By Laura Mecoy
Mary Fulton and her husband got lost driving in an unfamiliar part of Los Angeles County and wound up taking several wrong turns before they figured out where they were.
Fulton, of Los Angeles, didn’t know that an app on her smartphone could have provided the turn-by-turn navigation they needed—until she attended an AARP California TEK (Technology, Education and Knowledge) workshop in Los Angeles.
“I had used the Maps app before, but I thought I could only use it when I was connected to the Internet at home or someplace else,” the 69-year-old retired county employee said. “I didn’t know I could use it when I was in the car.”
Fulton was among 28 people learning these and other smartphone skills during a recent Intro to Smartphones workshop.
The course is one of several TEK workshops that AARP offers free in the Greater Los Angeles area.
AARP launched the two-hour TEK workshops in response to the growing number of people 50 and older who own smartphones and tablets and may need help in getting the most out of their devices. The workshops also appeal to older workers who may need to learn new technology skills to stay competitive in the workplace.
A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 54 percent of respondents 50 to 64 owned a smartphone and 27 percent of those 65 and older had one. But they were using them for a narrower range of services than younger people.
Spanish and English classes
The TEK workshops help participants learn the full gamut of smartphone services. AARP provides a smartphone or tablet for each participant to use during the session. One instructor leads the class of about 50 people, and other instructors work with small groups to ensure each participant has a hands-on opportunity to learn smartphone and tablet skills.
In Los Angeles, the TEK instructors speak English and Spanish, and the workshops are offered in both languages, depending on the location and the languages spoken by the participants.
“We want to bridge the digital divide by helping people get comfortable with technology,” said Strat Maloma, senior program specialist at AARP California, who organizes the Los Angeles AARP TEK workshops. “We offer a friendly, low-pressure environment.”
In the introductory class, participants learn how to use touch screens, text, take and share photos, and perform other basic tasks. Additional classes offer more advanced skills, such as photo editing and the use of voice commands, and an opportunity for participants to receive training on their own devices.
In addition, AARP sponsors workshops that offer tips on fraud protection and online safety, and introduce participants to social networks such as Facebook.
“We are fighting isolation through the use of technology,” Maloma said. “With the TEK workshops, participants can learn how to connect with old friends through Facebook and other social media networks and with their kids and grandkids through texting and video chatting.”
Delores Helton already uses her smartphone to stay in touch with her children and grandchildren. But the 77-year-old Los Angeles retiree often has to ask them for help.
During a recent TEK workshop, Helton rejoiced in learning how to move a photo from a text message to a photo file, where she could save it to use later. For her, that task alone made the two-hour workshop worthwhile. The photo depicted her great-granddaughter on her first day of school, a priceless treasure the proud great-grandparent wanted to keep and share.
AARP has scheduled a Spanish-language smartphone introductory TEK workshop at 10:30 a.m. and a fraud protection TEK workshop at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 at Centro Maravilla Service Center, 4716 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles.
Upcoming TEK workshops will be held Nov. 12 and 13 in Whittier and Los Angeles. More are expected to be scheduled next year in cities around the state.
To register and learn about upcoming workshops that will be offered in English or Spanish, go to aarp.cvent.com/aarptekcalifornia or aarptek.org, or call 855-380-2139 toll-free.
Laura Mecoy is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.