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Learning To Use Your Software

The number of people who assume that all you need is a computer and software, without allowing time and/or money for learning is amazing. Would they buy a piano and sheet music and make the same assumption?

There are three major ways we learn new things: hearing how to do it, seeing it done, doing it ourselves. People often do best with information delivered in one form supplemented by the other two. Think back to the last time you mastered something: what worked best? Do you remember pictures or words better? Do you need to write things down? Do you need to explore on your own before demonstrations or verbal descriptions make sense? Create a training program which fits your learning style. Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect to be an expert overnight.

Some people can learn software by trial and error with the manual. Selecting software written for your thinking style makes learning easier. Because manuals are often printed before the application is finished, they can give ambiguous or incorrect information. There is usually a supplemental “Read Me” file on the program disk which gives the latest program changes. Be sure to read it. Getting a good “after market” book is also wise. Pick a book by looking up an item you had trouble understanding with the manual. If it is covered well, chances are that the book will do well in other areas. When trying to make sense of it all, remember that software does not evolve out of some fixed set of physical laws, it is made up by programmers, who just may not think like you do.

Many people find self-study with manuals doesn’t fit their learning style and look for a class. Small classes are more effective than large. Several short sessions are better than one long one. Hopefully, your budget allows you a choice. Be assertive and take responsibility for your training. Ask questions when you don’t understand. Do all the class exercises. Complain if things are going too fast; everyone else may be having the same problem or you may have been placed in the wrong class. Take on the freedom of a student and accept that it is all right not to have all the answers — you are going to make mistakes!

1. Prepare for the class by looking at the software so that you already know what it looks like and can spend your energy in class learning how to use it.

2. Set goals: know what you want to be able to do with the software and communicate this to your instructor. With a nebulous goal like “being able to use Word Perfect” it is hard to know when you’ve gotten there; “being able to use Word Perfect to get a secretarial job which involves creating a) letters, b) proposals and c) mailing lists” is much more measurable. Setting attainable goals will help you mark your progress. During periods of slow going it helps to look back at what you have achieved.

3. Practice soon after the class while the information is still fresh. Calling the instructor with a question the next day is usually considered class follow-up; calling three months later isn’t. Practice helps move information from short-term to long-term memory. If you don’t practice, you have wasted your time and money. If your boss sends you for training, be sure to negotiate time and access for practice as well.

4. Take breaks. Your brain needs time to digest information. Most people overload after 1.5 to 2 hours of new information.

5. Don’t try too much at once. Get comfortable with the basics before working on the complex features. Reach your goal with one program before starting to learn the next application.

A parting note: There is no such thing as bug-free software. Companies can’t possibly test all the possible keystroke/mouse/screen combinations. Your chance of running into an untested combination (and perhaps bug) is greater when you are just learning and don’t yet know what the software expects. If your system crashes unexpectedly or something strange happens, it probably isn’t your fault, you just discovered a bug. Don’t give up. Try it again. If the same thing happens, we’ll help if we can, but you are better off calling the company which made it or sold it to you.

Look at our training schedule or give us a call at 206-523-0872 for private instruction.

copyright 1998 Karen Seymour

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