The Ins and Outs of Training Computer Illiterate Employees
Depending on the job description, computer literacy could mean anything from order entry to programming AI. In most cases, though, it just means the level of comfort people have with using a computer. Basic computer literacy in part is understanding how computers work and operate, which makes it so much easier to master new applications.
With more complex and feature-rich programs coming out every day, there’s a learning curve for everyone. But a level of proficiency suited to the job role or career path is essential, especially for those who don’t even have the basic skills.
Levels of Illiteracy
You may find that most trainees fall into one of three levels:
Basic – Able to use a mouse and open a program, but not much more. Some can’t even get that far.
Intermediate – Comfortable using familiar applications and managing files, but lost when it comes to configuring applications or trouble-shooting computer issues.
Proficient – These are the people who’ve done enough digital problem-solving to feel confident exploring further.
You will very likely find all three types sitting in the same class to take the same job skills course. You may find someone handling a mouse like it was a bomb seated right next to someone customizing toolbars. This is where not just your computer knowledge, but flexible teaching skills, will be essential to moving things forward.
In the end, training employees in computer literacy should have 3 outcomes for trainees:
- Improved confidence in using any computer application.
- Appreciating the benefits of new technology to their work and skill sets.
- Reducing their anxiety over mastering new responsibilities.
Here are some tips for making that happen.
- Affirm each step
To those comfortable with computing, words like “memory” or “reboot” come easily, but to the computer illiterate, they don’t mean much. Basics are always the first step. Starting from the ground up means creating a cycle of basic concepts and tasks that provide the context. It’s fascinating to see what a computer can do if you’ve never used one. Affirmation can also lend positive emotional associations. Even something as simple as finding and opening the right file merits a “good job” for someone who’s never done it.
- Let them do the work
It’s widely known that hands-on activity is the best way to retain knowledge – by making it an experience rather than a piece of information. Don’t reach for the mouse even when the trainee appears confused and frustrated. Using the mouse to interact with screens is the one fundamental skill that everyone must have before going further. Talk them through it. It can be frustrating, but if you’re doing it for them, you aren’t teaching anything.
- Encourage lists
Especially in larger groups, you can’t spend quality time with everyone, or answer every questions. Have them write down their questions and frustrations, and find time at convenient stopping points to address them as a class. You’ll likely find that many of these are the same question from different people. And be sure to teach keyboard shortcuts; Copy & Paste is a lot easier using the CTRL key than hunting for menu items, and you’d be surprised how delighted some newbies are to find that they can do this.
- Explain terms
Don’t forget that the computer illiterate may not have any clue about even the most basic computing terms. When you start in on subjects like RAM, hard drives, operating systems, and so forth, start by telling them what that means. “Your operating system manages all the computer’s memory and processes, hardware, and software, while allowing you to communicate with it.” Keep it simple so they understand quickly what the concept is, and get on with the lesson. Eventually the whole class will be using the same terminology.
- Give them homework
Reiteration of the same tasks is a good way to retain the knowledge, but not everyone has a computer at home to practice on. Set aside a few minutes at the end of the class to have them perform a task that sums up the lesson. For instance when learning about files and file systems, have them locate and open a specific file, copy the contents to another file, and save it to a different folder with the day and date as a filename. Doing this on their own helps to build confidence as well as experience.
Training employees generally means training them during working hours. Believe it or not, there are people who use smartphones every day that are clueless on a computer, and vice-versa. Teaching basic skills along with necessary job skills can be a two-fold journey. As frustrating and at times overwhelming as it can be, take comfort in the fact you’re introducing some basic survival skills in a digital world.
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