Some people are afraid of computers and approach the machines with great wariness. These people are sure that their first mouse-click will destroy the computer and maybe the whole network along with it.

Part of the problem with some new users is that they figure they’ll never know it all. The mystery will never be revealed to them, so why try to learn anything in the first place? With students like these, trainers would be wise to let the newbies in on this secret: Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is guess.

Students will be shocked that you are not intimately familiar with every feature of Excel or Word or whatever the topic of the class. They don’t know yet that the best way to learn is by doing. Some of the best IT people in the business are self-taught. They weren’t given a magic book of incantations when they joined the IT business. They were handed a problem and told, “Fix it! And hurry!” Experience really is the best teacher.

Now where is that handout?
Encouraging this kind of approach will do much more for your students than any amount of documentation you will ever produce.

Once people get the hang of guessing, their confidence and skills will increase, and they’ll be able to do more on their own. Whether users go to the help file, try every menu command they can find, or click around for 30 minutes before solving the problem; they will never forget this bit of information. People like to figure things out on their own. They’re proud of the discovery and of the hard work it took to get there.

A good philosophy, not a silver bullet
Obviously, there are some basics that you have to teach—the desktop, folder structures, menus, navigating through a network—and with some of the more technical subjects, there really is only one right answer.

But, if you’re working with an intermediate class and a “how do you do this?” question comes up, toss the problem out to the entire group. “How do you think you do that?” Make it a game among the students, with a round of applause as the prize for the correct answer.

It could be an even better teaching tool if no one comes up with the right answer. Force them to click around until someone finds the right menu and the right command to accomplish the task.
Do you see this working in one of your classes? What’s the most satisfying solution you’ve found by guessing or clicking around? Send us a note or post a comment below.