The University of Porto launches website for the elderly digital capacitation

Average life expectancy has increased by 10 years over the past five decades and it is expected that by 2070, 30% of the European population will be over 65. This represents a shift in perspective and policies to foster active and healthy ageing, with a holistic view from childhood to retirement, considering the growing health and long-term care needs. Lifelong learning is increasingly relevant for older people to stay active and included.

The Competence Centre for Active and Healthy Aging of the University of Porto (Porto4Ageing) is part of several international projects aimed at promoting good practices for ageing and health, such as ICTskills4All, whose goal is to help the digital empowerment of the elderly and the disadvantaged. Over two years, a teaching platform was developed - in a collaborative approach, i.e., with the involvement of the end-user and the implementation of usability tests that allow the materials to be adapted to the users' needs. "We ran tests with various groups to ensure that our platform is easy to navigate. Things like clicking on a magnifying glass to search that, for experienced users seems obvious, but for those who are learning it is not." Explained Liliana Rodrigues, project manager. "We also needed to gauge what the real learning needs are. To do this, we and our partners delivered face-to-face courses in which we concluded, for example, that online safety is one of the topics that raise more doubts and fears and for which an empathetic approach is needed.

According to Kerolyn Ramos, a project member who taught in these classes, one of the main barriers to learning is the students' fear of not being able to: "throughout the sessions, one of our big roles was to encourage the students. Even at the end, when asked what they would change about the session, one of the answers that occurred most was "my way of learning". It is very important to take this into account when making materials for these groups, so that they work as a facilitator, and not a frustration."

The development of the platform, which will continue to be updated and translated into four languages, helped ascertain the importance of empowering the elderly and disadvantaged with digital skills: "with the groups we worked with, we managed to demystify the smartphone and show them its versatility. Now we have a whatsapp group, where students talk almost daily. We also had the case of a student who was unemployed and, after she managed to write her resume, she landed a job”. For Kerolyn, results go even further: "besides helping to fight isolation and giving them tools, there is also an increase in self-esteem when they realise, they can do it.”

The pandemic has further demonstrated the importance of digital skills in the elderly, when, for example, it allows them to have regular online medical appointments and access to digital prescriptions. Liliana Rodrigues adds "we don't want to train computer geniuses, we want to give them tools to communicate with the world and vice-versa".

ICTskills4all is an international project funded by the European Union's Erasmus+ program, coordinated by the Competence Centre for Active and Healthy Ageing of the University of Porto, with partners in Belgium, Latvia, Poland and the United Kingdom.