Top things to consider when creating a winning digital skills training program
Seniors’ Organizations ask Gluu all the time about how to raise funds to buy tablets to help their seniors learn digital skills. Often, we hear from them because a digital skills program has lost momentum or is becoming a logistical nightmare. I feel their pain. Developing successful digital skills classes for seniors takes a lot of strategic consideration, lots of creativity, and careful planning. We know that first hand at Gluu. Since 2016 we have helped over 60,000 participants cross the digital divide and live rich and fully connected lives. But there has been some sweat and tears along the way.
It can be challenging to ensure you’ve included everything needed to bring a program to its successful conclusion when writing a grant application. To make the process easier, I am sharing some of what we have learned. When developing your program, keep in mind that Gluu has free digital and printed resources to help you deliver life-changing learning experiences for the seniors in your community. Life-changing experience might sound like a tall order, but it’s possible—we see it every day.
Before you dive into this post:
- Rough pricing is included. Please check these numbers and my math. Prices may vary by region and may have changed. All amounts are in Canadian dollars.
- I have not included any line item for project management or admin fees, but don’t forget to add it. These programs take admin time to manage properly. My experience shows this is best done by paid staff.
- Not all budget items for a complete grant application are included here
- I assume you have Wi-Fi in place to handle at least 20 tablets online at once.
Let’s get started.
Will you create Loan & Learn or Tablet Giveaway program?
For me, Tablet Giveaway is the clear winner. I am not a fan of Loan & Learn (L&L) programs. The theory is that any device is better than no device. But for seniors trying to learn digital skills, these programs make it tough to learn. The shortcoming of L&L programs is they ask seniors to invest their valuable time learning how to use the tablet, which occurs right about the time they have to hand it back. If they have to wait a few weeks or longer to borrow the tablet again, they may have forgotten many of the skills they learned. This is an excellent way to crush motivation. Based on our experience, a high percentage of students don’t succeed in these programs.
Give Gluu a pot of money, and I would put a tablet with a free internet connection into the hands of every senior in Canada and train enough volunteers to support them. While I work on that moonshot, I urge you to find ways to help your seniors own a device.
Tablet Giveaway programs provide the chance for seniors who can’t afford a device to gain the confidence and skills they need to go online and participate in digital society over the long term. I see that as an excellent use of funds.
How many tablets do you need?
Figure out the number of seniors you can bring into your program, then get as many tablets as you can afford. Make sure to set aside tablets for the people teaching and supporting digital skills training. When hosting In-Person Large Group Classes or handling Remote Coaching by Phone or Video Call, at least one Digital Coach must have the same device running the same operating system as the senior learner. It is challenging to guide someone to the correct screen without a device to refer to—this situation never ends well for anyone involved. Volunteer tablets are generally returned by the volunteer when their participation in the program is over.
Should your tablets connect to the internet through cellular data or Wi-Fi?
This turns out to be a complicated answer. The bottom line is that tablets need a consistent internet connection to make them useful. Using a mobile device with only an occasional internet connection is challenging, even for someone who knows what they are doing. It’s possible, but it’s not easy. Here is a brief comparison between the two options—4G LTE or cellular-enabled tablets vs. Wi-Fi-only tablets.
A Wi-Fi-only tablet is less expensive. It can do everything a cellular-enabled tablet can do but, of course, needs a Wi-Fi connection. Here’s the rub. Seniors without home Wi-Fi won’t be able to use their tablet consistently and safely—public Wi-Fi is excellent. Still, it is not suitable for some activities, especially for new users. Tablets need to be connected to the internet regularly for software updates, download email, or update apps (Facebook, etc.). If your goal is to get seniors the digital skills to be confident going online, then easy access to the internet is necessary. According to the Telus website, the Telus Internet for Good program (BC and Alberta) offers low-income seniors home Wi-Fi for $10 per month—that’s generally less than a cellular data plan. Talk to your Internet Service Provider to see if they have an affordable home Wi-Fi plan to bundle into your grant proposal. Please, let me know if you find one.
What happens when support runs out?
Consider what will happen to your seniors once your support runs out. I know grant programs are not funded to solve all problems forever, but we need to have the conversation. A good goal would be that by the end of your digital skills training, students can use their tablets using only Public Wi-Fi. It’s not easy to do, but it’s possible. We have free resources to help them figure it outoccasional
Some cellular data considerations
Cellular-enabled tablets are an option when tablets are given to users without home Wi-Fi, but these tablets are more expensive to purchase (as much as $200 more in some cases), and they come with a costly cellular data plan.
If you share cellular data among your pool of tablets, staying within monthly cellular data limits can be challenging. If not properly managed, your users can quickly burn through your whole cellular data pool in a weekend. Talk to your mobile provider about plans that don’t share data or get details on unlimited cellular data options. Unlimited plans may throttle speed but can save admin time and frustration all around.
