You Can't Go Wrong By Learning To Listen

It never rains but it pours. This week has been frantic with a combination of giving emergency lessons and fixing computers. Even after I closed up shop and started to write this column, the phone rang. A client was dissatisfied with the increasing time it takes to boot her laptop. Someone had told her that her computer would go faster if she had more RAM. Okay, generally good advice is to get more memory. I have no problem with that.

Only she upgraded to 1 gig and didn’t see any improvement, so she added another 500 meg before calling me. This woman now has 1.5 gig of RAM on a three-year-old laptop running Windows XP. She primarily uses it for checking email and writing letters. She asked if I thought the store would take the laptop RAM back since if didn’t really help her.

What do you do at this point?

Tomorrow I will likely drive to her house and take the offending beast and find out why her boot time has slowly increased – if indeed it has, and her expectations haven’t just changed.

In this case, as with the others I’ve been working with this week, my first effort is to try to keep the clients from being turned off by their problems. This woman recognized a problem, formed a hypothesis of how to solve it, and took steps to implement a solutions. Those steps were expensive, but she did it herself including installing the memory. Both of these are good things – except for the cost. I suggested she let me look at it.

Her problem is not a serious as a rebuild I had to do for another client who reported that OE would not open, but gave an error message. While she was talking to me, she said that now the computer was re-booting itself and she hadn’t done anything. We waited. He computer came up and after a few moments, crashed again. She had not tried to do anything. This woman had the latest edition of McAfee Internet Security installed and as far as I know, doesn’t have any bad surfing habits. Could it be a hardware problem? When I got to her computer, I was able to find a new folder in OE that she did not claim to have made. Removing that folder allowed OE to open, but the computer still re-booted itself at various moments.

Although I was able to fix the problems, I still have no idea of what was wrong. She is not discouraged and takes it as a condition of the modern age.

These are typical problems that a tutor must plow through to get to the main topic of helping these clients become computer literate. Some of the clients take an active role in fixing the inevitable problems, but others don’t want to have any part of it. They just want the problem fixed. These two clients occupy those two ends of the spectrum. The first woman calls me after trying her hand at fixing it first. She is adventurous in that sense. The second one is polite, but doesn’t want anything but a working computer.

Since my main goal is the tutoring and the computer repairs are secondary, I try to understand what aspects of the field are going to interest the clients. Trying to show the second woman how to install extra memory would likely be unpleasant for both student and teacher. However, and this is the important thing, she is be far the more advanced of the two in usage. She runs a newsletter, does online banking, makes all travel arrangement online, and keeps her books in addition to normal email and surfing.

In many columns I’ve urged potential tutors to cultivate active listening as a way of understanding their clients before launching into some set curriculum. The needs and desires of mature people in becoming computer literate are similar to those of any other group, but the best ways of tutoring them often requires specialized techniques. You can’t go wrong by learning to listen.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]tutor,memory,senior computing,senior education,active listening[/tags]