Nov 4 2010

4 Tips for Bridging the Enthusiasm Gap

A friend of mine recently told me a story about his grandmother.

She was confused about what all the huff was about with the emerging technology of her time.

She was known to complain that if she wanted to talk to so-and-so she would walk down the street and talk to her.

Why did she need some big box in her house that would obnoxiously ring loudly?

Technophobes are nothing new.

Just as my friends grandmother was upset about the telephone, many before here were afraid of the printing press, and many after us will be afraid of things we can not even imagine today.

One of the major obstacles in bridging the digital divide is the lack of interest by members of our communities. Many people are afraid of technology (due to privacy concerns, fear of change, etc.) and many more don’t understand the value of emerging technologies.

Disinterest in learning emerging technologies is a hindrance for our communities and their members. We need to find a way to engage reluctant users in a way that builds enthusiasm.

Below are a few ideas I had on this but I would love to hear yours as well, so please chime in under comments and share your thoughts.

  1. Focus on outcomes
    The same friend that told me about his grandmother’s phone phobia also told me a story about a man in a tiny little rural town that came into the library in the early 2000’s with a problem.

    He was a rancher and kept having to drive long distances to look at animals that were for auction. He had heard a crazy rumor that there was an auction house that was putting photos of animals on the computer and you could even bid on there.

    Sure enough my friend found the right website and saved the rancher time and money.

    This rancher would likely not have signed up for computer classes or even have considered going onto website until he became aware that there was a problem that could be solved with this technology.

    When discussing and marketing tech training stop talking about the tools and start talking about the benefits. Don’t say “Learn to use Facebook” try “Tips and tools for keeping in touch with distant loved ones” and show them facebook, skype, IM, etc. Teach to the needs of our community members by letting tech play the role in was intended for: a tool”

  2. Use people within your community
    People can be intimidated by taking a “class” or even by going into a place like the library to ask for help.

    People learn in all sorts of ways and many people learn best when they are in environments they know and with people that they feel comfortable with.

    Address this learning style by utilizing your community. Maybe the community could sponsor a “learn from a friend” month and ask members of the community to teach a friend, neighbor, family member a new tech tool sometime during the month?

    It will not only spread knowledge but it will also strengthen community.

  3. Work with local business
    Partner with local businesses to learn what problems they are facing and offer trainings that provide knowledge and familiarity with the tech tools that can directly benefit local businesses.

    Make sure the businesses that you partner with provide some sort of incentives to their employees for attaining new skills so there is more buy-in from all levels of the organization.

    My guess is that you will find some people just need to get their staff up to speed on email and others will want to get their feet wet with e-commerce or SEO.

    Providing a range of tools to assist local businesses at being more successful has huge repercussions for your community as a whole and can build a large base of tech advocates from business owners and their staff.

  4. Talk about successes
    Make a point of learning about how tech has solved real world problems for members of your community and talk it up, tweet about it, post it to facebook.

    Share in your successes and others will want some of that for themselves.

    This could be anything from telling the story of how basic computer classes allowed someone to create a better resume and find the right job all the way to stories about how a local bed and breakfast is still making ends meet in a tough economy because of additional books they are getting from their website.

Again, these are just a few thoughts and ideas I have had rattling around in my mind for a while but I know that there are tons of other great ideas out there.

Be creative and lets make our communities excited about solving real world problems with emerging technologies.

Oh yeah, and I heard that grandma adapted just fine to her telephone after all.

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