TAO/Free Cruise on the Internet

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The project ‘FFI – Freie Fahrt ins Internet’ (Free Cruise on the Internet) aims at the improvement of older adults' online skills. The original partners of the public-private partnership were Berne University of Applied Sciences, Swisscom (the main telecom company in Switzerland), Coop (a wholesaler), seniorweb.ch (Switzerland's largest non-profit online community aimed at older adults), and ProSenectute (a foundation providing expertise and services on all matters regarding aging and old age). Meanwhile, the setup of partners has undergone some changes. The activities are strongly based on co-creation with volunteers. The activity-based workshops for teaching basic skills are developed and taught by a teaching team of older adults. The teaching environment are cafés or other easy-to-access venues in shopping malls in several cities of German speaking Switzerland. In addition to the courses, a Help Point was established, aiming to provide general internet support to older adults. The target group of FFI are older adults with basic computer skills (e-mail and Google search) seeking a first experience of different online applications.

Workshop Setting in a shopping mall in Bern. Author: Willy Vogelsang


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Based on our experience the main critical success factors can be summarized as follows:


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  • ‘Seniors for Seniors’ as the vision and motto
  • The enthusiasm of the volunteers is a critical success factor
  • Use group activities (co-design, co-creation) for the development of new workshops and other educational offerings
  • Involve workshop instructors in the process of quality assurance (standardization, surveys on satisfaction). Otherwise, acceptance of quality assurance measures will be low.


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  • Teaching should be learner-centered and include a lot of hands-on activities
  • Try to guide the learning process by asking questions rather than by telling participants what to do
  • Use handouts with simple, self-explanatory instructions and exercises
  • Do not lose sight of the target group. Design courses according to a real (and not an imagined) end-user demand
  • Always test new worskhop formats before bringing them to the market
  • A persona approach can be used to facilitate the adoption of customers’ perspectives and needs


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  • Try to acquire committed sponsors
  • Look for a low-threshold location (e.g. a shopping mall)
  • Use mass-media as a booster for publicity
  • Centralize administration and decentralize the training of new workshop instructors
  • Develop a clear PR strategy
  • Establish a community of practice for workshop instructors and other interested parties in order to track and disseminate the lessons learned and to provide new instructors with the necessary information
  • Always test new workshop formats should before entering the market
  • Review your offerings at regular intervals and make necessary adjustments

Background Information

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The first edition of Free Cruise on the Internet took place from October 2010 to June 2011 and consisted of the following phases :

  • Ideation: Based on the belief that the involvement of the stakeholders leads to better solutions, a broad discussion within the project steering board and the group of volunteers was started.
  • Test: Validation of the developed concepts in real-life situations in a shopping mall.
  • Consolidation: From February to May 2011 4 workshops per week were carried out and a Help Point was provided during 3 days per week.
  • Evaluation: During the consolidation phase participants', volunteers' and steering board members' satisfaction was evaluated.
  • Multiplication: The same concept was implemented in further shopping malls in the German speaking part of Switzerland. At a later time, it is intended to transfer a similar workshop concept to retirement communities in the country.

The project is organized according to the following organizational units and/or roles:

  • Ambassadors: Persons in this role are in charge of the Helpt Point. Their task is to encourage older adults' active use of the internet with face-to-face contact and to provide support outside the framework of the workshops.
  • Instructors: For each workshop one person is in the lead with regard to planning and implementation.
  • Assistants: Each workshop has two assistants. Because the focus of the workshop is rather on learning-by-doing than learning-by-teaching, the assistants move through the "classroom" and provide hands-on support.

New FFI venues were added and a similar series of workshops was carried out in Kreuzlingen, Zurich and Lucerne.


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The main results of the evaluation can be summarized as follows:


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  • Overall satisfaction: FFI-courses were highly appreciated by participants: most participants were(very) satisfied and praised the open attitude of the workshop moderators and the way they interacted with participants.
  • Content: The content was appropriate for most of the participants. In future FFI-courses, participants would welcome ‘social media’ and the ‘connection between mobile phone and internet’ as new learning topics.
  • Level of expertise: Participants suggested that the future FFI-communication should clearly indicate beforehand which level of expertise is recommended for each workshop. This would help avoid the great differences in computer skills observed in participants, which sometimes slowed down the flow of the workshop.
  • Expectations: Male participants were somewhat less satisfied and their expectations somewhat less well met. The evaluation questionnaire could however not reveal the reasons for this. In any case, until these reasons are clarified, it would be useful to specifically ask for participants’ expectations during registration and/or at the beginning of the course.
  • Sustainability: A month after the course, most participants indicated not to be using their new knowledge at home. The new skills had clearly not become a routine yet. Although the participants claimed to know “how it works”, the threshold to try it out by themselves was still quite high –and the older the participant, the higher the threshold. For some participants, there is a need for supervised practice-classes, in which they could freely experiment and refer to a tutor in case of questions.


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  • Overall satisfaction: The majority of the moderators, assistants and ambassadors perceived the first edition of FFI as a successful campaign. Most of them were willing to continue their commitment in the next edition of FFI. As they were not paid for their work, they appreciated specific other forms of recognition of their work from the management (e.g. structured feedback, sufficient time for chatting with other volunteers, coffee coupons, etc.).
  • Content: The volunteers developed the workshop materials themselves. Some of them felt overchallenged by this task. But in the end they agreed that the process was useful and that they had produced reasonable results. Especially, the mix of a small amount of theory and a lot of practical exercises was acclaimed.
  • Level of expertise: The disperse level of expertise among participants led to difficulties in the workshops. Proposed solutions are: Make the prerequisites of the workshops more explicit in the advertising; reserve enough time for the assisted exercises; provide different levels of complexity; provide a glossary of internet terminology.
  • Organization: The volunteers asked for a continuation of the chosen path with a transparent flow of communication from the management and the steering board to the actors in the field.
  • Sustainability: The volunteers expressed the wish for a development of measures to ensure the sustainability of FFI courses. For example, the creation of a strong knowledge management system to share expertise would greatly facilitate their efforts. They also agreed to apply the same workshop concept in other learning environments.

Further Information

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"Free Cruise on the Internet" on the website of TAO

Other Handbook chapters

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Target Groups

(N)Onliner & Offliner