I don’t think, therefore I am not…

September 20, 2010

… able to do my job? …able to stay employed?

I’m increasingly encountering computer users who want me to help them learn how to do exactly one thing. It’s the thing they need to know at the given moment. The problem with helping them is, two weeks later, they’re back wanting to know how to do exactly one more thing. Usually it’s because these people lack the understanding of a core concept.

There is a minor and major problem to giving these people exactly what they request. First, I won’t be around as their consultant forever. After a favor or two, I realize I’m being used as a crutch. I refuse to give fish, so I switch to a different tactic and try to address the major issue: why they’re not able to think through the unexpected. These folks don’t understand the root problem behind their inability to continue working when the road forward hasn’t already been thoroughly marked with instructive signs. They’re slaves to hand-holding people, guides, tutorials, and job aids. As a result, they’re not fully self-sufficient and have drastically reduced productivity. Why?

Knowing a procedure isn’t the same as knowing why the procedure works, and computer use, as I say in my book, is inherently a thinking activity. Those thoughts must be based on something, and the best computer users I know base their problem solving on general principles and wholistic patterns, not specific procedural guides. How-tos and step-by-step instructions become obsolete relatively quickly. Core concepts rarely do. What happens for the user who knows only a step-by-step software process when a step in that process changes due to a software upgrade/update? I’ve witnessed the same result many times over. Every time such users encounter a break in the process — unfamiliar territory with no street signs in sight — they halt. They simply can’t continue. They’re lost. Unable to solve their own “problem,” productivity grinds to a halt.

Clark Quinn confirms Read the rest of this entry »

Forgotten medicine: Core concepts

September 16, 2010

Have you ever forgotten to take your medicine? Did you notice the effects immediately, or was it after some time that you realized the cumulative effect? We’ve all been in that situation at one time or another: there was something you should have done (but didn’t) which would have made a big difference if you had.

I don’t spend a lot of time training large groups directly, but every once in a while I find myself at the front of a lecture room providing a formal session on some technology.  I had this opportunity recently, and this was the best part of the whole deal: Read the rest of this entry »

Too Scared to Right-Click

September 1, 2010

I recently overheard a student talking about his internship. Specifically, he mentioned having to show a much older colleague how to use the right-mouse button to activate (and use the options on) the contextual menu. He was astonished that someone who had used a computer at work for that long had never used the right mouse button before, ever.

(For just a moment, I’d like to indulge in imagining why that individual never clicked the right mouse button. Fear? A mandate from the IT department? A variation on a Monty Python skit is coming to mind…”Thou shalt not click the right mouse button but only the left mouse button.” I digress…)

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