I get technology. I love beta software, am all over Google Plus and am way more likely to blow too much money in the App Store than in a shoe store. Things that are part of my everyday routine, like RSS feeds, Evernote and the HTML interface in WordPress, make other people crazy.
My husband, Jim, is one of those people about whom it is often said, “You ask him the time and he’ll tell you how to build the watch.” We’re a good match, as I fear I have the same tendency. People often look as if they’d like to run screaming in the other direction when I get geeked up about the latest shiny thing.
But I love to teach and I love to get people interested in technology. So there’s always this tension between giving someone helpful information and aiming a firehose at them. I get to see the other side of this when I ask someone to explain math to me. Go much past 2 + 2 = 4 (right?) and my head begins to swim. Here’s what I’ve learned about teaching people things, from trying to teach my mother to send an email attachment and from having Jim try to teach me a complicated formula in an Excel spreadsheet:
- Be patient. It should go without saying, but it doesn’t. Just because someone isn’t into your personal passion doesn’t make them less intelligent — it just makes them less interested. It’s a sure bet they can kick your butt at a thing or two in their wheelhouse.
- Let them drive. It does no good for someone to let me watch them do something. I need to do it myself to learn it. My mom is a smart woman – a registered nurse who has also had a successful real estate career. Definitely not a dummy. But she’s really not into technology and computers. So I sit next to her and walk her through the steps as she clicks the paper clip icon in the mail program.
- Write it down. I made a cheat sheet for my mom with keyboard shortcuts for copy/paste, save and other frequently-used functions. It helps her to have it in front of her, as it’s not information she readily remembers and she’s more likely to establish the habit if she can refer to the information quickly.
- Explain, but not too much. I want to understand why and how things work, but when Jim sat down to teach me about the computer for the first time, his brilliant developer’s brain started with bits and bytes, ones and zeros. I had no frame of reference and it confused me and made me doubt I’d ever be able to use a computer. Eventually, in the interest of preserving marital peace, I taught myself. I did learn about bits and bytes, but I learned in context and it made sense.
- Simplify. Decide what’s essential for them to know and boil it down to the basics. Later you can teach them more advanced techniques, but build slowly upon existing knowledge that’s in use rather than trying to do it all at once.
It’s fun and enriching to share knowledge; teaching others helps us broaden and deepen our own understanding. Teaching well spreads enthusiasm for the subject and breeds fresh ideas and advancements.
What’s your best — or worst — teaching/learning experience?