Help me show my mother-in-law that the iPad "just works"
August 21, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

My 70+ year old mother-in-law just bought herself an iPad. Great! Except that she has LITERALLY never used a computer in her life. How should I approach teaching her how to use it?

My mother-in-law got herself an iPad so that she could interact with my son more than twice a year. Previous to this purchase, she has been distrustful and woefully ignorant about anything computer-technology related. For example, whenever she hears something on the television about a computer virus, she unplugs my wife's old pre-Pentium I computer modem from the phone jack. Doesn't matter that the computer hasn't been turned on in probably a decade.

When she arrived home with her new iPad, she didn't like that she couldn't "turn it off." She was also freaked out that someone may have seen her carry it in the house so she PUT IT IN THE GUEST BEDROOM AND CLOSED THE DOOR. So there it sits.

She will be visiting us at the end of the week and I assume the new iPad will be coming with her. That means that I (the family technology "expert") will be responsible for showing her the ropes. However, I'm kind of at a loss on how to begin, considering that the extent of my mother-in-law's exposure to technology is 1) the use of her cell phone and 2) entering an address into her GPS (which she calls "Maggie", short for "Magellan", the brand name).

I have an iPhone and my wife has an iPod Touch, so we're both familiar with iOS. I'm pretty tech savvy, but I definitely take for granted the knowledge that I have. There's so much to teach - email, Facetime, iMessage, apps, updating, settings, gestures, etc. There's also things that come with experience like web safety, uninstalling/installing an app that isn't working correctly, etc. I don't want to gloss over anything, forget anything, or overwhelm her.

I really want to reiterate that she just isn't computer illiterate, she is almost a computer denier. I will be staring from scratch, a blank slate of a person. I've read this 2-year old AskMe, but I'm looking for concrete, anecdotal, tactical information.

We've found an iPad for beginners class in her hometown, but I'm afraid that even that will be too much too fast for her. Have you had to teach an aging parent how to use an iPad, specifically? How did you go about it? Thanks so much!
posted by photovox to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Set up some of her favourite things for her, which is what my very tech savvy has been doing for my sounds-like-yours mother - an icon that takes her directly to her gmail account so that she can write emails to her grandson, another that goes to her YouTube so she can find and listen to old Hindi music, and all her favourite games prominently displayed.

As she gets familiar, you can add more to her knowledge base instead of overwhelming her with all the details you've listed (and are probably feeling overwhelmed by).
posted by infini at 11:38 AM on August 21, 2012


I'd focus on the specific tasks that she wants to do. If all she wants to do is use Facetime to see her grandson, then walk her through the steps involved in setting up a Facetime connection and leave it at that.

I don't think there is any point in teaching her about apps, settings, updates, etc. if they won't help her with the things she actually wants to do.

Maybe if you her that she could look up youtube videos on gardening (or harley maintenance or whatever her hobbies are), then she might express an interest in learning how to do that task as well, and you could teach her how.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:38 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


er, that's my tech savvy dad doing all this. He's been introducing computing at a pace comfortable to mom.
posted by infini at 11:39 AM on August 21, 2012


Is there an Apple store near her that she would be able to visit? She could go to one of their free sessions that explain iOS at a really basic level.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:39 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


My 85 year old grandfather recently got an iPad, and he really likes it. He was already pretty computer savvy for his age, though.

One of the biggest issues I remember him having was typos. He'd type something in, not realize that he typed it incorrectly, and then would be seeing something strange that he wouldn't understand. The biggest issue came from typing his password incorrectly, since you can't even see that you've made a typo. So, I'd definitely make sure that your mother-in-law knows how to fix typing mistakes, even if it's just "delete everything and start again".

For the most part, my grandfather has done pretty well—most of the "training" that I did with him was going through different tasks he'd want to do: send an email, search for an app, etc. I'd guide him through it, then have him try it without my guidance, to make sure he got it.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 11:48 AM on August 21, 2012


Show her what interests *her*, this is key.

My 76 year old aunt could not care less about Kickstarter or Coursera (i.e. things I might show her), but she loves how she can search for property for sale locally... so she can spy on her neighbours. She is also slowly getting used to maps/streetview for this reason too.

I really suggest taking the device into your lap and just using it whilst she's nearby. Use it slowly and swipe 'idly'. I baked a cheesecake along to a video on the ipad - auntie sat in the kitchen too and watched, and then ate cheesecake whilst checking it out.

