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Learning the Computer

There is still a segment of the population that has difficulty with computers or “How to Use”: a software program, the computer as a tool, or taming the beast they see on their desk at work.

The first thing I say to comfort my students is that they are not going to break their computer by doing something “silly”. They may get a garbage (or unexpected) response from the program, but that is simply because computers are machines that need to be told what to do. True, computers are excellent at doing things, but computers do not have the level of understanding how to read our minds and do what we want the computer to do.

This perceived “dumbness” on the part of the computer presents challenges to even the best tutor. Why, because humans all have different learning styles and:
1. Most students learn differently than you do.
2. Each student learns differently from other students.
3. No one teaching method will effectively reach all students.
4. A tutor cannot address all students' learning styles all of the time.

Worse yet, learning styles may be “mixed” in each student! In considering what is actually taking place during a computer training session, a good tutor has to understand the reactions of the various learning styles to the information provided:

Active/Reflective Learners: Active learners retain and understand information best by doing something active with it – discussing or applying it or explaining it to others. “Let's try it out and see how it works” is an active learner's phrase Reflective learners prefer to think about it quietly first. “Let's think it through first” is the reflective learner's first response.

Sensing/Intuitive Learners: Sensing learners enjoy learning facts. Sensors often enjoy solving problems by well-established methods and dislike complications and, surprises. Sensors are patient with details and good at memorizing facts and doing hands-on work. Sensors are more practical and careful. Intuitors enjoy innovation and dislike repetition. Intuitors work faster and are more innovative. Intuitive learners often prefer discovering possibilities and relationships. Intuitors may be better at grasping new concepts.

Visual/Verbal: Visual learners remember best what they “see” – pictures, diagrams, flow charts, time lines, films, and demonstrations. Verbal learners get more out of words – written and spoken explanations.

NOTE: Everyone learns more when information is presented both visually and verbally.

Sequential/Global: Sequential learners gain understanding in linear steps, with each step following logically from the previous one. Sequential learners follow logical stepwise paths in finding solutions. Global learners learn in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing connections, and then suddenly “getting it”.

Unfortunately, using a computer requires a bit of courage on the user’s part. The computer user must be bold enough to tell the computer what to do. I tell my students to “try it”, but only AFTER I have given them a “safe escape route” that allows them to return to the command “before”. Finally, “Save as you go”, is the best taught strategy for everyone.