Developing Digital Literacy


With an end date to the pandemic still not clear, Canadians are struggling to cope with physical distancing after a long winter. With seniors being the most vulnerable to COVID-19, they are likely to spend more time distancing for longer than the rest of the general population. Sadly, this isolation can have major repercussions.

A recent study showed that social disconnection puts older adults at greater risk of depression and anxiety, and can even lead to health problems such as cognitive decline and heart disease. People with strong social bonds are 50 per cent less likely to suffer negative effects from isolation than those who have fewer social connections. While technology can be effective in connecting isolated seniors with friends and family, access to technology is still an issue.

According to Stats Canada, in 2016, 68.2 per cent of seniors had access to the internet, up from just 32.2 per cent in 2007. While this growth is positive, 30 per cent of the ageing population still has no access to the internet. And of those who do have internet, many don’t have strong enough digital literacy skills to use videoconferencing tools that may help to improve their mental health.

A national literacy organization is hoping to change this by improving the digital literacy skills of adult Canadians. Through ABC Life Literacy Canada’s Youth Teaching Adults program, seniors can access free downloadable resources on tools that help people virtually connect with friends and family. These “lesson plans” are written in clear language and formatted as step-by-step guides for at-home learning, showing adults how to use Skype, Zoom, Google Duo and FaceTime in a way that’s easy to understand.

These lesson plans come at a much-needed time as many adults, particularly those in disadvantaged communities, face isolation.

Video calling platforms can help support the development of a stronger sense of connection and maintain already existing relationships. In one study, older adults who used video chat technology such as Skype had significantly lower risks of depression than those who did not video chat.

“We know that digital literacy is an important skill that Canadians need, especially with 84 per cent of jobs currently requiring computer and technical skills,” says Mack Rogers, executive director of ABC Life Literacy Canada. “We are pleased to offer programming to help our Canadian seniors, who need these skills now more than ever. Digital literacy plays a huge role in maintaining social relationships, and our hope is that seniors will access these free lesson plans on our website and equip themselves with the know-how to use these important tools.”

While accessing technology can seem overwhelming, Rogers advises seniors start out with a small goal to set themselves up for success.

“Don’t set yourself up for failure and frustration by wanting to do it all at once. If you’re just starting out, set yourself a small achievable goal, like sending your kids or grandkids an email,” he says. “If you’re more advanced, aim to master a new software program or platform, like InDesign or WordPress. Depending on your goal and level of expertise, you can find resources online or among friends and family.”

For more advanced users, he cautions them to not skip over learning the basics, as it’s important to make sure you have a solid foundation on which to build. For example, learning best practices for staying safe online, such as never opening an email from an unknown sender and looking for secure “https” sites when entering personal or financial information, are important for those who will be spending a lot of time online.