This might take a matter of weeks even on the introduction phase alone, but it is so, so worth it.
posted by Chorus at 11:51 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really want to reiterate that she just isn't computer illiterate, she is almost a computer denier.

"The best thing about the iPad, Mother Vox, is that it's not a computer. It's really more like a cell phone or Maggie, in that it is an electronic device that can do lots of the things a computer can do, without a lot of the downsides. It doesn't get viruses, and it's literally impossible to break it -- other than by physically damaging it. Even in the worst of worst case scenarios, you can just wipe it all off and start fresh like it just came out of the box."
posted by Rock Steady at 12:01 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm looking for concrete, anecdotal, tactical information.

Focus your attack. "There's so much to teach - email, Facetime, iMessage, apps, updating, settings, gestures, etc." is exactly the opposite of what I'd recommend. Do not try to teach her "how to use an iPad." Figure out what, exactly, she wants to do.

I didn't teach my dad how to use a Mac. I taught him how to write a letter with Microsoft Word and then print it. That is the only thing he wanted to use a computer for. Later, maybe a decade after email became more ubiquitous, my sister gave him a Windows laptop...and again, he did not learn to use Windows, he learned how to read and send emails. So now he could correspond with people via mail and electronically, and he was happy.

To my knowledge, my dad never learned how to do anything with a computer unrelated to those two tasks. I doubt he knew how to empty the trash folder. So what? It never interfered with the device's performance. I don't think he ever surfed the Internet. So what? He didn't want to.

So that's my advice. Pare your lesson down to what's essential—not essential to "learning to use an iPad," but essential to whatever your mother-in-law specifically wants to do. Start there, by having a conversation with her to pinpoint what that is. If it relates to keeping in touch with your son, does she want to use email? FaceTime? You note that you take your own computer knowledge for granted and I think that's astute, because how many of us learned to use a Mac or Windows by sitting down and saying, "Okay, today I'm going to learn how to use a Mac"? Most of us learned one thing at a time, as we needed them.
posted by cribcage at 12:02 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would recommend flashcards.

It isn't so much the function that will get her, but possibly the terminology. Right? So why not make up some easy to use flashcards that say things like:

- (Front) To video chat! ------> (Reverse) 1) Press the button at the bottom of the iPad to wake it up. 2) Slide finger along bar to Unlock computer and entering code XXXX (if necessary). 3) Find and touch icon for "Facetime" (or whatever).

I feel like having simple step-by-step instructions with all the terminology will help her get the hang of this quicker.

I'd also avoid using the "folders" feature that lets you combine icons into groups. I think adding another layer of "organization" may just succeed in hiding things from her.

Remember to include instructions for how to turn it on and all the way off, and how to multitask/close non-functioning programs. Those are tricky, and can even trip up savvy folks like my mom. Since closing programs or restarting the iPad can often solve any problems, you want to make sure she can do that so that she's not left with a "broken" iPad for weeks at a time and unable to use it.
posted by jph at 12:05 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


She will be visiting us at the end of the week and I assume the new iPad will be coming with her.

Please do not assume this. I can easily see my grandmother leaving it at home because she "wouldn't want it to be a bother." (Or, in your MiL's case, "because it doesn't turn off and that makes the airplane fall apart" or somesuch.) Make sure to ask specifically for her to bring the ipad so you can get it set up for her.

My grandma was extremely skeptical of my mom's ipad until she played angry birds. My mom simply shoved the game in front of her and said commanded her to play. My grandma sat and protested "it's making noise!" "I wouldn't even know how to play" "there aren't even any directions!" until she actually put fingers to the screen. And then we couldn't pry the damn thing away from her. Let your MiL make friends with the ipad first, before you try to teach her anything.

And step two is always skype/facetime so she can see her grandkid on the screen.
posted by phunniemee at 12:05 PM on August 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


I would recommend flashcards.

It isn't so much the function that will get her, but possibly the terminology. Right? So why not make up some easy to use flashcards that say things like:


Oh holy crap, this is an excellent idea. I actually made flashcards for my grandma just like this for her computer. LOAD PHOTOS FROM CAMERA is one. CHECK EMAIL is another. WATCH DANCING WITH THE STARS is another, as are various other shows (a blanket "go to hulu.com" is too overwhelming).
posted by phunniemee at 12:08 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's basically exploring a foreign country, or a deep forest, or a city in the future. I think the most valuable lesson is setting up a base camp and knowing how to orient herself. She'll be more likely to explore on her own if she's confident that she has the basic skills to get her back to a comfortable place.

