Should Older Adults Learn to Code?

Should older adults learn to code? No, but should they have a familiarity with what code is, does, and how it does it? Yes.

Coding education discussions are mainly about teaching code in K-12. Those who support including coding say that the aim is not to make everyone into a program developer (although that’s a great career).  Rather, for most, learning what makes a program or computer work is part of becoming a knowledgeable and contributing citizen in the technology world.

I believe that’s also true for adults learning Technology As A Second Language℠. If you use any form of technology such as emailing, talking on a cell phone, texting, or paying bills online, then understanding the basics of what makes it run will make it less intimidating and might even make it enjoyable to use.

Knowing something about coding is like knowing something about how the machines and systems you have been interacting with for years work. You probably know that your car has a mechanical engine with an alternator, pistons, oil filter… your stove is connected to a gas line lit by a pilot light…you put your money in the bank, you can withdraw but it’s not the same money, it’s invested…

Learning about how technology runs, is the same thing. If we didn’t know how things work, then we would be like much earlier generations who believed in magic and superstition. So, if magic doesn’t make it possible for you to write and send emails, what does?

In one of Khan Academy’s programming courses, they compare coding or programming to giving commands to your dog. You say “sit” and the dog sits. What the dog does looks nothing like the word “sit” just like a computer command usually has little resemblance to what it engenders.

Of course, code is not as simple as dog commands. When educators talk about code they mean any language of letters and symbols that can be written as program commands to cause action in a digital format such as games and software. There are many code languages including Java, Python, and Go.

Learning “some” coding means that there is no prescibed time you need to spend or material you need learn in order to make yourself more comfortable with technology. Just do what works for you. Here are a few of the many free resources:

  • What is Code? by Paul Ford  This is a tongue-in-cheek explanation of everything about computers including coding and intergenerational work issues. It doesn’t give you practical experience. Still, it provides in-depth explanations and a great read.
  • Khan Academy Click on Subjects, then Computing. You will find interactive courses in Computing that are geared towards children, but that can be advantageous for beginners.
  • Codecademy Interactive full or brief courses will take you through coding step-by-step.
  •  has great short lessons. They are also student-oriented but appealing to many adults who are curious about coding.

Learning about code will make you more confident and less reluctant to learn new applications. It may also turn you into an active participant in conversations with the technology generation.