What happens when support runs out?
Cellular-enabled tablets add monthly cellular data charges to your budget and will need to be absorbed by seniors once your support runs out. These charges can be beyond many seniors’ budgets. Consider what will happen to seniors once your support runs out. Because Canada has some of the highest cellular data rates globally, these cell data costs run high—$25 per month or more. Talk to your mobile provider to see if they have any discounts for volume cell data plans for low-income seniors if that is your audience. Another option is to make sure your senior learners have the skills to use public Wi-Fi safely and find hotspots they can trust. We have free resources to help them figure that out, too.
Additional budget consideration: Staff costs to manage shared cellular data should be accounted for in your budget.
Should you buy Apple or Samsung Tablets?
In my experience, it comes down to what device your volunteers and staff are comfortable using. iPads are more expensive than Samsung tablets, but I have found that iPads are easier to use. That may be a provocative statement, but my experience bears it out. When a tablet is easier to use, it’s also easier to teach and support.
Then again… the fact that you can get more Samsung tablets than iPads for the same price shouldn’t be ignored. Be confident knowing you can run effective digital skills programs with either iPads or Samsung tablets. Here are two tablets that would fit well into any digital skills program.
Where is the best place to buy tablets?
Big box retailers may be your best bet. Apple iPads don’t go on sale very often—and you would have to buy in significant quantities to get a discount from Apple (more than 1,000 iPads, last time I checked). You may be able to negotiate a bulk purchase of Samsung tablets. Just ensure you are buying a newer model capable of running Android 11.
Comparing prices from any big box retailer might turn up deals for iPads and Samsung devices. Store discount coupons are offered instead of discounts at some locations. These could help you purchase the other items needed to run your program.
If you find a deal or a reseller with reasonable price savings, let me know.
List of additional items
Cases for your tablets
Your tablets will need a protective case—but they probably don’t need a screen protector. Don’t get a case with a built-in screen protector. These tend to make the screen less responsive.
Get a case that easily supports the tablet in Portrait mode (upright) and Landscape mode (sideways) and doesn’t collapse when the screen is tapped. Some cases are notorious for flattening as soon as you touch the screen. Check that the case doesn’t add bulk or weight to the tablet and that buttons remain easy to press.
Mirroring or casting hardware
This hardware lets the teacher’s device be casted or mirrored onto a TV or projector. This provides your Digital Coach with a wireless way to show what they are doing on their tablet—a must-have if teaching In-Person Large Group Classes. We also use it for In-Person Small Group Classes to maintain social distancing.
Some newer TVs and projectors have this feature built-in or have an app that handles this. Check with your manufacturer before you purchase screen mirroring hardware.
If your TV or projector is older, then you could consider one of these mirroring devices:
- For Samsung tablets: Chromecast (newest version $69 or 3rd generation from $30)
- For iPads: AppleTV ($199 plus $29 optional AppleCare+ support). There is third-party hardware to manage this, but it’s a bit trickier.
TV Screen & Stand
We like TV screens when setting up a digital skills classroom. Projectors can work, but they need to be appropriately mounted and require the room to be dimmed. Darker rooms make it challenging for some seniors to see the notes they are writing. Newer, larger TVs are light enough to be moved out of the way when necessary. Consider where the TV will be placed during class, make sure it will be at the right height for your students to view it comfortably, and then decide if you need a stand. Rolling stands for larger TVs are available. A 59″ to 79″ screen is generally large enough for classes of around 20 people. Prices from big box retailers for this size TV start from $500.
This is a difficult one. If you speak to a large audience, then a microphone may be necessary. Some Digital Coaches love using them. Some seniors hate listening to them. Decide if your room size and headcount require a microphone. Our experience with portable microphones and speakers has not been great. We use either a stage microphone and an amp or a Bluetooth speaker and wireless lavalier/lapel mic. Not the most straightforward setup, but both provide good sound quality that can be easily controlled.
Tables & Chairs
If you don’t have a setup for in-person classes, 96″ folding rectangular tables placed in a U-shape are ideal for In-Person Group classes of any size. This shape allows Digital Coaches to approach students from the side and the front. It also ensures that seniors look forward when viewing the screen rather than turning their heads—an uncomfortable position for some to maintain for a whole class. Folding tables and chairs can be found at most big box retailers. We have seen reasonable prices at Costco and Staples.
How to support your digital skills program
What is a digital coach?
Digital coach is our term for someone who helps older adults learn digital skills. You don’t need to be an expert to be a Digital Coach. If you know how to send an email, shop online, and use Facebook or Zoom, then you have valuable digital skills to share. In as little as four hours per month, Digital Coaches Digital Coach is a great way to learn a digital trick or two and build a resumé.