Basically on the ipad this amounts to hitting the home button, but that won't be clear to her at first.
posted by dosterm at 12:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The best thing that you can do is to reframe your knowledge of the ipad and technology into how this device can entertain/benefit your mil.

The ipad is NOT a computer - and you don't need to show her the general ropes of technology. Starting from scratch is not the right way to go about this.

Show her specific tasks with limited options. "Look at these neat things you can do" vs "What would you like to do?" (because she has no idea). Show her how to use applications in the most basic way possible- and forget all of the customization and extra features.

There are some misconceptions you will probably have to grin your teeth and bear-I would focus on assuaging her fears re pressing the wrong buttons, and not have any conversation WHATSOEVER about security or "internet dangers".
posted by sarahnicolesays at 12:21 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been training people to use ipads at work lately and I agree with the poster above about typos. The keyboard is a little unfamiliar so people focus on it and don't notice when they've mis-typed a password or when autocorrect has done something to them and they get frustrated. I would focus on the basics: how to open and close stuff and how to input stuff, and then how to use facetime or whatever she wanted the ipad for in the first place. Then she'll have the skills necessary to explore other things, if she wants to.
posted by ghharr at 12:22 PM on August 21, 2012


Agreeing with Burhanistan; if there is an Apple Store anywhere near her, sign her up for some of the one-on-one tutorials. My (in her late 60s at the time) decided she finally really wanted to understand how the computers in the house work and bought herself a series of individual lessons. She went from literally cutting out sections of things she'd printed, pasting them on a separate page and photocopying the result to move text on a page to the point that she's better at some programs than I am now. She's thrilled and we get to see a whole lot of her on Skype.
posted by goggie at 12:22 PM on August 21, 2012


Make sure she understands that "notes" is not how you write notes to other people. I can see that happening. "I wrote you all those notes and I never heard back!" I know it's a native app so you can't delete it, but maybe do your best to hide it far, far away in a folder or something.
posted by phunniemee at 12:25 PM on August 21, 2012


1. Set up you, your wife, and any other family members as contacts.
2. Teach her how to use Facetime.
3. Set up her email account and show her how to get to it.
4. Show her how to get to her camera roll and take pictures.
5. Unless there's anything else she specifically wants to do or that you think she'll really enjoy, that's it.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Set up the sounds and explain/show her that particular sounds mean different things. I dont recall, can Facetime get its own sound? If so, set that up so she knows how to recognize it. Likewise, show her the mute button and show her how to turn it on and off.

Set it so that it does not require a pin to unlock.

Get a smart cover that wakes it when its opened and puts it to sleep when its closed.

Dont show her how to actually power it off. Let "sleep" equal "off" to her. Otherwise she'll feel like she always has to turn it off and she'll never be available for Facetime.

If she'll always be using it in the same place (a chair, in bed, etc.), I'd also suggest getting an extra charger - only for the extra long cord. The cord that comes with it is far too short to actually use the Ipad while its charging. Show her that she can keep it plugged in if she wants to and turn it upside down so that the cord is at the top - that way the end that attaches doesn't get kinked in her lap.

Set up "Find my Ipad" and an Apple Id to go with it. Then you can always check remotely to see if the Ipad is turned on.
posted by whatisish at 12:40 PM on August 21, 2012


I agree with a lot of people here. Skip gestures and most settings. Don't worry about uninstalling apps and a lot of other things. Encourage her to ask you if she has questions. Make sure she knows how to get it on the internet if it doesn't do that automagically [and maybe from two places: home/library or something]. Consider doing two simplifying steps

- tossing a bunch of the native apps she doesn't need into a group so that she doesn't see them all the time
- adding a few bookmarks-as-icons for sites she might want to go to all the time [i.e. don't just bookmark it within the browser]

Get her an iPad for Dummies book if she enjoys reading books and finds that a good way to learn about things. Many people are annoyed that "there's no manual" and it might be worth finding something in print that works like a manual for her. I've found that for a lot of people an ipad is a great bridge between getting to do computing-like stuff and not really being able to fuck it up. Consider a lot of small lessons [and flashcards are a great idea] for how to do the things she wants to do and intersperse them with a few things she might want to do. Consider a few apps in her hobby areas [I like birds so I have ibird pro, there are some cool skywatching apps from NASA, free or cheap stuff like that]

Also make sure she has her Apple ID written down somewhere so that if she has to update or get an app she's not all "The thing wants me password, wtf?" I teach basic computer skills and ipads have been really useful for a particular type of user and sometimes they can be a breakthrough device to getting people to be more trusting and understanding of technology. I wish you luck.
posted by jessamyn at 12:42 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also meant to add... dont do any of the "preset-up" stuff in front of her. The natural tendency is to do this in front of people but it's really just reinforces the "this is complicated" notion as opposed to making it easy for them.
posted by whatisish at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've taught quite a few people who were terrified of their Ipads how to use them.

