Comparison of 5 ways to learn computer stuff

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A lot of people want to be reasonably knowledgeable about one or more aspects of their computer. Not like a computer programmer or someone that works on computers all day, but familiar enough to use popular software and be able to handle things that come up from time to time. But how do you learn? There are several ways to learn, and today I’ll compare the pros and cons of 5 methods of learning.

computer instruction


Learning Method #1: Books
If you walk into any Barnes & Noble, you’ll see a big section of books on just about every computer-related topic you can think of. For every popular computer program, there are several books available to teach you how to use it. Usually these books range from $20 to $50. Some might even include a DVD with some additional content.

computer instruction


Pros: Books are readily available. You can find one or several online and have it in your hand very quickly. Often, there is a book available specifically for what you want to learn. And once you own it, you always have it for easy reference.

Cons: Not all books are very well written so the instruction given might be confusing. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the “For Dummies” series of books. The ones I’ve read seem to be trying too hard to be humorous. Not to mention the whole “you need this book because you’re a dummy” idea is kind of condescending. Also, a book is “one size fits all” – the instruction is not personalized for you.


Learning Method #2: Website tutorials
For most subjects, there are several websites that have some basic instruction. In fact, this is the kind of thing I post on my website most Mondays – step by step instructions on how to perform a particular task on your computer.

computer instruction


Pros: There are lots of websites available that can offer instruction on a particular topic, and the vast majority of them are free.

Cons: Since anyone with a computer and an internet connection can create a blog or a website, there’s really no telling how accurate the information is. The person that created the site might be the foremost authority on the subject, or it could be written by a teenager living in a basement in Cleveland. In some cases you can research the author’s credentials, which is a good idea. Also, a website can be taking down at any time so this might not be a permanent or even long-term source of information.


Learning Method #3: Instructional videos
Did you know that YouTube is the 2nd most popular search engine (after Google of course)? You can go to YouTube and do a search there on just about anything, even very specific things, and it’s likely you find that someone has made a video about it. Want to replace the power supply on your Dell desktop computer? Watch someone else doing it, and just do what they do.

computer instruction


Pros: Probably the biggest advantage with online videos is the fact that they are visual. You can actually watch “over the shoulder” so to speak while someone does what you want to learn to do. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in many cases a video is even better.

Cons: If anything is incorrect or unclear about the video, you might be kind of stuck. On YouTube, there’s no button for “Contact the video creator” and many people don’t include their contact information with the video. So if you have a question there’s no one to ask. Also, like a website, a video can be removed from YouTube at any time so you might go back to watch it a second time and find that it’s gone.


Learning Method #4: Classroom
Obviously, the classroom setting has been a popular method of teaching for a long time. This is often considered the “standard” teaching model – a classroom of students who are there to learn about a particular subject, and a teacher who is an authority on that subject.

computer instruction


Pros: The biggest advantage of this process is the more personal approach. You are actually being taught by a human. In most cases, you can also ask the instructor questions and get personalized answers.

Cons: Class size can be an issue. If you are one of 200 students, the teacher may not have enough time available to give personalized help to you or any of the other students. Also, the teacher may or may not be an expert on the subject (though you can research this before enrolling usually). Finally (and this is a big one), not everyone in the class will be at the same level. So even though you grasp the material and want to move on, there may be several others that are constantly asking very fundamental questions and keeping the rest of the class from moving forward. Or the reverse – you could be struggling but the instructor is moving ahead with new material and you could feel left behind.


Learning Method #5: One on one tutoring
With this method, there are only two people involved: you and the instructor. You have a specific thing you want to learn, and you hire an instructor who knows about that area, and you are taught personally.

computer instruction


Pros: The biggest advantage is that you learn exactly what you want to learn, and at your own pace. If something confuses you, you can stop the instructor right there and ask a question. And with only one student, the teacher will have a better idea of how well you are grasping the material. This is the kind of instruction I do. If there’s a particular task someone wants to learn, for example, how to format a cell in an Excel spreadsheet – we do it three times. First, I do it and the student just watches. Second, I do it again but slowly and step-by-step, so that the student can write down each step. Third, we switch seats and the student performs the task following those notes that were just written down. That way we know that task can be done after I leave.

Cons: Personal computer instruction is generally more expensive than taking a class or buying a book and learning on your own – that’s part of the price for learning the material more quickly and more efficiently.

With remote access technology, personal computer tutoring can be done without you or the instructor leaving home.

listen to my podcast in iTunes

Share this post