COVID 19 provided some wonderful motivation and new opportunities for older adults to learn how to navigate online. In 2020, some of our younger senior members (age 55 to 75) already had a higher level of digital literacy. During the COVID lockdowns, many moved on to develop creative content. So what’s next? Our skilled facilitators are now applying social learning theory as they set the stage for a new slate of online programs for the fall and winter.
Note: many of our facilitators are retired secondary school educators and adult educators. Throughout their careers, they have already learned the 5C’s of adult education and lifelong learning:
Our online participants told us they learned most with skilled and experienced facilitators in an informal and social setting. The social learning steps described by Albert Bandura (1977) the creator of the social learning theory include: observation, attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. We concluded social learning theory could be applied to our online learning sessions.
By, With and For Older Adults
Social learning theory can be effectively applied to learning new skills in a safe and private virtual meeting space. Our pilot projects with smaller groups of 6 to 10 were most successful.
- Observation: our experienced facilitators planned, organized and facilitated group sessions. By observing and paying attention to peers who excelled in using digital tools or platforms, our less experienced learners could acquire valuable knowledge and techniques. Facilitators organized pre-taped or livestream demonstrations. They also attended webinars and online forums where other experts shared their experiences and best practices. A deeper understanding of new material was acquired through follow-up online group discussions, phone calls and informal practice.
- Modeling: Learners could engage by imitating the actions and strategies of skilled members familiar with existing technologies to demonstrate and communicate online. Learners could replicate the steps at their own pace. By actively practicing and emulating the behaviours of the more proficient users, learners started to explore and develop proficiency in digital skills.
- Collaboration: Social learning theory emphasizes the importance of social interactions in the learning process. Learners can benefit from our learning approach that often involves collaborative planning and group projects. They can develop a project plan, exchange knowledge, provide feedback, and learn from each other along the way. An example of this would be planning an online exhibit and inviting guests to attend.
- Reinforcement and Feedback: Positive reinforcement and constructive feedback are essential in motivating learners and reinforcing their digital skills development. Providing learners with positive feedback when they demonstrate progress or achieve milestones can increase their motivation to continue learning. Additionally, receiving feedback from instructors, mentors, or peers can help learners refine their skills and identify areas for improvement.
- Self-Efficacy: Social learning theory emphasizes the role of self-efficacy, which refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to successfully perform a particular task. We include independent and experiential learning. Building learners’ self-efficacy in digital skills involves a) setting achievable goals, b) providing opportunities for success, and c) gradually increasing the complexity of tasks. By fostering a sense of competence and confidence, learners are more likely to engage in and persist with learning artistic and digital skills.
Unstructured online socials – social connectivity scored high on the list of recommendations. “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.” Our topic series often end with online socials or public exhibits where others are invited to celebrate the learning and outcomes.
Overall, we’ve found that applying social learning theory to online digital skills development involves the creation of supportive, informal and fun online environments, promoting observation and modeling, facilitating collaboration, providing reinforcement and feedback, and nurturing learners’ self-efficacy.
By leveraging these highly social interactions, our less experienced group members effectively acquire and enhance their digital skills while making online friends with like-minded peers along the way. Come for the fun! Stay for the learning!