First, nthing to zero in on what the person likes. 99% of the time, this is PHOTOS, particularly family photos. Also, people love seeing how to move icons around and organize them in categories. And a tour of the Apps store is a good thing.

Second, make this a multi stage thing. Do a few super fun things like getting her music or her books or her photos in place, then stop. Don't train too long. Then meet again and do some more.

Third, Apple is your friend on a couple of fronts. You can definitely reassure her that viruses and so forth are simply not something she has to worry about. Also, Ibooks has a very nice guide to the Ipad which is step by step and allows someone to a) play with a book on the Ipad and b) learn their Ipad simultaneously. I'd track your lesson sessions with that book.

Also, speaking as someone with plenty of gray hair -- don't assume that her lack of contact with computers and computer concepts means she is an idiot or can't do this. Rather, be positive and be simple. The best experts are the ones that can boil it down to understandable terms, right? That's always been my experience.
posted by bearwife at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also make sure she has her Apple ID written down somewhere so that if she has to update or get an app she's not all "The thing wants me password, wtf?"

To that end, make her passwords extremely simple. Break every password rule you know. All one case, no special characters, no numbers--just one easy word. And make sure that YOU know all of her login info for everything. Even though we have everything for my grandma set to keep her logged in, something still happens from time to time and she'll log herself out and forget how to get back on. It's nice that she can call me and say "what's my facebook password?" and I can give her the answer with no fuss.

I would also take several family photos while you have it there (maybe even load on some good ones you have of the kid) and set her background to a slideshow of them.
posted by phunniemee at 12:48 PM on August 21, 2012


A computer-literate friend got an iPAd and needed to go to classes to be able to use it. The advice above to get your mil into class is valid.
posted by Cranberry at 1:02 PM on August 21, 2012


When designing websites that are likely to be used by older folks, one of the things we try and keep in mind is that generally they won't "explore" the way a younger person might. No "checking to see what this does" or "i wonder how i change this". There's an assumption that everything has specific steps or processes, rather than multiple ways to approach it.

My advice: don't try and fight this. Understand that this is how she'll approach it. Give her specific processes to do certain specific things, and... write them down on a piece of paper. (Ie. To send and email to Photovox: 1. Press the round button at the bottom. (Turns on the ipad). 2. Tap the email icon (second from the left at the bottom). 3. At top of the screen, tap 'new message'.) Etc.

Don't assume anything is intuitive, because she will assume that intuition is irrelevant.
posted by Kololo at 1:10 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd add not to underestimate her. My mother got her first computer in her late 50s maybe and spent months calling me to tell me she'd sent an email. Then she taught herself Autocad (she was previously a paper and pencil designer). So yeah.... reasonably smart, focused people will quickly adopt new tools if they can see a benefit to them. My mom wouldn't know a meme if it bit her in the ass but she's really good at what she wants to do on her computer.
posted by fshgrl at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2012


Give her reasons to keep coming back to the iPad. Games like Fruit Ninja that practice iPad skills can be helpful, but be careful of free apps with popup or banner ads. My older relative found the popup ads confusing. She had no context to know where to expect an ad, so when one popped up midgame that said "Click here!" she kept clicking it.

It might also be worthwhile to set up a few bookmarks at websites that she would actually like. Simple ones are better. My relative really likes this page, for instance.
posted by gentian at 4:00 PM on August 21, 2012


Also, show her how to play Bejeweled. It's very addictive.
posted by gentian at 4:01 PM on August 21, 2012


Nthing the grandchildren & family angle. Show her how she can view pictures and video of family that are sent to her, and read and send emails.

If you can show her this she can see the merit of the iPad.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 7:03 PM on August 21, 2012


First, if that iPad for Beginners class is held at the library, senior center, or another similar location, assume that they can work with nearly all levels of computer illiteracy. The public library, in particular, has likely seen it all and should be able to help even the most confused older user.

