Learning technology’s benefits hands-on

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Carol Sorgen

At AARP’s TEK workshops, participants learn the many useful things they can do with digital tablets and smartphones, such as taking and emailing photos. Courses also teach about apps, social media, online safety and more.
Photo courtesy of AARP

If you don’t know the difference between analog or digital, or a hash tag from a hard drive, AARP’s got you covered. The national membership organization based in Washington, D.C., recently rolled out AARP TEK (which stands for Technology, Education and Knowledge) to close the technology gap and help boomers and seniors learn how to use personal digital devices in a plain-language, user-friendly way.

According to Terry Bradwell, AARP executive vice president and chief information officer, AARP TEK  is a comprehensive technology education program specifically geared to the 50+ audience.

Consisting of hands-on educational seminars, as well as written and video material online, AARP TEK is aimed at empowering people with technology by connecting them with friends, family, employment opportunities, health information, entertainment and much more.

“While personal technology has been in our lives for a number of years now, it’s no longer just nice to have,” said Bradwell. “It’s imperative, as more and more services — from banks to movies to the Social Security Administration — are going tech-only.

“AARP members didn’t grow up in a digital age,” said Bradwell, who said that his version of an iPad when he was young was an “etch-a-sketch.”

“A significant population of [AARP’s] demographic isn’t online, or not in a significant way. We need to be equipped to use this technology so we can live our best life.”

Educational workshops

AARP TEK pilot education seminars are being rolled out in seven cities this year — Atlanta, Macon, Augusta, San Antonio, Jacksonville, Chicago and New York — with the intent to expand significantly in 2015, possibly to Baltimore. [At the Beacon’s 50+Expo on October 19 in Silver Spring, Maryland, AARP TEK will be offering some seminars as well. For more information, call (410) 248-9101.]

“AARP TEK offers a high-touch approach to understanding technology, giving 50+ consumers the skills and confidence to use technology and stay connected to the people and passions in their lives,” said Bradwell.

“Though we know that millions of older adults already use personal technology in their everyday lives, there are still many more who want to learn the ins and outs of how to use smartphones and tablets to enhance their lives and discover a world of new possibilities. These are the people we hope to reach with AARP TEK.”

The response so far has been “off the charts,” said Bradwell, with attendees waiting in line to learn just how much their lives can change through technology.

AARP began testing concepts and curriculum offerings for AARP TEK in 2013, and found that the hands-on trainings were “discovery moments” for many attendees who learned what their personal gadgets could be used to do, see, and engage with.

He tells the tale of a workshop attendant who took her first “selfie” (a photo of herself), posted it on Facebook, and had 1,200 “likes” from other Facebook users before the day was out.

Then there was the World War II veteran who, through Google Earth, was able to “visit” Belgium and see a structure he had helped build while stationed there decades ago. “It brought tears to his eyes,” said Bradwell.

Online videos and information

In addition to the seminars offered in select locations, a number of short video modules and articles are available on the AARP website. They cover topics such as touchscreen basics, social media, video chatting and online safety.

Hands-on sessions being offered at TEK workshops include “Intro to Tablets & Smartphones” and “Staying Connected with Apps,” among others. 

As part of the programs, AARP TEK Advisors will welcome local high school and college students to assist with the trainings and work with attendees, providing an opportunity for the two generations to reach out, learn from each other, and discover new ways to connect.

“In the first 45 minutes alone,” said Bradwell, “participants can learn things that will change their lives. They are feeling empowered. There is a hunger and demand for this type of education.”

For more information on AARP TEK workshops and online tools and resources, log on at www.aarp.org/aarptek.