Basic computer training for seniors and others

As many of you already know, I occasionally volunteer to teach computer classes at the Best Years Senior Center. Seniors probably make up the largest group of new computer users, as many had lived their entire lives without utilizing many of the current technologies. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw an article on the “I Love Free Software” Web site, “5 Free Websites for Seniors on How to Use Computer and Internet.” The article lists and reviews five sites that offer free for seniors (and anyone else) some basic training on computing, popular software, and the Internet.

The first listed site that I visited was “The Senior’s Guide to Computers” at seniorsguidetocomputers.com. I was very impressed by the wealth and quality of information available. This one Web site by itself is totally capable of providing anyone, novice to geek, with a broad variety of information ranging from the basics (common computer terms illustrated and explained), e-mail, the Internet, PC safety and security, the necessity of backing up (“Probably the single most important task you’ll perform”), hardware and software. By starting at the beginning, the basics, and progressing through the short illustrated lessons, the user will be able to understand and master the functions of a computer and its operating system, and how to make maximum utilization of the Internet. Everything is covered including what to look for in a computer, the components and parts of a computer, the differences between the types of Internet service providers (ISPs), methods of backing up critical data, proper security precautions and software, different types of software (including freeware), e-mail use and safety, and just about any other practical computer topic. While clearly directed at seniors, the content and lessons on this Web site would be appropriate for anyone of any age looking to learn about personal computing. For this purpose, “The Senior’s Guide to Computers” is one of the best Web sites that I have ever seen.

Another basic computer training Web site with professionally organized free lessons is Meganga’s “Free Basic Computer Training” at meganga.com/lessons. Consisting of 94 lessons, users are free to choose whatever topics they find necessary or interesting. At the most basic level are 28 “Free Beginner Lessons,” which include an orientation to the computer; exercises on how to use a mouse, a cursor, and use the keyboard; guide to the desktop and icons; creating desktop icons and gadgets; how to use the start menu, applications, and Windows; how to create documents, files and folders; Internet Web browser basics, homepages, address bar, toolbars, search engines, and hyperlinks; how to complete online forms; and detailed instructions on how to create, send, and read e-mail. A dozen lessons instruct the user on the basics of popular software, including Word, WordPad, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Excel, and Hotmail. Meganga’s “Free Basic Computer Training” is also an excellent resource to teach anyone the basics of computing, and how to use the Internet and popular software programs.

For anyone needing some intermediate or advanced training in computer topics, Internet4Classrooms (I4C) at Internet4classrooms.com/on-line.htm offers over a dozen free online groups of tutorials on popular software packages and operating systems. Each group of tutorials consists of an orderly series of lessons that are easy to comprehend and master. For users of Microsoft Office (and its clones and competitors such as OpenOffice and LibreOffice), lessons are provided in Excel (spreadsheet), PowerPoint (presentation program), and Word (word processor). As an example, the “Basic Word Tutorial” consists of nine distinct lessons starting with a basic overview of Word and ending with the user creating a newsletter. The “Advanced Word Topics” includes such tasks as mail merge, converting Word to PowerPoint, using hyperlinks in Word, writing equations, special fonts, how to use the thesaurus, and how to determine the reading level of a passage. I4C also includes lessons on software applications including Internet Explorer (web browser) and Dreamweaver (sophisticated Web design software used to create professional Web pages). Detailed tutorials are available that cover both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems, as well as lessons on how to troubleshoot both operating systems. These I4C lessons are a great tool for learning how to use the products covered, and are suitable for those who have already mastered the basics of computing but want to advance their skills.

Several of the seniors that I teach are interested primarily in using the Internet, mostly to be able to surf the Web, and send and receive e-mails. The Web site Internet101.org provides instructions on these tasks, as well as the other online activities that more advanced users would like to do. Internet 101 consists of several dozen Internet topics ranging from the most basic descriptions of the Internet and its history, to advanced uses of the Internet. Covered are selecting an Internet provider; using e-mail; online shopping; blogs; online safety and security; Web searches (including how to find street addresses and Internet road maps); selecting a browser; online chat; using Skype, VoIP and other online phone services; how to view streaming movies (such as Netflix and YouTube); social networking; building Web sites and registering domain names; and several other interesting Internet related topics. Internet 101 is an excellent way for anyone to learn about the basic and advanced features of the Internet.

Some of the seniors that I work with have told me that they do not want anything fancy, and want the most simple software available to surf the Web, do e-mail, and other related basic online tasks. An Italian company, Eldy Seniors Computer Software (www.eldy.eu), is offering a free software utility that creates a desktop with just a few large buttons, each of which automates basic Internet tasks. According the Eldy Web site, “Eldy is a software that turns any standard PC into an easy-to-use computer for people that have never used a computer before. (Eldy) provides an easy six buttons interface e-mail, Internet, chat, videoconferencing, documents, pictures, Skype and more.” The Eldy software is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems, and is available in 22 languages. It is a large download (the Windows version of Eldy is a 40.6 mb download), but it includes a browser, e-mail client, online TV viewer, and other utilities. The heart of Eldy is “The Square,” a desktop with six large buttons, one each for sending and receiving e-mail, surfing the Web, participating in online chats, viewing “Eldy TV,” managing the user’s personal profile, and a tools button with additional utilities. For the user who wants a functional but minimalist Web experience, this “Square” can provide it. When the e-mail button is clicked, a simple e-mail menu opens where the user can simply create e-mails, and add attachments or embed images. Eldy can create and maintain e-mail address books and handle other e-mail functions, all with a single click. To open and read an e-mail also takes a single click, with Eldy automatically handling any attachments or embedded images. The large “Surf the Web” button opens a simple browser, where favorites and bookmarks are displayed as large buttons that display a miniature of the Webpage. The chat button allows the user to join a chat room, start a chat, or otherwise communicate with anyone using a compatible chat client. The Eldy TV button opens a language specific assortment of streaming TV and video, including CNN, BBC, Hulu, YouTube, TED, VIMEO, and other streaming media; simply clicking on the appropriate button starts the streaming video and TV. The Tools button includes a notepad utility, a documents viewer (displays images, video and several document formats), and allows the user to make free telephone calls over the Internet using a basic form of the popular Skype service. For the senior who is averse to modern technology but still wants to have the benefits of the Internet, Eldy would be a good choice.

By utilizing as appropriate any of these five services, from the simplicity of Eldy to the sophistication of Meganga and Internet4Classrooms, seniors and anyone else interested in learning about computers and the Internet may freely do so.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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