Question: What makes the difference between a beginner and intermediate PC user?
Answer: concept chaining.
Do you remember doing dot-to-dot puzzles? You have to be able to connect multiple dots to understand the complete picture.
Proficient PC users leverage the same problem-solving skills.
Here’s a specific concept chaining example, drawn from a very common scenario: a user realizes he needs to be able to direct a friend to the web page he is currently viewing. A basic user’s first thought is to look for a button that sends an e-mail right from the web browsing program. That’s an A to B solution. For users like you and I, our first thought is “You don’t need a button for that. This is easy and fast: just copy the URL and paste it into e-mail/IM.” Done, right? Well, not so fast, you sophisticated user, you. Let’s deconstruct that solution into all the separate concepts that a basic user would need to understand. (The following assumes that the user has surfed the web and has sent e-mails before, two separate concepts in and of themselves.)
First, the user needs to understand that a web browser and e-mail program can be used at the same time. In other words, multi-tasking and simultaneous program operation is a concept beginners often don’t grasp. Second, the user needs to understand that text can be transferred between two programs via the Copy and Paste features. Last, the user needs to know that URLs can be selected/highlighted and how to do so, allowing the URL to be copied to the clipboard.
Those three computer concepts can stand alone, but when considered together and correctly sequenced, a solution to the need is created. That’s concept chaining. Intermediate users have learned to stitch a variety of common computer features together to accomplish tasks that have no simple “shortcut”. By virtue of being multi-purpose devices, computers excel at providing numerous options for arriving at the same result. Knowing how to get to point D requires the realization and know-how to start from A and travel via B and C, like a mental dot-to-dot.
Newcomers often don’t realize they need to concept chain. Yet, most technology vendors assume users can and will concept chain with software. After all, to exist requires humans to concept chain (else you could never take raw food items, cook/prepare them, and then consume them.) But for those who might be coming from the other side of the Software Generation Gap, virtual concept chaining in the digital space isn’t second nature. And that’s where technology market assumptions spell trouble for new users. Some vendors attempt to solve this via shortcut software, but if you support a basic user who often uses shortcut software or specially simplified systems, you know how often reliance on “A to B” solutions falls short.
In closing, here are a few questions to ponder:
- Can you think of a PC user stuck as a beginner because he/she hasn’t learned concept chaining techniques? If so, how might you put them on the right path?
- What do you think is crucial to taking intermediate users and making them advanced PC users? Share a comment.
- Do you know a user who isn’t even able to achieve basic understanding of core computer concepts? Try The Ultimate PC Primer.