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The Pandemic No Barrier To NZ Seniors And Technology

While many membership organisations are struggling to remain active under the cloud of the pandemic, SeniorNet NZ sees a positive future for its membership services. The nationwide organisation, which brings together seniors to enjoy using technology in their everyday lives, is enjoying membership growth and demand for education on how to access online services.

SeniorNet CEO Heather Newell said the unintended consequences of the pandemic had focused attention on the need for seniors to be tech savvy and digitally aware. More and more institutions especially in banking, insurance and government agencies are moving their services online and senior citizens, particularly in the over 70 age group are recognising their vulnerability. “SeniorNet is not about teaching seniors to become IT professionals but we do want people to be able to participate confidently in our online world.”

During the Covid lockdowns, the 60 SeniorNet Learning Centres around the country were unable to offer face to face learning sessions. Faced with the possibility of being socially isolated, many seniors sought telephone support to address their tech questions (how do I stream a Radio New Zealand Concert programme through my tv?). But the issue of social connection quickly became a top priority.

The solution was provided with support from Google which asked SeniorNet to address the question “how can we continue to provide learning opportunities for people in lockdown or who are socially isolated?”

Heather Newell, said the organisation set out to bring the best features of a face to face learning environment to replicate this online. “Anyone can learn about technology from You Tube, but our solution allows seniors to learn together, to share and socialise at the same time.”

Six months on from the first nationwide lockdown the social experiment has been a resounding success, even though it is still in its pilot stage. Over twenty “buddies” have provided sufficient content to fill six online sessions per day, seven days a week. Each session is restricted to 30 minutes plus ten minutes for introductions, questions and comments about the presentation. Topics are short and focused on Apps, hints and tips, shortcuts, products and websites. Participants sit in their armchairs or wherever they are comfortable and introduce themselves online.

Enthusiasm is high and the participants have demonstrated that attendance can be achieved under any circumstances. One participant attended from hospital, via his smartphone, where he was having a small procedure. The rest of the group were able to see him receiving injections and his participation presumably took his mind off the mechanics of the procedure.

Some government agencies and corporates have presented topics and sought feedback from the group participants including Westpac and Ministry of Social Development.

“Google have been a miraculous supporter in the project,” said Heather Newell. “This programme is not a pitch to use certain products but about creating connections and a learning environment for as many seniors as we can.”

The pilot will be assessed over the Christmas holiday period but it’s safe to say it will become a regular membership benefit for SeniorNet members around the country.

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