Liz Miller on Digital
Literacy for Seniors

Imagine a digital space filled with a creative variety of classes led by passionate individuals connecting across the world. This space exists, and it’s called GetSetUp. As an educational platform for seniors, GetSetUp offers senior-led classes and community discussions around topics like learning technology, practicing yoga, and experimenting with smoothie recipes.

In this Q&A, Director of Communications Marketing Liz Miller shares the impact that digital literacy is having on the lives of seniors around the world through GetSetUp’s platform.

What is your favorite thing about GetSetUp?

LM: My favorite thing is how empowering the platform is. It’s all about growing and learning throughout all stages of life, and it’s exciting to hear about the experiences of all the different people in the classes and to be able to learn and grow with them.

GetSetUp is a platform for online classes and communities. What have you learned about digital literacy among the senior population?

LM: There’s a huge disparity because the GetSetUp population is ages 50+, which covers decades. Calling it the “senior population” really pigeonholes them, and even within the senior population, it’s very diverse. I mean, people who invented the internet are seniors now. The technology gap is considered large for everyone, and it’s not. There are all kinds of subcategories within this population, just like any other generation. You’re dealing with people who are experts on the internet and want to learn more about art and drawing because they never had a chance to. Or maybe they’re learning about healthy cooking because now they have diabetes, or they want to cut down on sugar. It’s a broad audience.

The divide of digital literacy is often socio-economic-based. Exposure is a bigger factor than age, which is the same in any generation. There’s an interesting study performed by Pew Research: Especially post-pandemic, almost 75% of seniors over the age of 65 are already on the internet, and many of them have broadband where they’re living.

There’s a broad spectrum of learners, and GetSetUp meets learners where they are at. Some join GetSetUp and can get on classes right away. For those who may need support learning how to navigate the internet, we offer new member orientations, and some of our partners add an onboarding service where our support team calls people who have been given technology like iPads to ensure they know how to utilize them. One of the wonderful things about our platform is that the seniors are learning from people who are their age. They have the same reference points, and they can see a peer accomplishing and mastering their goals. It’s always nice to know that someone just like you has already mastered a skill. That often gives you the confidence to know that you can definitely learn it at any age or stage. On top of that, learners are able to retake the classes as many times as they need to feel comfortable.

For those familiar with technology, our site is intuitive, and many know how to navigate the site just by getting into it. For those who need additional support, they can ask questions and get answers in live classes, and we have our GetSetUp support on the phone for anyone having issues.

Digital yoga class

Photo provided by GetSetUp

For the seniors who are learning how to navigate technology as they get started on GetSetUp, how have you seen digital literacy enhance their lives?

LM: I get to interview our learners often, so I hear a lot of stories. Digital literacy is ongoing throughout our lives. There’s always something new.

During the pandemic, I talked to one of our learners, who had taken some of our Google classes around presentations with her husband. They were helping their daughter, who is a single mom of twins, and they would each go into different rooms with one of the twins, take a computer, and help them with their homework. They understood how to use Google Docs, Google Classroom, and things like that based on their GetSetUp classes. They took those classes specifically to understand more about what their grandkids were doing and to help her daughter, who was trying to work from a home office. They provided some time for her to focus, even though they lived states apart.

Another learner I talked to learned how to save his vaccination card on his phone, so he could go into the theater and other places. The theater has a QR code instead of a paper playbill, but thanks to a class, he knew how to access the digital playbill. These are the kinds of things that we see changing all the time, but imagine if you weren’t keeping up with these changes. It would change your theater experience, your restaurant experience, and much more.

Research has shown that the older population was a little slower getting broadband into their houses because they didn’t have to have it for school or work. It changed a bit with the pandemic. Some of our community members learned how to host Zoom calls, so now they can do a book club or have weekly dinners with friends. It’s really allowed seniors to connect with grandkids and friends when someone moves away.

Those are some of the ways that digital literacy has allowed seniors to connect and stay in contact. It’s making a huge impact.

What recommendations would you give to seniors hoping to learn more about navigating the internet?

LM: There are all kinds of ways to research the internet, from articles online to YouTube videos. However, it’s so much more fun to learn in safe and secure classes with a community like GetSetUp. We offer a wide variety of classes on many different technology topics in different languages too. Classes also allow learners the opportunity to practice. We also have community sessions led by volunteers about topics that interest them, some of which are tech topics. Then people can bring up whatever they want to know more about. They’re able to research as a group and bring together the knowledge they’ve all learned.

