Exploring and evaluating the War Widows InTouch (WW.it) Programme

Gemma Wilson-Menzfeld, Jessica Gates, Amy Johnson, Mary Moreland, Helen Raw

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Experiences of loneliness and social isolation through widowhood are complex and compounded by military bereavement. Digital technology is one method to facilitate social connection, with social interaction being considered as one of the central motivations for older adults being online (Age UK, 2015; Büchi, Just, & Latzer, 2016; Cotten, Anderson, & McCullough, 2013).

The use of technology has become central to many of our lives through the COVID-19 pandemic, not only for social connection, but for work, education, shopping, and online banking etc. However, the issue of digital exclusion deters some individuals from using technology to connect with others, either through lack of access (internet access and access to digital devices), lack of skills (and confidence), or not recognising the tangible outcomes individuals perceive from using the internet (Blank & Groselj, 2014; Scheerder, van Deursen, & van Dijk, 2017; van Deursen & Helsper, 2015).

The War Widows InTouch (WW.it) programme provided members of the War Widows’ Association (WWA) with iPads and/or iPad training to empower individuals digitally, and to support the development of new skills to connect with others online. The WW.it project aimed to connect members of the WWA across the UK, as well as improve their digital access, digital confidence, and digital skills.
This study was carried out independently, aiming to explore and evaluate the implementation and running of the WW.it programme. Specifically, this study aimed to examine the perceived impact of the intervention(s) from the perspective of participants and the instructor, reflect on the perceived facilitators and barriers to implementing the intervention(s), and map perceived changes to social isolation, loneliness, and well-being.

The study was carried out across two phases, using both surveys and interviews. In total, 35 participants partook in Phase one (35 completed surveys, and 17 also participated in interviews), and 28 participants took part in Phase two (28 completed surveys, and 12 also participated in interviews). At Phase two, an interview was also conducted with the instructor leading the WW.it training programme.

Three themes were generated from Phase one, with survey data integrated throughout the interview findings to highlight pertinent points. The same process was completed for Phase two where a further three themes were generated.
Findings demonstrated the benefits of the WW.it programme in improving access to technology and internet connectivity. The iPad training itself led to improved skills and increased confidence, as well as reduced fear around using the iPad; although some did not develop as many skills as they had believed they would before starting training and fear of scamming and online financial affairs remained for many.

In Phase one, many participants did not recognise the potential benefits of the iPad as they had no prior experience of using one, however, once they were supported to use this device for their own interests during training, they were able to see how this technology could benefit them, and their own daily living. The personalised learning and programme content supported individuals to recognise tangible outcomes from using the internet. Through this, there were widespread advantages to using the iPad, including enhanced civic participation and social connection. A Wilcoxon Signed Ranks Test showed significant reduction of total loneliness scores following receipt of the iPad and the iPad training. There were no further significant effects observed for social isolation, technological use, or attitudes towards technology.

Whilst the WW.it training session was useful for many participants, this was just a launchpad to their learning. Individuals spoke of seeking additional learning opportunities to further enhance their skills and knowledge. Whereas others continued to rely upon friends and family to support them in unfamiliar or financial digital tasks.

As part of this project, a reflective tool for delivering digital skills to older adults was developed through the systematic narrative review. This was developed to use when delivering digital skills training programmes for older adults. It focuses specifically upon the negative perceptions of ageing, the learning environment, and the value of technology. The WW.it programme took into account all three of these values, however, lessons can be learned moving forward. This tool can be used by practitioners when reflecting on programme delivery, as well as when evaluating digital skills delivery programmes.

Recommendations for practice:
Several recommendations were developed from the findings of this study.

1. Multiple practical recommendations for digital skills training arose from this study and are recommended for consideration in future delivery programmes aimed at older adults:
• Shorter sessions spread across several weeks
• Face-to-face, group classes
• Importance of demystifying the technology through debunking jargon
• Importance of reducing fear of using the system
• Focus on accessibility settings
• Personalised learning and content

2. Training across multiple systems (e.g. Kindles or Android devices) was difficult for the instructor and not always beneficial for the learner. It is recommended, for future programmes, that training focusses upon one system only. This will also support peer-learning between individuals on the programme using the same device.

3. Online training allowed for individuals to participate in the WW.it programme from across the UK, however, this geographical dispersal would have been difficult if training was done face-to-face. Therefore, one recommendation for this project would be to roll out training regionally, through peers, or Regional Organisers at the WWA. This would group learners together to benefit from face-to-face, peer-supported learning.

4. Multiple participants suggested having training materials to accompany the training, whether this was a paper handout, online aide-memoires, or a recording of the session. One recommendation was to include bitesize help sheets on the WWA members area. This would encourage use of the WWA website and members area, as well as supporting individuals to improve and practise their digital skills. Other organisations could provide similar materials on their own website, provide learners with paper handouts, or online handouts via email.

5. Signposting information should be provided by organisations for learners to seek further training once the programme is completed. This could be through local digital champions, national digital organisations, textbooks, or online-only resources.

6. It is recommended that organisations utilise the reflective tool when implementing and/or running programmes to improve older adults’ digital skills. Ensuring that the three core areas of the tool are met is fundamental for inclusive, supportive, and empowering digital skills training.

a. Following on from this, one drawback for participants was often their own perceptions of ageing. It is recommended that organisations and instructors recognise the importance of this in their learning, and place emphasis on individual learning styles, through use of the reflective tool for delivering digital skills to older adults.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherThe Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust
Number of pages104
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2022


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