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Teaching Seniors About Social Media: Target goals & lessons learned

Earlier this year, I started leading presentations and short classes for seniors on social media.  The purpose of these presentations is to demystify some of the buzz words that have become such an integrated part of our culture — Facebook, Twitter, tweet, blog… and the list goes on.

I think this goal proposes an important distinction — social media education for the purpose of developing a broad-based understanding, not necessarily for the purpose of jumping straight in and starting an account.

The classes I’ve taught are most often comprised of three participant groups:

  • People who started a social media account (usually Facebook) but who aren’t quite sure how it works or what to do with their new account. Here, the target goal for social media education is to help participants develop an understanding of basic functions and features within the social network they’re interested in.
  • People who are thinking about maybe starting a social media account (again, usually Facebook) but aren’t sure about what benefits social media could offer them. The target goal with this group is to highlight the practical uses for social media.  An approach that is particularly useful is to compare and contrast a specific social media feature with a similar feature of a more “traditional” communication medium.  (e.g. comparing a traditional hard-copy journal to a blog and it’s powerful ability to support sharing and interactive communication)
  • People who have no interest in starting a social media account but who are interested in learning about social networks. The goal with this group is to build vocabulary as well as a basic understanding of why people use social media and what benefits can be derived from social media. In contemporary society, television, radio, and print are flooded with references to Facebook and Twitter.  Although this group may have absolutely no interest in using social media, developing a basic vocabulary and understanding can be extremely empowering.  Having an understanding of these platforms — even if one chooses not to jump in and start and account — empowers seniors to understand and participate in conversations which may reference or allude to social media.

In order to deliver content that helps meet the needs of each of these groups, I’ve found it useful to structure classes/presentations in a way that allows participants to guide and direct content.  Classes are not hands on, but instead are informational presentations driven by participant questions.  (For groups two & three above, a hands-on lab class would be way too much information — and not necessarily the right information.)  A participant-driven format means that seniors have much more power and control over the learning process.  Handing control over to participants is especially useful in helping seniors to develop an understanding of a topic which may otherwise cause them to feel disempowered or “out of the loop”.

While presentations are driven by participant questions, it’s certainly practical to use slides and handouts as (a) a general guide and outline and (b) a take-home resource for seniors.  Here are the slides I use for the Social Media 101 class…

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Posted by on September 19, 2010 in Uncategorized


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