Digital Disciples: Many older adults joining the digital age through unique class

From left, Digital Disciples instructors Lynn Gorrell and Lorraine Steinberg help student Marilyn Losch with her iPad during a recent class at First Christian Church. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Jan. 15, 2013 10:38 am Updated: Jan. 29, 2013 11:15 am
Digital Disciples instructor Dorothy Yackley, left, helps Mecca Rainey get the most out of her Kindle Fire during a recent class at First Christian Church. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

There's a twofold reason behind that smile Lorraine Steinberg is normally wearing.

She coordinates the Digital Disciples group that is headquartered at First Christian Church and serves as an outreach to those in the community who feel left behind in the age of iPads, smartphones and email attachments.

Most of those who go through her classes -- all of which are free -- are older adults who did not grow up in the age of personal computers and social media.

Steinberg, who likes to wear a T-shirt that proclaims she is "The Computer Whisperer," receives great satisfaction knowing that someone who went through her class can now download pictures of the grandkids or send a text message when needed.

That's one reason for her never-ending smile.

The other is she simply loves what she does. Steinberg and the computer age have been intertwined since its early days. Before she retired, she was involved in the same kind of instructional work for the Regional Office of Education.

"We get a little bit of everybody, but most of those who come in are probably 50 or older -- and did not grow up with computers," Steinberg said. "I think we fill a need."

So does Carol Ridder, who originally came to Steinberg wanting to learn and now is one of several volunteer assistants who are helping others realize the computer can be a friend and not a foe.

While the Digital Disciples have been around for about eight years, Steinberg has been helping others much longer.

"Lorraine and I go back about 15 years," said Ridder, who praises Steinberg's work and patience with those come to her knowing virtually nothing about the digital world that is all around them.

Diane Brown was one of those.

"I've learned to be able to perform many (tasks) and set up all sorts of programs," said Brown, who rattled off about a half-dozen items she can now use a computer for that would make the most keyboard-savvy veteran envious.

Brown said some also come to Steinberg's classes simply to sharpen their skills.

"The class(es) actually help those who are still working and might need to (update their) knowledge," she said. "It's a service you can't find elsewhere in the Quincy."

Steinberg said most classes are designed for beginning or intermediate learners in a "state-of-the-art computer lab," made possible by donations. Knapheide and First Christian Church have greatly helped the effort in recent years. Participants also donate when possible. All money goes toward new software and other class materials.

"There is no charge for instruction, and participants are encouraged to attend as many classes as they like," Steinberg said. "The course of study varies each month, but basic and beginning PC skills are stressed."

Most lab classes are held Monday mornings, although the days may vary and occasional evening classes are included.

"Sessions for smart phone and tablet users have become increasingly popular," Steinberg said. "So many grandparents are being given these things by their kids and have no idea how to use them. They want to learn so they can communicate better."

Being able to know how to get pictures of their kids and grandkids is one of the most popular reasons some of the older adults want to take the various classes.

Steinberg estimates her regular email lists of current and recent participants totals about 300. She uses email to let all know what classes are coming next.

Brown said she had "no idea" what the computer knowledge she has gained would open up for her, and is anxious to keep learning. She and others who take part say the easygoing atmosphere of the "classroom" is another key to the success of the Digital Disciples.

"Lorraine has a great teaching manner," said Arnie Gerst, one of the newer class members who has been involved off and on for about two years.

For more information about the classes, call (217) 222-0812, email or check the website.

The classes, which seem to gain in popularity each year, have grown mainly by word of mouth.

And Steinberg's smile.