As more and more Chief Learning Officers integrate online and social tools into corporate education, one of the questions we’re asked most frequently is how learning organizations can prepare older employees to effectively use the new technology.  But the question isn’t really about the age of the user – what we are really being asked is how learning organizations can prepare employees who are not technologically savvy to use new technology.  Accordingly, we thought we’d offer some suggestions that anyone can use.

Know before you go. First, it might be easy to assume that learners over the age of 50 will need a little hand-holding, but don’t stereotype. According to the Pew Research Center, social networking use among internet users ages 50-64 grew by 88% between April 2009 and May 2010.  An AARP study earlier this year found that 40% of Americans over the age of 50 consider themselves extremely comfortable using the Internet. So before you assume, speak with all the learners in your programs to get a clear picture of their comfort level and plan your strategy accordingly.

It’s not just work. For those learners who are not familiar or comfortable with the Internet or social media, consider introducing the technology on a personal rather than professional level. For anyone not familiar with technology, the Web opens up a world of possibilities when they understand that it can help them connect to friends from years past or family members who have been out of touch for too long. George Siemens pointed us to a great New York Times article on the subject, and it can definitely help you get started.

It’s a team effort. Gina Minks offers excellent advice for introducing social media to teams, and we recommend taking her advice a step further when employees who are unfamiliar with online or social media are involved. Specifically, engage the entire team with online learning whenever possible to make it easy for those who are more familiar to help those less familiar in an informal learning setting, rather than a formal setting that may make less comfortable users feel “out of it.”

Ultimately, the key is to make the transition to online learning feel natural for all learners. By focusing on communication, exploration, and community-building, you’ll have those less familiar with technology prepared in no time!

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