, and each senior comes in with a different goal and at a different skill level,” says Thomas Briginshaw, Executive Director and Literacy Outreach Coordinator at Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap Society. “First, we start with a self-assessment checklist to determine what skill level the learner is at. From there, we match them with a tutor who will be a good fit for them.”

Briginshaw says many of the tutors are former program participants, and that many students return for more sessions. As students learn new topics, they’re eager to continue to learn new skills. For example, once they learn how to use a printer, they then want to move on to doing tasks like online banking. As a result, the increased demand has caused wait lists for the program.

“As the pandemic forced more people to complete tasks online, the demand to learn basic Internet skills has skyrocketed. Now that we’re returning to more in-person teaching, we’re hoping to gain more volunteers and help more seniors than ever before.”

Briginshaw says they briefly tried to move the program online during COVID, but due to the nature of the program and the clientele, it wasn’t as successful as they’d hoped. However, as restrictions begin lifting, the Literacy Alliance is finding new ways to help seniors learn how to use technology, such as a drop-in help desk. He notes the results are great so far, and many learners have shared personal highlights about how they’ve learned to video chat with grandchildren or other loved ones.

At the start of each program, each learner receives a welcome package, which includes resources from ABC Internet Matters. ABC Internet Matters empowers Canadians who aren’t comfortable using the Internet with the knowledge they need to get started. It includes a workbook that provide a basic understanding of what the Internet is, how to access it, and how to stay safe online.

“The (ABC) Internet Matters workbook is perfect for the level that our students are at and covers a lot of the things we are doing. It teaches users how to be safe, to avoid scams and use passwords. Best of all, it’s a great reference tool for learners to look at later.”

ABC Internet Matters recently released a second workbook that focuses on how users can search safely online using tools such as Google, and how to avoid fake news, which became a timely topic during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, 96 per cent of Canadians who used the Internet to search for information on COVID-19 said they saw material they believed was false or misleading.

Approximately 30 per cent of older Canadians are not using the Internet. To learn more about ABC Internet Matters and to download the free workbook and other resources, visit