A mouse? Bring me my Tab! — Using concept correlation to teach new users

November 19, 2008

I had a fascinating experience while at the “cell phone store” some time ago. I was changing providers/networks and phones, but what was most interesting was the Web-based system the “clerks” used to enter my information and how they interacted with it. You see, the “clerks” were comprised of a middle-aged manager and a teenage assistant. Now before you get ahead of me, recognize that this posting isn’t necessarily about their age difference or the Software Generation Gap. This manager did know how to use the computer and the Web-based system. What I found intriguing was that the manger used the mouse to click from one text entry field to the next, which worked just fine. He was getting the job done. However, his teenage subordinate stared over his shoulder the entire transaction, periodically peppering him with flippant “suggestions” like, “Don’t use the mouse. Just push the Tab key. It’s faster.” (Note for those who don’t know: like a frog hopping from one lily pad to the next, pushing the Tab key on the keyboard will cause the focus or cursor to jump to the next text/input field on the screen).

Having learned many of my computer skills from colleagues and my original computer mentor, I began debating with myself about how computer skills are really learned. Are they most often learned by direct instruction, passive observation/demonstration, or by concept correlation? In this particular example, I asked myself the following, “How did the teenager learn and subsequently know that the Tab key worked in the Web browser?”

I came up with a few plausible answers: Read the rest of this entry »