Seniors are becoming more and more digitally connected, according to the Pew Institute, which reported in 2017 that 67% of adults over 65 use the internet and around four in ten adults in the same age group own smartphones.
Embracing new technology, however, can be scary; some studies say only 18 percent of those over 65 learn technology on their own. Luckily, you don’t have to. Whether you need a basic introduction to computers or to an iPad, want to set up your own website for your business, or get up to speed on social media or online banking, there’s a place to go for free, in-person tech help: the first-of-its kind Senior Planet Exploration Center in Chelsea, or its affiliates in upstate New York, Montgomery County, MD, or its satellites throughout the metropolitan area.
For instance, one rainy Thursday a few weeks ago, a Senior Planet member wanted help with the website she had built herself, so she stopped by for a ‘Tech Talk’ – a 20-minute tutorial given by one of the Chelsea Exploration Center’s patient, tech-savvy volunteers. Being a “techie” is not a requirement for Senior Planet membership; one of its most popular courses, “Computer Basics,” is designed for people who have never turned on a computer or touched a mouse.
The Chelsea Senior Planet’s Program Associate Elizabeth Pooran says that The Center’s courses were designed to be taught at a steady pace to accommodate members at all different levels. “Our classes [offer a] welcoming environment where no question is regarded as ‘dumb,’” she says. “Everyone in the classroom gets the attention they need. In addition, our curriculum is designed in a way that allows users to learn necessary and basic skills step-by-step, with many opportunities to practice and ask questions.”
Membership, which is free to adults over 60, offers perks such as free classes, frequent workshops and one 20-minute Tech Talk per day about a specific computer, tablet, or smartphone-related issue. The trainers and volunteer staff earn high marks for aptitude and attitude, members say. “Trainers are very patient and understanding, and take time to offer extra help to those who need it,” says T.L. Brooks, 68, a member who has been taking classes at Senior Planet since 2016.
In each class – whether it’s Computer Basics, Beyond the Basics, iPad essentials, or Social Media – each member gets a free, thorough course book to take with them to help them retain what they’ve learned. “The books allow students to continue practicing,” says Pooran, adding that trainers make sure to touch on the previous lesson in each class.
The free 5- and 10- week classes, which are offered at The Center, at sites throughout the five boroughs, in upstate New York and in Montgomery County, MD, are great reasons to join. But as member Lillet Roach, 69, explains, the reasons for joining go way beyond the classroom. “You meet a lot of friends from different walks of life, listen to their experiences, and they listen to you. The atmosphere is out of this world.”
Want to get your tech on?
The Chelsea Senior Planet Exploration Center at 127 West 25th Street, Manhattan, is hosting a “Course Information Fair” on March 23rd from 11:00am to 2:00pm and March 30th from 11:00am to 2:00pm. “The Course Information Fair gives members an opportunity to ask questions about classes for the upcoming quarter,” says Aaron Santis, Senior Planet’s Program Manager. “Members can come find out what the different courses are, what skills are needed to participate in them, how to register, and find which course is best for them.” Registration for the Spring Quarter in Chelsea is April 2 (beginner) , 3 (intermediate) and 5 (advanced), starting at 10:15 am (doors open at 10 am, get there early for a first-come, first-served spot). Courses begin the week of April 9, 2018, unless otherwise noted, and run through June 15th. If you have questions about your skills or ability to participate in a particular course, please call 646-590-0615, or come to the center for one of our Course Information Fairs.
Senior Planet has also partnered with 22 community-based sites around NYC to build and maintain state-of-the-art technology labs that support the needs of the diverse communities in which they are located. These labs are open to the public and often host Senior Planet courses. Each lab is operated by its host organization, but serves as a satellite extension of the Manhattan center. Call the labs to find out their hours or get more information. You can find a list of the Senior Planet satellite labs here.
…And a new class for entrepreneurs in the Senior Planet Exploration Center:
Startup! (sponsored by Citi) aims to empower older entrepreneurs with the knowledge and tech skills necessary to start online businesses. Participants learn how to list their products or services online, create social media accounts to promote their businesses, and start GoFundMe campaigns to help raise capital.