What’s nice about our platform is that it’s a safe and secure community. We’re really focused on educational resources, and while different opinions are welcome, it’s based on factual knowledge and a community to practice with.

What would you say to a senior who feels hesitant to get online because it feels unknown or they’re afraid of the risks?

LM: That’s a valid concern. It’s important to read up on risks and ask questions. People are hesitant to ask questions because they feel like everyone else knows, but you really should be asking experts, your grandkids, or friends if you have questions so that you’re comfortable being online. We have classes that talk about data privacy, too. For instance, it’s important to know what your bank should ask you for and what they should never ask you for. If you are unsure, then ask your bank directly.

Another thing is to make sure you don’t give personal information that you wouldn’t normally give to someone. If you wouldn’t normally give your credit card information to someone who knocks on your door, you also shouldn’t do it on the internet. Anyone can fall into a scam at any age. When in doubt, get someone else to look at it, whether it’s a friend or family member. Ask them if an email looks strange to them or if they think what’s being requested of you is normal before you give up too much information. And never send money to someone you don’t know, that’s not through verified sites.

What are some common misconceptions that seniors often have when approaching the internet and digital skills?

LM: They think that everyone knows, and they’re far behind. Tech is changing every single day, so everyone is learning all the time. It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to it or not, there are people learning at your same pace. It’s about getting out there, practicing, and starting.

One of the things that make GetSetUp interesting is that we’ve tried to make our classes flexible so that they go at the pace of the learners. Learners can watch in the browser – in what we call our Lounge – and they can talk in the chat there without showing up on camera if they’re not ready. Some of our classes can be joined via Zoom, and you can opt in or out of turning on your camera. We’ve found that over time as people feel more comfortable and confident, they participate in their classes more.

It's about pacing yourself and practicing. It’s not something people get because they went on one time, no matter what it is. Make sure you’re being curious and asking questions!

What are some common misconceptions about seniors learning tech and getting online?

LM: The biggest thing is lumping them together as seniors. It’s like saying, “all women.” It will never work. Some of them are hungry for knowledge, keep up with technology, and have been dealing with privacy and security since the beginning. And there are other people who haven’t had these opportunities and are just learning. It’s important to meet individuals at their learning needs and provide a variety of options. No matter what, anyone can learn tech. There isn’t a minimum or maximum age.

Technology offers a lot of help with aging issues that people may face. Sometimes people develop tremors, hearing loss, or memory loss, so they can use technologies like Alexa to remind them of things or put together a list via voice command. Technology can help facilitate aging in place, even if you have some aging issues, like struggling to manage a mouse. There are interesting adaptations if you’re willing to explore, like separate mouses you can get that offer adaptions to slow down the cursor, and more and more adaptive technology is continuing to be created.

How does learning technology and becoming more digitally literate help seniors develop more confidence and independence?

LM: Most seniors do not want to go to a nursing home; they want to age in place and stay at home. Technology is allowing seniors to do that and allowing their loved ones and caregivers to feel more confident that they’re safe. Whether that’s Alexa reminding them of appointments, a secure lock that lets people enter with a fingerprint instead of a key, or a code for caregivers to come in and check on them.

Smartwatches are being used extensively to track heart rate and can be set to notify help if a person falls. It’s been helpful to people after heart attacks because the watch monitors your health all the time, and doctors can analyze this data over time. If you go into an appointment, the doctor is only able to track how you feel at that moment. It helps seniors feel more confident about their health because their doctors get a broader picture, and helps seniors stay at home.

It's also helping people to connect. Social isolation is a problem across all age groups. Your next-door neighbor isn’t always your best friend, so being able to reach out beyond the boundaries of wherever you are to find people who share your interests gives you a sense of purpose and community.    

We have various classes on meditation and coping with stress that allow for more vulnerable conversations. We also started our Club, which is a space for social and community sessions. These are led by volunteers and are more about talking with others with informal conversations that are more free-scripted, where people are talking about whatever is on their minds.

How can a senior become a guide and start their own class?

LM: We have a guide hiring process. We tend to hire based on what’s of interest and in certain areas where we’re missing guides. We always have that open, and seniors can apply just like they would for a regular job. They need to have the qualifications for whatever they’re teaching, whether it’s yoga or technology or photography, to show that they’ve worked in that area. Then they go through an interview process.

We have a Guide Academy, which teaches them to use the backend of our system. It’s not just Zoom – they need to create presentations and follow our standardization. They usually give one demo class to make sure everything goes well and that they’re a good fit. Then going forward, they have the support of our guide team to help.

