Teach the Concepts, Not the Clicky

I just finished reading Munir Kotadia’s article “Novice PC users more likely to embrace Linux” on ZDNet Australia. He says Linux enthusiasts will have better luck getting a novice user to embrace Linux than someone entrenched in Windows. I won’t argue with that, as we all have to start somewhere. The same goes for Windows-to-Mac switchers, Mac-to-Linux switchers, and so on.

However, I think a more important focus would be to teach any computer user the concepts rather than the clicky. In other words, teach them what a browser is, how it works, and what its basic components (i.e., address bar, nav buttons, bookmarks, etc.) are rather than “click this big blue e to get online.”

I saw a lot of this while working for the high school, and I still see it on a day-to-day basis at the ISP I work for. Hardly a day goes by without the following conversation:

Tech: “What are you using to check your email?”

Customer: “My computer.”

Or a similar dumbfounded response. No kidding. And we then have to explain what we’re talking about, and walk them through the process of figuring out the program name. This is equally applicable to “What version of Windows do you have?” and “What browser are you using?”

As a result, when customers come in for computer repairs, we try to give them a quick tour of their system. This is what this is, this is what it’s for, this is how it works. We even pile on a lot of analogies until we see the lightbulb flash on over their head, and they walk out the door happy as can be (despite the lighter load on their wallet).

Ideally, a user with the proper education will be able to sit down at any desktop system and say “Okay, here’s my browser, here’s my email client, here’s my word processor.” Even file browsing is virtually identical now that XP has a kind of home folder. Users shouldn’t sit scratching their heads because they can’t find IE, Outlook Express, or Word.