North Wellington seniors conquer tech hurdles in eight-week course

Sixty seniors participated in training, support program designed to bring them up to speed on digital world

DRAYTON – In the digital glow of LCD screens, six seniors adjust their glasses and tap Google Classroom login details on iPads.

It’s the final class in an eight-week course, taught by Michael Meunier and designed to bring north Wellington seniors up to speed on navigating an online world and the technology that goes with it.

Being able to open an email, click a link and join an online video meeting with family members was essential to help avoid isolation during the pandemic.

But there were many seniors who didn’t have those skills and were left behind and isolated, Meunier said.

He likened the experience to someone being handed a sewing machine, or a manual-shift car, without any experience and being expected to just go.

“It’s just they haven’t had time on-task with this tool as much as my generation,” Meunier told a reporter on Dec. 20 while setting up for the class in the lower level of the Mapleton Health Centre.

Whereas younger generations have grown up with so-called smart technology, in everything from phones to refrigerators, the rapid pace of the technological evolution is leaving older generations behind.

It’s Meunier’s job to catch them up as best as he can in the eight hours he has with the group.

“Our hour is full,” he remarked.

There’s little time to waste, and Meunier breezes through explanations of some online travel websites and how to use them.

He spends the remaining 40 minutes tapping, typing and swiping as he guides the group through the waffles, drapes and silver gear wheels – his lexicon to describe the many on-screen elements of Apple’s navigation app on the eighth-generation iPads.

“There’s a GPS chip in this device, it is a receiver-transmitter that’s talking to one of 31 satellites, global positioning satellites … circling planet Earth,” he tells the group.

“They’re about 20,000km above the Earth’s surface, and every one of our devices right now is pinging and ponging talking to one of those satellites.”

Some seniors in the group make hand-written notes and others, such as Gary Clegg and Sharon Naylor, help each other navigate the “visual scavenger hunt” of unfamiliar icons and digital folders.

Michael Meunier instructs his students at the Mapleton Health Centre during the eighth and final class of a training and support program designed by Meunier to bring north Wellington seniors up to speed on the digital world. Photo by Jordan Snobelen


Clegg told the Advertiser he struggles with memorizing all the tech-specific terminology.

Despite describing himself as “tech-illiterate,” he owns a smartphone, desktop computer and a tablet.

But it’s mostly his daughter who sets everything up, he said, laughing.

The classes have helped Clegg become more accustomed and confident with the many applications Meunier touches on during the course.

By now, the group has explored internet basics, online research, setting strong passwords, online privacy, scams, social media use, accessing government services online, and music and reading apps.

In future sessions, Meunier hopes to teach about artificial intelligence and online shopping.

But that depends on whether federal New Horizons For Seniors grant funding becomes available for 2024.

“We need the New Horizons grant to be able to access the program fully,” Meunier said.

A retired educator of secondary and elementary students for 25 years, Meunier developed marketing, course content, a delivery model and found locations for his first classes, which ran for 12 weeks in 2021.

According to the township, 2021 programming was supported by a $25,000 federal grant, along with $2,000 each from Minto and Mapleton, and $4,450 from Wellington North, for a total of $33,450.

After a 2022 break, the program returned this year for eight weeks between September and December in Wellington North, Palmerston and Drayton, thanks to a $23,000 grant federal grant and a $4,450 contribution from Wellington North, for a total of $27,450.

Meunier is confident the township will succeed with future funding applications, but said if that isn’t the case, there will be seniors who fall further behind the technological curve without the classes.

A total of 60 seniors participated between two streams this year, which Meunier catered to varying experience levels.

“They still have that spark for life, that inquisitive nature,” he said, praising his older students.

“Oftentimes before I transition to the next piece, they’re asking the question that links to the very next thing that’s about to come out of my mouth.”

He added, “These folks are highly motivated to be here … they want to show up, and they want to learn.”

Eric Pehlke, who brought along his own iPad, said his generation shies from computers and technology.

“You’re not sure, if I press this, am I going to be in worse trouble,” he said of navigating the digital unknowns.

The classes provide the opportunity to find out what happens when you press that button in a virtually risk-free environment, where Meunier is there to lend a finger.

“The more you play with them, the more you learn,” Pehlke said.

Wellington North council recently directed township staff to apply for any applicable grant funding that could support the program in 2024.