Every aspect of life is increasingly driven by computers, from instant access to the latest news to meeting through web conferencing. Because today's seniors weren't raised with computers, they may be overwhelmed by the ever-changing cultural landscape. For some seniors, computers may be completely new territory. A 80-year-old former homemaker, for example, might never have had occasion to use computers. Without computer skills, though, seniors can become frustrated in a society that relies on technology.

Why Seniors Need Computer Classes

Computers increasingly dominate the social landscape. Seniors who can't use social networking sites, who aren't adept at emailing or who type very slowly may find themselves isolated, suggests Marek van de Watering, guest lecturer at Gerrit Rietveld Academy in the Netherlands. Those who attempt to use these technologies without basic knowledge may be embarrassed -- for example, by posting something on a public forum that is intended for a private conversation. Moreover, not all seniors are retired. Seniors who wish to retain their positions or become promotable, or who want to return to the workplace, need basic computer skills, and may even need more advanced training.

Basic Skills

Seniors who have no prior computer experience or who have been out of the workplace so long that their only computer knowledge involves DOS may need to brush up on basic skills. At minimum, seniors should learn how to type at a decent rate or, if hand dexterity is limited, use voice recognition software, communicate via social networking, email and understand how the Internet works. Education about how to spot a scam, tell when a website contains malware and perform basic word processing is also vital.

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Advanced Skills

For seniors who already know how to communicate and draft documents with their computers, more complex skills -- ranging from using spreadsheets to photo editing to computer programming -- may be in order. There's no need for seniors in this group to enroll in college or take costly classes. Instead, the key is to find a free program or course that teaches the skill needed at a level the senior is prepared to approach. An introduction to Photoshop course, for example, could be ideal for a senior who wants to learn how to edit her personal photos.

Where to Learn

Public libraries sometimes offer free or low-priced courses in basic computer skills, and continuing education courses at a local community college are also a good bet. Some universities even offer free online classes, but these are best for seniors who already have basic Internet skills. Free MOOCs (or Massive Open Online Courses) are also available through many providers, but are best for seniors who are at least moderately skilled at using the Internet and wish to acquire advanced skills. Private tutors are sometimes willing to help seniors who are uncomfortable attending classes, and retired computer teachers or professors are often good -- but more expensive -- bets.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.