Ever wonder why it is that a 10 year old seems better at working their computer than you do. Most people say, “Oh well, they grew up with technology for all those years,” but if you think about it, you probably have been using a computer for at least the last 10 years. Sure, I can understand that when we are children it is easier to learn new ideas than it is later as adults, but I have a hunch that it has to do with something entirely different than brain chemistry. This idea came to me when I taught basic computing to 5th - 8th graders.
It was my first day on the job, and quite frankly I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Having never received a degree for education (nor taking a single class in education for that matter), it was obvious that I was just going to have to wing it. It only took me one day to realize how challenging it is to convince a group of adolescent children to follow instructions. I noticed that no matter what you say there is always a student going about things on their own, pressing this button or that, and no regard for proper procedures. After the first few weeks I quickly realized that the classes were a lot more effective and educational if I employed an unconventional yet simple concept. I would give the students an end goal like, “Make a word document that looks identical to this.” Then the students would have to go hunting through the program trying to find the features necessary to create a bulleted list, or center text, or whatever the task might be. During this process I would walk around and help anyone who had questions. The traditional way to teach such an assignment would be to put the teachers computer up on the screen and go step by step through each of the features necessary. It’s the way most adults would want to receive the lesson. However, it’s hardly the most effective way to learn.
After standing back and looking at how effective it was to teach computers by starting with the end result, it dawned on me: children are better at computing because they aren’t afraid to use trial and error. Inquisitive by nature, kids sit down at a computer and just start clicking away at different buttons, links or anything else they can get the cursor on. They never stop to think, “Oh my, what if this link destroys my computer!” and that is exactly why they are so successful at teaching themselves. I have found this same thing to be true among adults; in general, people who are better at using technology are willing to experiment until they get it right.
I will warn you however, that as someone who works in IT helping with tech support and troubleshooting issues for people, this is the last methodology we would like to see used. There is nothing worse than hearing, “I don’t know what I did, I clicked on something, but I’m not sure what it was, and now nothing works!” Yet, even with that in mind, don’t get discouraged when the guy who works in your IT department freaks out. The truth is that it is his job to fix your problem, and in the long run you will learn how to accomplish tasks on your own much faster. So go ahead… Push The Button!