I do on-site computer training for customers and have trained for both businesses and home customers. Over the years, I have come up with a list of things I teach my users to do to make them better computer users, and in the process, make my training easier. They are:

  1. Hand out a “How to troubleshoot” list.
  2. Encourage students to keep a running list of questions.
  3. Teach the help menu.
  4. Use a customer e-mail list to practice e-mail skills.
  5. Create a secure list of passwords.
  6. Keep reference materials handy.
  7. Design a comfortable work space.

Following these tips allows the focus of class to be on more advanced skills during training sessions, instead of going over the basics again and again.

Tip 1: Troubleshooting
Hand out a list of troubleshooting questions for your customers to answer when they are having problems with their computers. These should include, but not be limited to:

  • What program were you running when the problem occurred?
  • What other programs were running in the background? (I explain to new customers to look on the bottom bar and jot down what programs are open).
  • Is this the first time problems have occurred, or has this happened before or when you were doing something else?
  • What steps did you take to try to fix it?
  • Was there anything external going on that might have influenced the problem (i.e., power glitch, inadvertently hit a key on the keyboard)?
  • If this is a problem you have while using a certain program, what have you tried to do that did not work?

Tip 2: Student questions
Have your customers keep a small notebook by their computers to jot down problems and questions. Then, when you get together for a tutoring session, they can have the list ready for you to look at. I tell my customers to leave space between questions so they can jot down notes, answers, and so on.

Tip 3: Help
Teach your customers how to use help features on the computer. I teach them the many ways to use help (contents and index, what’s this, etc.), and then use options to print the specific help topic. I also have my customers keep a three-ring notebook nearby so that when they don’t know how to do something, they can go to help, find what they need, print it out, and keep it nearby for future reference.

Lots of senior citizens need to print out instructions and follow them because there are too many steps to remember. Also, if you’re in a busy office and things are hectic, it’s nice to refer to a list of steps instead of trying to mentally recall them. I also suggest dividers for the notebook to keep different software program help printouts easy to find. Some of my customers combine the two notebooks and keep loose-leaf paper in the front for jotting down problems, and dividers in the back with their help printouts.

Tip 4: E-mail training
I keep a list of my customers’ e-mail addresses and use the list to send out jokes. I also include instructions on how to forward the mail, reply, and so on. This lets customers practice their skills and get a chuckle at the same time. I also use this method as a refresher lesson that reaches many people at one time, giving that extra little bit to my customers that makes me look good, all in just a minute or two a day.

Tip 5: Passwords
Make sure that every password is written down in an accessible, safe place. I suggest that my customers use one of the password programs that remember passwords (if they are at home), or to purchase one of the new address/URL/username/password books that are out now. These are worth every penny.

Tip 6: Reference materials
Have your customers keep all the manuals and instructions that came with the computer and its peripherals close by and accessible. This cuts down on time spent looking for a piece of software or a driver that is suddenly needed.

Use a few personal experiences to make them understand how important it is to keep all of this information together. I once had a doctor who had an external CD-ROM for his laptop that he couldn’t use because we couldn’t find the driver for it. (I searched everywhere on the Internet). The company had become obsolete and even the listserv didn’t help, neither did every driver location service on the Internet.

The doctor had just moved, and the software driver disk was somewhere in about 200 boxes—get the picture? He used this old, faithful laptop for travel and needed access to a CD reader for information stored on CDs he used when he was on trips. If the software had been with the laptop in the case or put somewhere in a box labeled, “computer materials,” he could have found it. Enough said.

Tip 7: Work space
Make sure that the customer has a computer set up that is comfortable. Check out the chair, the monitor height, and the keyboard placement, and make suggestions. Ergonomics makes a big difference in how much you use a machine.

I once had a customer who didn’t use her computer much because she had it set up on her kitchen counter. It seems her eccentric son liked to stand and use the computer. When I convinced her to switch to a comfortable computer desk, she loved it and used it all the time. (The son could afford his own, and soon did after this one was fixed for Mom’s use!)
Do you use any of these tips in your own training work? What would you add to the list? Send us your tips for training better users, and we’ll use them in a future article.
These suggestions don’t take much time to put in place. They can make a better, happier user out of your customer, and a less stressed trainer out of you. These tips benefit both of you by making time for real training, and not wasting it on petty details that leave you both feeling like no real training occurred while you were there.

Marsha Glick has a variety of training experience. Currently, she works in the private sector with small businesses and with individuals. She has taught in special needs labs with special equipment for students who are blind, deaf, and physically challenged. She also was a trainer at a public library with 200 employees.