The cognitive slowing that occurs with aging affects an older adult’s ability to maintain linear connections required for learning. Most teaching involves steps, but the older adult’s ability to remember those steps is affected by the aging process (see Tip #2). What may seem obvious for younger learners can no longer be taken for granted. They will not necessarily make the connection between a cause and effect without explicit instructions broken down into discrete steps. An instruction to “click on ‘New’ in the File menu” may be easy for a younger learner, but what the older adult hears is “file” and “new” and tries to figure out what is where. They need an instruction like the example above broken down into discrete steps, such as: “Move the cursor to the upper left corner and click on the word ‘File’. Move the cursor over the word ‘New’ in the list that opens. When the word is highlighted, press the left mouse button.”
Consistently using specific step by step instructions begins to take the mystery out of computers for older adults. It also reduces the load on their processing, which is already taxed.
Also, since repetition is important (see Tip #4), handouts or other materials intended to give them practice should use discrete, numbered steps. Numbering is important as a way of isolating each step. For example, instructions to copy and paste might be broken down into four distinct steps: highlighting something, copying it, moving to the destination, and pasting. Each step should then have detailed instructions. Using the example to copy and paste, printed instructions for steps one and two might look something like this (but would, of course, include relevant visual cues):
Step 1 (highlighting):
Place the cursor on the item to be copied
Hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor across the item
When the item is highlighted, release the mouse button.
Step 2 (copying)
Move the cursor to the top of the window
Click on the word “Edit”
Move the cursor over the word “Copy” in the list that opens
When the word “Copy” is highlighted, press the left mouse button
Tip #6: Use discrete, step-by-step instructions, both verbally, and in printed materials