Learning how to handle new media is often fraught with anxiety: being too old for modern technology, being able to break something, or having concerns about security. When entering the digital world, these hurdles must first be overcome.

What’s up in digital media literacy education?

Three voices. To find out how we are doing in the field of digital media literacy, we conducted a small comparison between three European countries. The reported experiences are different – but also the same. Here’s what the Danish, German and Portuguese adult education experts said.

Michael Sommer Photo Pexels


 Marianna Fridjonsdottir, Denmark:

“The Scandinavian governments have been a major factor in moving generations towards digital communication.

For example, in Denmark as a citizen you must communicate with all official organs through digital channels. This has forced older generations to learn some basic skills, just to be able to read post from the hospital, for example, and has provided motivation for people to learn to help themselves.

Everyone should be able to participate in ever-changing modern society.

There are also more elderly people on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter taking part in the general discussion of the day.

It is necessary for all to use technology, especially communication technology and channels, which can give a strong voice to dedicated groups. It does not matter if it is a question of abusing women, beating children or not taking care of educating and caring for the older generation – everyone should be able to participate in ever-changing modern society.

Learning itself it is best done in small groups, in short sessions where you start by explaining that it is not dangerous to push the buttons and that talking together on a social media channel is essentially no different from talking on the phone or sending a postcard.

I have had very fulfilling experience of working with the group 65+, both women and men. When they realised how easy things were, they learned quickly and willingly. It is overcomplicating things that is the problem.

Learning itself it is best done in small groups, in short sessions where you start by explaining that it is not dangerous to push the button.

I have run courses at the Continuing Education Centre at the University of Iceland and Akureyri, for example, and I think it would be time to start producing online courses where learning would happen step-by-step. What is important is to “talk the same language” and not move too fast.

I have many personal stories as well. The best one is my mother. She turns 86 this year and communicates and participates on Facebook. Lace-making is one of her big passions. She started learning Spanish, using Duolingo, to be able to better understand her Spanish friends in the different lace-making groups she frequently visits on Facebook.

She also has her own YouTube channel where she has learned to create playlists for different interests, and she behaves like a teenager. She cannot go to sleep because she immerses herself in watching the videos. She has also become an excellent teacher for her 80+ friends, showing them how to use Facebook.”

Marianna Fridjonsdottir

  • is a producer, writer, director, channel executive and web entrepreneur;
  • has been in the media business for more than 45 years, active in television and web broadcasting and consulting and lecturing on web communications and social media;
  • is the founder of ToonTV, a non-violent children’s web channel. She comes from Iceland and lives in Copenhagen.

Gerlind Rennoch, Germany:

“In Germany, there is still a wide gap in digital skills between age groups. What is self-evident for almost all young people, remains a foreign, inaccessible world for many older people.

Only about 60 percent of over-50s are online in Germany. Research shows that many older people would like to educate themselves.

But it also shows that learning how to handle new media is often fraught with anxiety: being too old for modern technology, being able to break something, or having concerns about security. When entering the digital world, these hurdles must first be overcome.

Interest in digital media is aroused when older people realise added value for their own lives using digital media. Receiving photos of grandchildren or talking to them over the internet on their mobile phones is an incentive to embrace new technology. Some also recognise the opportunities of smart home technologies in assistance and care. These technologies can help them to stay at home rather than being institutionalised.

Learning how to handle new media is often fraught with anxiety.

Once the interest is aroused, there is a demand for support. Mastering the step into the digital world is a big challenge. Just as learning a foreign language is much easier under professional guidance, this is also the case when dealing with media such as computers, tablets and smartphones as well as the use of the Internet.

In order to facilitate access to courses for seniors, our new website, for example, offers an event database for seniors (wissensdurstig.de). There, older people can find the right support in their region.

Through the start of the service centre, the Federal Government is supporting the needs of many older people to learn for life and to deal with digital media. The interest in learning new things is present in old age due to individual learning experiences and the abundance of time after retirement age, and educational behaviour changes. Most older people prefer to learn non-formally and independently.

More and more projects and education providers are responding to the wishes of senior citizens, such as a project in a little town called Schloen, 150 km north of Berlin. The goal of the “Schloener Online Fox” is to bring older people together on the Internet and digital media, making everyday life easier for them. The main target group of the project is older people in care facilities and those with disabilities.

The more than 170 senior citizen computer clubs in Germany also offer target group-specific offers – from interactive courses to outreach to people with reduced mobility – to support older people on the way to and on the Internet, thus giving them social participation and the ability to live more independently in old age.”

Gerlind Rennoch

  • is project consultant for “Digitalisation and Education Service for the Elderly” at the Federal Association of Senior Citizens Organisations (BAGSO).
  • is in charge of the new online portal wissensdurstig.de. The site is maintained by BAGSO and funded by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, and Women and Youth (BMFSFJ).

Carlos Ribeiro, Portugal:

“It is already clear to many training and non-formal education operators that the development of digital skills for the elderly should not be built up in a school model context.

However, it should be insisted upon that some sort of approach, whether methodological or organisational, be generalised to answer the need.

In Portugal, there are many creative practices that can inspire anyone who wants to adopt this line of action. One of them is called “Keys for Life”. The programme, held in the region of Coimbra, uses alternative approaches in pedagogical, spatial and curricular terms.

I have followed the evolution of this pioneering initiative and concluded that it integrates the essential of what must be an effective solution, not only pedagogically but also in the scope of citizenship and local development. Its enrolment as a case study by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning in 2018 also suggests that it will certainly be an inspiring example of digital literacy education.

In the “Keys for Life” workshop, digital skills training includes the use of social media, gadgets, email communication, editing electronic texts and photographs and Internet search. Learners practise digital skills for different purposes ranging from the use of news portals to using online health services. Also, a closed Facebook group for the learners has been created and on it the learners interact and exchange ideas with other learners.

The planning of all the learning activities was flexible and specific to each group of learners. Generally, the approach is also participatory; stakeholders, learners and facilitators work together. Curriculum design starts with learners defining their learning needs and goals. They also participate in defining the learning strategies and themes for the sessions.

Learning spaces and tools could be diverse, in order to ensure the freedom of choice of each participant.

The learning takes place in a peaceful and friendly atmosphere, where the learners feel welcomed, valued and loved by the team and peer learners. The learning space is enriched with books, newspapers, dictionaries and other auxiliary materials – including flowers on the table! Facilitators show that they value the experience, cultural background, knowledge, needs, interests and life stories of each learner.

So, in addition to the concrete conditions of the elderly participants, other success factors could be considered when planning media literacy activities:

– learning spaces and tools could be diverse, in order to ensure the freedom of choice of each participant;

– learning facilitators, complementing the training staff, could be skilled volunteers running professional and cultural activities at a local level;

– training could be held in collaborative learning spaces that are welcoming, linked to everyday life and facilitating an open and informal interpersonal relationship;

– a dynamic of co-management and active participation could be allowed in the workshop in order to create empowerment and a feeling of control of the process in the participants;

– communication initiatives involving local press and social media about learning activities, could valorise the individual and collective participation and reinforce the learners’ self-esteem.”

Carlos Ribeiro

  • is manager in Caixa de Mitos – Social Innovation Agency;
  • Portuguese EPALE Ambassador for non-formal and informal education;
  • AGRI Magazine Editorial Coordinator;
  • Online and social media contents developer and manager.

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