AI for senior citizens: Center LEARN launches new workshop

While the necessity of understanding AI’s inner workings and grasping the full scope of what is at stake with these technologies seems to have primarily concerned the so-called „active“ population, retirement does not necessarily imply complete disconnection from such topics.

In Switzerland, senior citizens are far from lagging behind and are, on the contrary, quite tech-savvy as it turns out. A recent study conducted by Pro Senectute suggests just that, indicating a 95 percent internet usage among 65 to 69-year-olds.

Additionally, as with most technologies, AI applications extend well beyond the professional realm, inevitably weaving their way into our private lives. Therefore, the growing prevalence of AI indicates that it should be a topic of interest for society as a whole. However, to join the conversation one must first understand its codes. To bridge this generational gap, an initiative emerged through collaboration between the senior club „Toujours Plus“ of Migros Vaud and our team of experts at the Center LEARN. As a result, two three-hour workshops on AI were organized for its members this autumn.

© Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto / 2023 EPFL

Tailored training

To address this new challenge, the training team comprised of Sonia Agrebi, Project Manager, Felipe Martinez, Project Manager, and Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto, Coordinator of external missions at the Center LEARN, opted for an original and tailored approach. „We were not familiar with the skill levels or expectations of this audience that is new to us, so we chose accessible themes and an engaging approach to ease them into discovering the basic concepts of artificial intelligence,“ explained Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto.

The trainers thus guided the 44 participants, dispelling misconceptions and demystifying common AI tools one by one before delving into the history of machine learning, going as far back as the 1950s. Then, using an imaginative mushroom-picking scenario, the training team skillfully shed light on the main paradigms of ML. The workshop concluded with practical exercises where everyone had the opportunity to experiment with tools such as ChatGPT or Dall-E to generate recipes and greeting cards.

A gratifying outcome

The Center LEARN analyzed this training to evaluate its effectiveness. The post-training feedback was extremely positive: 89% of participants expressed great satisfaction with the content covered, while 78% praised the interactive teaching methods adapted to their pace.

© Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto / 2023 EPFL

The most striking aspect was the observed change in attitude towards AI among the participants. Before the training, they harbored some mistrust towards these tools, but after the sessions, wonder largely outweighed fear. „Their desire to understand a sometimes complex topic was manifested through pertinent questions, rooted in thoughtful personal reflections. The attentive listening and remarkable commitment of each participant contributed to enriching this training experience,“ said Felipe Martinez.

These workshops also altered their intentions regarding the use of AI. While 84% of participants declared that they were not using this technology at the start of the day, now 57% are considering it, reflecting the positive impact of the workshops on their perspectives and willingness to explore new horizons.

© Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto / 2023 EPFL

Before the workshop, 80% admitted not knowing about AI, a percentage that dropped to 2% after the course. Concurrently, the percentage of participants claiming to understand AI soared from 20% to 98%, demonstrating the effectiveness of the training in deepening their knowledge of the subject. „Defining artificial intelligence and exploring its diverse application domains not only demystified what AI is but also revealed that it was already very much present in their daily lives, often in completely unsuspected ways,“ explained Sonia Agrebi.

These results highlight the effectiveness and relevance of the pedagogical approach tailored to seniors proposed by our team and pave the way for the implementation of other similar interventions in the future.

Author(s): Julie Clerget
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