Gluu has free teaching resources to ensure anyone with basic digital skills can easily teach a Gluu class. These resources include printed student learning materials, detailed lesson plans, and class-tested workflows to ensure classes stay on topic and end on time. To access these materials, start by registering your seniors’ organization with Gluu. Registration is free, as are the materials we have for you—even the printed ones!
HOW GLUU MANAGES IN-PERSON CLASSES
It’s a team effort to make the exceptional class experiences Gluu is known for. Part of the trick is maintaining a 1:6 Digital Coach to Senior ratio. Here’s an example of the team we use for In-Person Large Group Classes with 20 students would have three Digital Coaches:
- One Lead Digital Coach: This person stands at the front of the room demonstrating lessons on their device, which is mirrored to a screen for the whole class to see. They guide the entire class through course topics.
- Two Hands-on Digital Coaches: They work at the back of the room, ensuring senior learners can keep up with the rest of the class and quietly answer questions to help students stay on topic. They also help the Lead Digital Coach take questions from the room and help ensure the classes end on time. It is very easy to let classes go long. Please don’t do it. We have tested outcomes. One-hour classes are just right— 45-minutes of teaching and practice with 15-minutes for Q&A at the end. Letting classes run long can tire students out and leave them feeling overwhelmed. You want to end class with everyone feeling good and wanting more.
Volunteer or paid Digital Coaches?
If you have a pool of volunteers willing to share their digital skills, our free training and learning resources can make it easy for them to teach complete digital skills courses. Should you have difficulty finding volunteers, then paying someone might be the way to go. This may make it easier to find people, especially on a tight timeline.
At Gluu, we pay our Digital Coaches—it’s a philosophy of ours. Being a paid Digital Coach helps build a resumé and provides valuable work experience. We pay the living wage in the region. In Vancouver, that’s $21 per hour. Your rates may vary.
IN-PERSON LARGE GROUP CLASSES (20 students)
Here is an example of how we budget for digital skills classes with paid Digital Coaches for In-Person Large Group Classes with 20 students:
- Maintain the 1:6 ratio you will need three Digital Coaches (1 Lead Digital Coach, Two Hands-On Digital Coaches)
- A Gluu Essentials Course can be taught over four to six classes.
- Each class is 1-hour long
Assuming a Digital Coach hourly rate of $21, here is how that breaks down:
- Digital Coach rate for class time: $35 per class (this includes setup and tear down)
- Digital Coaches cost for four to six classes: $420 – $630
- Four hours of prep and follow-up for four to six classes (1 Digital Coach at $21 per hour): $336-$504
REMOTE SUPPORT BY PHONE OR VIDEO
Here is an example of how we budget for digital skills classes with paid Digital Coaches for Remote Support by Phone or Video with 20 students:
A Gluu Essentials Course can be taught over four to six remote sessions
- Each session is 30-minutes long
- 8 hours of prep and follow up are required over the whole course (4-6 sessions)
- Digital Coach rate for Remote Support by Phone or Video Call $21 per hour: $840 – $1,260
- 8 hours of prep and follow up for four to six sessions: $672-$1,008
Geek Squad Remote Support
Geek Squad provides phone-based support 24/7 to help your seniors get answers to their questions. This costs about $100-$120 per tablet /year. We have heard of organizations negotiating this down to $100 per tablet. This is an option to consider adding to your funding application. It relieves the tech support burden from your volunteers and staff and allows seniors to get answers when they need them.
Gluu Volunteer & Program Support
Gluu has free learning resources for your seniors and teaching resources for your Digital Coaches. We have experience helping organizations develop successful digital skills programs. Our pricing depends on the number of tablets and the type of program you are considering. Some of the things we can help with include:
- Guidance in selecting seniors most likely to succeed in a digital skills program
- Assistance recruiting the right volunteers
- Volunteer training
- VIP tech support for volunteers during the program
- Additional teaching resources and learning resources
- Tablet setup and management
- Ongoing device management if you want to keep ownership of your tablets and not allow seniors to personalize them
- Paper and digital impact surveys
- Marketing materials to promote your program on your website or social media
- Printed marketing materials to promote your program (posters, flyers, etc.)
- Logistics for Remote Support sessions
- Assistance in automation of volunteer onboarding, senior’s registration, website support, and other tech-related work
- What did we miss?
We have to limit the number of Seniors’ Organizations we take on. If you want to add us to your budget for Program Support, please get in touch as quickly as possible—we will do our best to add you to our roster. Use the form below to get in touch.
And that's it!
I hope you found some gems in this post to help you write your next digital skills training proposal.
If you think your organization can benefit from the free digital and print resources we have, join our Gluu Seniors’ Organization Network—it’s free (are you catching our theme?). I am confident we can help you save time and money which can be put to good use elsewhere. Goodness knows, both are scarce enough in the nonprofit world.
Good luck and let us know how it goes.
Founder, Gluu Society