Second, I agree with the Apple Store classes if she's at all near one and you maybe should sign her up for the One-to-One sessions (basically, you spend $99 and she gets a personal trainer for a year). That page talks primarily about Macs but there's iPad stuff listed at the bottom; double-check with your local Apple store to see how much they focus on iPads.

My caveat with the classes is this: figure out how she prefers to learn. Does she like learning new things in a group, where she can ask peers for help? Or does she prefer to do her lesson learning in private, so she doesn't lose face in front of others? Make sure you're clear on this before you spring for a class (group set-up) or buy her a book (private learning).

If you do write out step-by-step directions to access email and the like (a good idea!), make sure you sit down with her while she's visiting and see what steps you forgot to put down. As a more 'native' user, I guarantee you will forget to put at least one step down; better to figure out where things are going wrong when you can see it in front of you.

Teach Parents Tech may be a little snotty, but it's handy for breaking down the explanations into chunks. It's all video, too, so you can see what's going on. Too advanced for your mother-in-law now, but I was thinking two things: you might find the teaching style to be something you can adapt for how you work with her, and as she advances she might enjoy these videos.

Finally, I agree that bite-size lessons are the way to go here. She will likely get frustrated at the iPad for not doing things as quickly or as easily as she sees you doing them and it's preferable to stop before that point so she associates the iPad with good thoughts and not embarrassed ones. I'm thinking 15 minutes max, even.

I spent 10 minutes teaching two teenagers how to install wireless print drivers on their Macs today. One of them didn't know how to copy and paste using the keyboard. Your mother-in-law may be a few base points behind but she's not as far as you might think!
posted by librarylis at 7:43 PM on August 21, 2012


I teach, specifically, iPad for Seniors classes which are hugely popular.

1. Get her a stylus. Many older people have arthritis, OR simply don't understand that the edge of their palm brushing against the edge of the screen can cause it to react differently. Most seniors LOVE the stylus, for the added control it gives them.

2. Go into settings>general>use side switch to, and set it to LOCK ROTATION. Many seniors hate hate hate the fact that the screen rotates and they find it difficult to get it "right way up".

3. Whilst you are in general settings, also set auto lock to ten minutes. Many of my seniors hate that it goes to sleep automatically when they are reading something.

4. Introduce the Ipad not as a computer, but as a giant phone that has computer capabilities without the hassles.

5. Show her how to tap, swipe and the difference. Many oldies think they are tapping then really they are doing a tiny swipe on the screen instead, exaggerate the movements so she can see the difference.

6. The iPad for seniors for dummies book is amazing, so get her that.

7. Teach her some basic things such as "when you tap where you want to type, the keyboard comes up like magic". Also show her what I call the "down keyboard" button for getting rid of her keyboard. Teach her that "going home" solves any problem she may have. That when she's looking at a photo and doesn't know how to get out of it, tapping the middle of the screen brings up menus again. Things like that, rather than THESE ARE ALL THE THINGS YOU CAN DO.

8. Start with something she's interested in, is it maps? News? Tv series? Photos? Email? FaceTime? Pick one, show her how it works, then write down the process with her.

Hope that helps!
posted by shazzam! at 8:10 PM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Thanks so much everyone! Because of what I already know, I couldn't see the forest for the trees. I didn't want to be patronizing to her because of incorrect assumptions or my prior tech knowledge.

Unfortunately where she's from there's no Apple Store for more extensive lessons, but the class we found is geared towards seniors and held at the senior center. I don't know if she'll be comfortable in a group setting in the class, either, but it's better than nothing. She's never read any books we offer to her, so even though the "For Dummies" book might be useful in general, she may not use it.

My MIL pretty much only wants to use Facetime and maybe email, so we'll start with those. Flash cards are a good idea, and while she's in town we'll see if we can drop in to an Apple Store class. We'll let these lessons incubate and will wait until the winter holidays to see if she wants to learn more.
posted by photovox at 7:40 AM on August 22, 2012


I've handed my iPad to Mayan kids living in ramshackle shacks in the developing world who have never seen a computer before and they were flipping through apps and taking pictures in literally minutes. Just assure her that she isn't going to break anything, and show her how to do very specific things, like checking email and looking at pictures.

I wouldn't even bother with lessons unless she really wants them. The iPad is super discoverable for people with no experience with computers, and often, knowing how computers do things can be a hindrance.

Oh, and install a card game or something for her.. That sort of thing helps a ton for getting comfortable with the interface.
posted by empath at 5:26 PM on August 23, 2012


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