Learn more about becoming a guide.

Senior man on a GetSetUp class

Photo provided by GetSetUp

Tell me more about how learning from other seniors on a peer-to-peer basis influences the GetSetUp communities.

LM: It’s an important differential because people in the same generation have the same references, whether it’s books or media or what you learned in school. It’s not just the guide who leads the class – it’s the learners because they’re of a similar age demographic and also have a wealth of knowledge built up over decades. There’s less fear of looking stupid if you know everyone is there to learn the same thing and there are people in the same age demographic who can do it. You’re able to learn from peers who maybe have the same device as you, so other learners can help with technology too.

It’s empowering because it reveals other people who can and will do these things. It allows seniors to take the information, come back if they want, and have notes for practicing. Our learners can go on to host community sessions, where they can highlight something of interest to them and share it with the community. That’s another way to practice and go a step further with what you’re learning.

What classes you would recommend to seniors starting out with GetSetUp?

LM: The new member orientation because it shows you how to navigate the site. Then, I would go into classes to help you understand your device. Whether you’re taking the class on a smartphone, computer, or tablet, it’s important to understand the features of your device. I’ve taken some of those classes, and I’ve realized I had no idea my device has some features that it does. Sometimes, you learn new tips no matter what age demographic you’re in. Our devices have so many different things they can do, and we probably use them much less than what they have the capacity to do.

After that, I would take classes for communicating, like email and Zoom. Then, you can explore whatever is of interest, whether that’s fitness in the mornings, taking an art class, or learning about travel. Many seniors have improved their health and wellness extensively through regular fitness classes with us and classes to learn about eating more nutritiously.

In your own experience, what has surprised you the most about GetSetUp?

LM: What surprises me the most is how connected people feel, even virtually. We have state partnerships in Michigan and New York, and some of our communities have scheduled their own meetings. Sometimes they meet up with just one other person, or a group of Michiganders pick a central location and drive to meet each other. It’s about connecting and inspiring people. I hear all these great stories about how taking that one class became an extra push.

I interviewed one of our learners the other day about a class she took from one of our guides who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The learner said she couldn’t walk the whole thing, but when her granddaughter was studying abroad in Spain, she got to visit her and see the cathedral at the end of the Camino de Santiago that she recognized from the class. It inspired her to pursue the opportunity to travel to Spain, even though it might not have been her first destination choice without having seen the class and heard about the guide’s experience.

What do the learners on your platform say about GetSetUp?

LM: The connection is the big thing – the ability to learn something and utilize it in their everyday life. Also, to feel confident that they don’t have to ask a kid or grandkid who’s not interested in showing them how to do something. Most seniors want to learn how to do it, and when you ask a relative, they often just do it for you. It’s empowering for seniors to get on a platform and ask something like, “Hey, I’ve heard about Alexa, but what is it?” Then they learn about it, get their first Alexa, and start using it.

One of our learners got Zoom and started learning how to use it. She ended up teaching her niece how to do something on Zoom because she had taken the class. It puts people in an empowering position to learn, share knowledge, and participate in the conversation.

I love our stories when our learners have ended up meeting each other. It’s so powerful to hear that you can form such a strong connection digitally and then go on to share something. Some of our learners met up to go birdwatching, and some of them had a Thanksgiving dinner together. It’s inspiring and exciting to see seniors learning skills and applying them in different ways. I spoke to one learner who had never thought about drawing, and she realized she was really good at it. She also said that the meditation classes really helped her deal with an MRI.

What we’re doing is really exciting, and I’ve loved being a part of it. During the pandemic, it was important, but I think it’s always important because it’s how people are staying connected. People who don’t stay up to date with technology are slowly being excluded. To get a vaccine in the US, you had to sign up online, so for people who didn’t know how to get online, it was problematic. Things are moving toward telehealth, and everything is shifting that way.

GetSetUp is about exploring and growing. The seniors on our platform enjoy learning new things and have something exciting to look forward to and share. They get to make new friends and share their passions when they don’t have someone who lives near them that’s interested in the same thing. Our community is global, so there are classes from India and Australia, for instance. One of our learners said that he took a class “tomorrow today” because the guide was in Australia teaching in the morning, and the learner was taking the class at 10 PM in the US. It opens windows to different worlds that people wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.


Learn more about GetSetUp, or check out another Q&A with an industry expert.