Archive for the ‘training tips’ Category

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #9

February 22, 2008

My dad’s advice: It’s hell getting old. Don’t do it.

Two very significant things are happening this century. First, Americans are living longer than any previous generation, so we are all discovering, directly or indirectly, the handicaps that come with old age. Second, computer technology has become truly mainstream, catching a whole generation off guard. Consequently, computer illiteracy has become one of those old age handicaps, and it is acutely felt by those who are otherwise functioning extremely well in society.

The older generation sees their grandchildren interacting with all kinds of computers with ease, yet they have difficulty just getting their heads around some of the most basic concepts like menus and scrollbars. I haven’t kept track of how many older adults I have talked to about computers, but I’m sure if I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “I feel so stupid” I’d be as rich as Bill Gates.

I repeatedly tell members of the older generation they are not stupid, they are inexperienced. They wouldn’t think of themselves as being stupid because they can’t play a piccolo or speak Swahili. Neither should they feel stupid because they can’t use a computer…yet. Did they learn to read in a day or a week? How long were they taught penmanship? ( “Oh! Years!”) And that was when they were young, like their grandchildren.

Learning to use a computer is doable, no matter how complicated it looks to them. But a big factor in their success is their attitude. In addition to making it easier for them to learn, it is important to counteract the self image they come in with by reminding them that they are learning, that it is not as hard as they imagined, and that they can do it. It is a wonderful thing to see their faces brighten as they realize they have learned something, and therefore are not stupid after all. As their attitude and self image changes, barriers start coming down and they pick up more determination.

Tip #9: Encourage them. Not just with positive reinforcement, but with active encouragement that reminds them what they have accomplished.

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Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #8

October 31, 2007

Nearly everyone who takes computer classes at our library does not want a book about how to use a computer. The typical response is, “I can’t learn by reading a book. I have to be shown how to do it.” There are many different learning styles. Some learn by watching. Some learn by listening. Some learn by taking notes. Some learn by doing and re-doing. All of us learn from mistakes.

Older adults, although they are more careful, in order to avoid making mistakes (one of the reasons they go more slowly), and despite their best efforts, will make mistakes while learning to use the computer. To those of us who grew up with computers or live with computers now, the mistakes can seem pretty incredible. More importantly, those newbie mistakes are usually easy to fix, so the typical response is to just fix it for them with one or two mouse clicks.

With very few exceptions, however, it is better to allow them to fix their mistakes by telling them what happened, why it happened, and walking them through, step by step, how to fix it. Although it takes longer, if they made the mistake once, they will probably do it again, so learning how to fix it themselves is important. It also helps take the mystery out of computers and raises their confidence level. Sometimes we even help them make a mistake, if it’s a common one, just to teach them how to fix it. For example, sooner or later they are all going to click the right mouse button and get a popup context menu. So, when training novices, we tell them to click the right mouse button, then explain what they are seeing and why, and how to close the popup menu.

Tip #8: Mistakes are learning opportunities. Teach them how to fix their mistakes.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #7

October 20, 2007

The older we get, the more we know. But sometimes that gets in the way of learning (see Tip #5). The process of learning, of itself, becomes more difficult due to factors in aging. Learning new concepts for familiar terms inserts a certain level of confusion into the process, enhanced by the declining ability to exclude the prior associations with those terms in order to learn the new associations. Frequently combined with this is a decline in hearing, caused by both physical and cognitive factors. The physical factor is the declining ability to hear sounds. The cognitive factor is the declining ability to distinguish sounds, caused by cognitive slowing and by neural noise (random signals that are unrelated to actual stimulus). This means what is actually getting through (what can be heard) is getting lost in distractions of prior associations and unrelated associations as the person attempts to “decode” it and make sense of it, causing increased difficulty in understanding what is being said. When this happens in the context of learning new terms and concepts, the ability to hear and understand becomes even more strained.

Rapid speech is obviously not going to work well with this group in a setting where they are learning something new. But slowing down the speed will not completely solve the problem. It is just as important to be very precise and explicit, and to enunciate clearly. Keep in mind many consonant sounds are similar. To older adults with hearing problems, words like com and con sound the same, and they may not have learned enough about the Internet to put “com” into context.

Because of the declines in hearing, context becomes even more important to older adults’ ability to decipher and understand speech. Precise and explicit speech will help keep them on track and in the correct context. For example, spelling out what is to be typed is a good idea, and to be more precise you could use phonetic alphabet words (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.) to indicate the specific letters. But unless you explicitly say, for example, “type the letters C as in Charlie, O as in Oscar, M as in Mike…” some will just start typing the words you say.

Tip #7: To lessen the effects of hearing loss and related issues of aging, speak slowly, using language that is precise and explicit.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #6

August 20, 2007

The cognitive slowing that occurs with aging affects an older adult’s ability to maintain linear connections required for learning. Most teaching involves steps, but the older adult’s ability to remember those steps is affected by the aging process (see Tip #2). What may seem obvious for younger learners can no longer be taken for granted. They will not necessarily make the connection between a cause and effect without explicit instructions broken down into discrete steps. An instruction to “click on ‘New’ in the File menu” may be easy for a younger learner, but what the older adult hears is “file” and “new” and tries to figure out what is where. They need an instruction like the example above broken down into discrete steps, such as: “Move the cursor to the upper left corner and click on the word ‘File’. Move the cursor over the word ‘New’ in the list that opens. When the word is highlighted, press the left mouse button.”

Consistently using specific step by step instructions begins to take the mystery out of computers for older adults. It also reduces the load on their processing, which is already taxed.

Also, since repetition is important (see Tip #4), handouts or other materials intended to give them practice should use discrete, numbered steps. Numbering is important as a way of isolating each step. For example, instructions to copy and paste might be broken down into four distinct steps: highlighting something, copying it, moving to the destination, and pasting. Each step should then have detailed instructions. Using the example to copy and paste, printed instructions for steps one and two might look something like this (but would, of course, include relevant visual cues):

Step 1 (highlighting):

Place the cursor on the item to be copied

Hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor across the item

When the item is highlighted, release the mouse button.

Step 2 (copying)

Move the cursor to the top of the window

Click on the word “Edit”

Move the cursor over the word “Copy” in the list that opens

When the word “Copy” is highlighted, press the left mouse button

Tip #6: Use discrete, step-by-step instructions, both verbally, and in printed materials

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #5

June 12, 2007

The extensive crystallized intelligence available to older adults, which is not only stable, but continues to grow, does have a drawback. Although building on existing knowledge and skills is a good thing (see Tip #3), it is actually easier for an older adult to learn an entirely new term and concept than it is to learn a concept associated with a word that already has a familiar meaning. This is because the attentional processes, which involve controlling the attentional focus and excluding irrelevant information, decline with age. Learning to use computers requires learning new concepts and associations for familiar words, such as “shortcut” and “button.” But declines in attentional processes make it more difficult to exclude prior associations with familiar terms and replace them with the new associations.

Imagine going to a reunion after many years. People’s appearances have changed, and you must make new associations to continue to recognize them. But imagine finding everyone’s names have also changed. You can recognize them, but to learn the new names you must first suppress the tendency to associate the faces with the old names. The more familiar the name and face, the more difficult that is to do. As we get older it becomes even more difficult to exclude the prior associations when learning new concepts.

This can be made easier with visual cues. Consider the difference nametags would make at that imaginary reunion where everyone’s names have changed. Cues, such as “cheatsheets” and labeled graphics, when combined with repetition (see Tip #4), greatly enhance retention.

Tip #5: Give them visual cues