Let’s face it. Using a computer can be difficult.
Despite the advent of graphical point-and-click software, plug-and-play peripherals, and new PCs and Macs that come in an array of friendly colors, computers and the programs that run on them can still be tough to learn.
You may well be a computer cognoscente who feels right at home in the rarified world of arcane acronyms and persnickety procedures, but if you’ve ever tried to teach an anxious computer novice, you undoubtedly understand how formidable personal computers can be. Fortunately there are tricks you can use when training someone who’s sweating over a keyboard and mouse.
What’s Their Level?
The most important factor to consider is the trainee’s experience level, says Debbi Handler, chair of the Independent Computer Consultants Association and owner of the computer training and consulting firm, Data Access Solutions in Sausalito, California.
As you try to determine the current level of the person’s skills, don’t necessarily take what he or she says at face value. Often people say that they’re more advanced than they are or that they’re beginners when they have some experience. To better gauge skill level, observe users in action, listen to their questions, and watch their facial expressions to make sure you haven’t lost them.
Other Training Tips
Here are some other things to keep in mind when you’re helping someone get up to speed with a computer:
- When providing instructions, use language that trainees will understand. With a novice, avoid jargon. “If you’re teaching a beginner how to install a new scanner, and you tell him to get the driver, he might just call a cab,” says Handler, who deliberately takes a lighthearted approach to training.
- Explain that trainees won’t break the computer, which is a common fear among novices. They often feel that if they press the wrong key, the computer might crash. Reassure them that it’s difficult to break hardware, and even if they damage or delete files, backups are available. (Be sure, of course, to back up data files and keep original software disks.)
- Keep in mind that adults don’t learn the same way children do and that the way you learned during your school days may not be the best way to learn today. Adults learn best when they’re self-motivated, not when they’re pressured. Using pressure, in fact, can short-circuit the learning process.
- Appeal to trainees’ self-interest. Stress that when they become comfortable with computers, the machines will help them be successful at work or at school. Make sure you’re teaching techniques that trainees can actually use later.
- Start small. Demonstrate simple tasks first, such as how word wrap and paragraph indenting work. Later you can show off the bells and whistles.
- Don’t overload trainees with all the information you know. If their heads are swimming at the end of a session, chances are the learning process shut down earlier and that whatever information you did impart won’t be retained later.
- To aid retention, provide trainees with “cheat sheets” that show step-by-step how to perform the tasks you’re teaching. This keeps trainees from worrying about having to memorize every little step. Trainees should understand the overall process-how the machine or program “thinks.”
- Give trainees time to practice. Let them make mistakes and get feedback from you both during and after the training session.
- Don’t fake it. If you don’t know an answer, don’t give the answer to another question or otherwise dodge the question. Tell trainees you’ll research it, and be sure to follow up.
- Have fun. Computers are fun, and learning how to use them should be fun too. “Too many people are intimidated by computers,” says Handler. “They think that because they’re not computer savvy, they’re inferior.” If people aren’t having fun, they’ll be less likely to master the technology or to be productive with it.
- Above all, have patience. New users make lots of mistakes, particularly if they’re anxious about computers in the first place.
Expert Training Needed?
If you do throw your hands up in frustration, consider calling in an expert. You can often find professional computer trainers through the “Computers-Training” section of the Yellow Pages. You can also find a trainer by contacting the Independent Computer Consultants Association at 800/774-4222. The group’s Web site, at http://www.icca.org, lets you search for trainers in the US and Canada by area of expertise.
Novices can alternately take a computer class, which costs less than hiring a trainer but involves less personal attention. Classes are offered through local Ys, high-school evening programs, community colleges, universities, computer stores, computer user groups, and computer training organizations.Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://members.home.net/reidgold.
This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor June, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.