Engaging and motivating participants

We have discussed the learning needs of CCRC populations, how to structure the learning environment, the necessary equipment, and the content of the classes. What comes next, on paper, may seem like the easiest thing a trainer can do as it seems less labor-intensive: motivating and engaging older adults in the classroom. However, keeping older learners motivated to continue attending classes even when they experience difficulties with the material or lack confidence in their ability to continue can be a challenge. In this section, we outline ways in which technology trainers can keep their students coming back to class: making sure instructors are sociable and well-versed in the material, assembling a positive assistive team, instilling a "practice makes perfect" mantra, and promoting a community within the CCRC wherein residents help one another when difficulties with the technology arise.

Training the trainer

Recommending that the instructors of a technology intervention be well-versed and knowledgeable in the technologies they are teaching and the online practices they are demonstrating seems obvious. After all, how would students learn anything from a chemistry professor who did not understand molecules, or how would athletes learn how to swim properly from a coach who had never been in water before? But when we make the recommendation to "train the trainer," we are not simply insisting that the trainers themselves be experts on the topics being covered; we are also implying that the trainers need to be instructed on how to best present these topics specifically to a class with older adults in CCRCs.

This is easier said than done, as presenting information to a crowd of older CCRC residents can be vastly different from presenting information to a typical classroom of students. Instructors must be sure to enunciate clearly and substantially increase the volume of their voices not only so that those in the back of the class can hear but also so that those who are hard of hearing have an easier time listening and understanding. Instructors must also speak more slowly than they may usually be accustomed to, as this allows older adults with slower cognitive processing speed to better absorb the material. Having an instructor who is constantly repeating statements and recalling earlier topics can also help those with slower cognitive processing to absorb the lessons. This is not always a simple task, as some instructors may find the constant repetition of material to be tedious and boring (and if the instructor is bored, the students will know it). A bit of patience with students and the material can go a long way to assure that the residents learning the technology get the most out of the class and enjoy the experience.

Finally, while it may be difficult to "teach" a trainer on the attitudes best displayed in a training situation, a trainer can at least be cognizant of the types of attitudes older adults in CCRCs respond positively to. In the case of our training sessions, participants responded best to an attitude of friendly professionalism wherein the instructors demonstrated a confident command of the material but did not refrain from being sociable with the participants. ALC and ILC residents tend to enjoy sharing personal stories and enjoy getting to know their instructors, and thus training a trainer to be social (while maintaining a bit of authority like any other teacher) can make the sessions more fun for participants.

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