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Senior Citizen's Guide

Computer Classes for Senior Citizens

The concept of lifelong learning took on full meaning for Esther McGowan when she registered for Intro to PCs for Seniors. "I have grandchildren who use computers, and I wanted to get a feel for them," says McGowan.

Delores McCarthy, another student of the class agrees. "I overheard my ten-year-old grandson discussing computers, and I thought, I've got to get on the ball."

Many seniors are signing up for computer classes through local schools, colleges, community centers, and online (Internet) resources. Today's technology dictates the demand and need for computer knowledge from people of all ages, and senior citizens are determined not to get left behind.

A formal classroom setting with a computer for each person for a lot of hands-on instruction and practice is the best way to learn. Introductory courses start from scratch. The classes give a strong foundation, with full explanations of how computers work, the terminology involved, and how to use the mouse. Usually, this course is followed by, or combined with, a Windows class, which allows seniors to learn the computer's operating system. This, in turn, will let users work with software programs such as Word and Excel. It is essential to learn Windows before tackling advanced classes.

Herschel Elias, a financial analyst who had no experience with computers, now uses one for both pleasure and work. "I was a little apprehensive about signing up. But Windows was my favorite class. The teacher went step-by-step in showing us the material, and she was very organized and patient. Not everyone picks it up at the same pace."

Classes for seniors do tend to move at a slower pace, with students receiving one-on-one attention. Whatever the pace of the learning, the end result should be the same — comfort using a computer.

You need not own a computer to become computer literate. Many coffee houses, libraries, schools, and colleges offer use of their computers to the general public. McGowan, who now uses the computer at the local library, likes the Internet, which is a network designed for the purposes of sharing information on just about everything you can imagine. "I like to research my family genealogy and interests." In the Fall, she's planning a trip to Las Vegas, and now knows what to expect there because she's already toured casinos in the area by way of the Internet.

Courses on using the Internet are popular. Once seniors learn the basics of different search engines, which are special navigational programs used to find information, and how to send and receive e-mail, a whole new world opens up. There are websites that deal with health concerns, housing issues, politics, hobbies, chat rooms, and anything else you can imagine, that are designed just for seniors. The topics are endless.

Many seniors use the Internet to stay in contact with family and friends. It can also become a resourceful tool for entertainment and education. Seventy-five year old McCarthy says, "The Internet was my favorite course. I use the Internet to write e-mails, research medical topics, and to get driving directions."

Prices for computer courses do vary. Some classes can cost a few hundred dollars, while others are much less. Look at what's offered in your area, and see what fits into your budget. The quality of the course and the type of instruction are critical. Look for programs that give you a lot of hands-on instruction. Talk with others about courses they have taken. Call local colleges and schools to see if they offer computer classes for seniors.

It is evident that computers and seniors are coming to a meeting of the minds. Computers are more user friendly, and seniors are less fearful of them. "If you are interested and not afraid, you can learn a lot," says McGowan.

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