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People come at me frequently asking questions about computers. It can be flattering at first but you know they are coming back with the most absurd questions because they don't know enough to figure it out on their own. You can try explaining them what you're doing but since asking you is easier than googling the answer they're more encouraged to nod away the explanation than memorizing anything. It's not unusual they commit the same mistake in the future with small dumber innovations.

I know a huge group of people who've been beginners for over a decade even though the computer is constantly used in their job. They're tought specific tasks in ERPs and Microsoft Office, ignoring everything else job related. How much wouldn't their job be improved by learning a more efficient way to finish frequent tasks? It bothers me to witness people doing repetitive tasks when there's a godamn machine in front of them ready to automatize any kind of task that doesn't require thinking.

Basic computer skills can prevent a lot of dumb mistakes, finally upgrading yet another beginner to an intermediate. What are those skills though? What kind of basic skills can be tought to boost the learning process?

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The #1 skill as all of us "intermediate" and "advanced" users know, is how to web search properly. That is, knowing google.com operators and finding the information we're looking for. Obviously, a good grasp on basic outlook, word, excel and powerpoint is good, but skill #1 can do that for them.

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I spent a reasonable amount of my working life teaching IT skills to beginners, and it's my opinion that the feeling of safety is massively important. Being willing to experiment with things is exactly the sign that marks a 'continuing beginner' from a 'temporary beginner'.

In terms of moving people out of 'beginner' status I think it's best to remove them from any particular problem - if you've been asked "How do I do this?" then the person is very problem-centred and isn't thinking about the tool - your only real option is to explain the problem and it's context.

If, on the other hand, you talk to a user when they are working though a process they've done before - that's an ideal time to introduce some small changes - such as a keyboard shortcut for the thing they are doing... or an easier way to roll out some formating.

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I like the notion of "safety". You ever notice a user that clicks something new to them and they physically flinch because they're afraid they'll 'break something'. –  eflat Feb 7 '12 at 22:45
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This may be kind of out of point but I felt you might need this advice.

I do face such problems too at work. Just because we are in the IT department, people would automatically call us for help when they had problems.

Over time, even though I'm not a help desk staff. I do come to the realisation that I have no powers to stop them from disturbing me given the company culture.etc. So what I did in the end are the following measures when my other department colleagues have computer or software problems.

  1. When they had a problem, don't help them fix totally (unless it's really difficult), go and teach them how to do it instead and remember their names. So if someone calls again, you could try to ask her to look for her friend in the same department instead.

  2. It can be quite hard to know what is the most essential beginner skills. It depends on what the staff is supposed to do with her computer. But 1 good thing to teach is to help them to learn how to find information themselves. If they have internet access, knowing how to search for information online would be great. I have also recorded some quick screencasts for common problems and asked them to just refer to it first before contacting me to save us both time. If they don't (have internet access), having some paper with instructions would be helpful.

  3. Occasionally, drop a cool tip or two. Sometimes, while helping them and chatting, I would try to mention a cool software such as Texter or to mention a trick in the software they use (such as using Find and Replace in Microsoft Word when I happen to see them replacing text manually).

  4. Lastly, do give them the impression that your time is very precious, at the end of the day, getting disturbed too often lowers your productivity and makes them look good at your expense. Makes it too easy and fast to get your service and you could find your kindness getting abused. You will just become the IT Whiz (Garbage) everyone look to throw their problems at. Making them wait could also have the effect of getting some of them to think of how to solve their problems themselves if they can't wait for a while

Over time, I got them to disturb me less, got their skills improved and I got to concentrate more on what I'm actually hired to do.

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For some people, giving them hints and getting them to do the work themselves can be a way around this issue. So if someone asks, "What is 30 cm in inches?" I might reply to type that into Google and see what it says. I am not giving the answer but rather a method to that answer. Assuming there isn't a major time dependency on the question, giving hints may lead to better results assuming the other person can follow a trail of bread crumbs.

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