We interviewed a number of bloggers and asked:
How do you learn a new piece of technology? (968)
Here are their answers.
I play with it! If my mind doesn’t start flooding with lots of ways it will save me a ton of time, I abandon it.
If it’s not intuitive to learn, forget it. In today’s world there is no excuse for any technology to be difficult to learn.
Giving yourself plenty of time to just “play” is important. You shouldn’t buy a complicated new digital camera 30 minutes before you want to use it to capture a once in a lifetime event.
I unpack, fire it up and start using it. I toss the manual in the corner and search the net for best uses (but I have likely done so already before buying it).
Using the web to find out how to use something gives you the advantage of understanding how people are actually using a device instead of what the manual says. I think it is still valuable to come back to the manual to find the features that are often overlooked, but the web is often faster if you just want to find out how to accomplish a simple, common task.
Play with it. Muck around. Animals learn to hunt by playing, and children learn to talk by experimentation and imitation. The fine details from books comes later – by all means, look up the manual if there’s something specific that you want to do and can’t work out. But the people who come up with innovations, learn fastest and are most flexible, learn by playing.
Another recommendation to just “play” with it. Using a device or software when you don’t need to gives you the opportunity to explore and try different things when you aren’t under pressure.
I find the part that most interests me and start there. As I have questions, I look them up. I use what you don’t want to forget. For things that are especially tricky to remember I use visualization techniques.
The web is particularly useful for looking up questions and features that you can’t find in the manual.
I use a combination of reading and trial and error. First I start reading…the user manual, a technical book, the web…and then I get impatient and start experimenting.
One of the advantages of trial and error is that you are more likely to remember what you’ve learned than just reading it in a manual.
Someone asked me last week how to figure out digital recording software. I said, “Just click on everything until you know what everything does.”
I’d say that sentiment applies to all technology – it’s how I learn it all, software and hardware. On a more philosophical note, isn’t that how you learn life?
While this isn’t good advice if you are trying to learn how to use something dangerous like a nuclear reactor, it is great advice for most of the gadgets and software we normally encounter. I have recommended this type of approach to many people, but I’ve found that there are some people who can consistently mess things up doing this. I don’t understand how, but it just always seems to happen. A good backup of your data is always a wise thing to have whether you are experimenting or not. For example, you probably shouldn’t experiment with the File Utilities feature on a digital camera while it has a memory card containing the only photographs of your wedding.
I’m a Kinesthetic Hands-on learner. I need to be interactive with the technology. Just hearing about it or seeing it is not enough.
I remember what I do, but reading about something helps give me the context necessary to know what to try.
I play around with it. I’m a fast learner. Occasionally I will subscribe to informational mailing lists until I get up to speed.
The mailing list is a really good idea. Knowing how other people are using something can help give you clues and ideas that go well beyond understanding a feature set.
Knuckling down for the “keep trying until I figure it out” approach. Except recently when I learned Final Cut Express. I actually bought a book for that one!
I have had good luck with some of the “Classroom in a Book” type products. The advantage is that they will normally expose you to all of the areas of a particular product and give you a good idea of what it is capable of.
The best way to learn is to *do*, at least for me. I’ve tried out software before by just playing with it, but it’s never been enough. Instead, I find that when I have to create/produce something, it’s best to just dive right in and work on getting a good result out of the new toy.
Learning a new tool by picking a small project that you have plenty of time to finish is a good method. While it is important to “play” with new technology to learn it, you can get a lot out of applying it to accomplish something specifically. When “playing” it is easy to stop trying something that seems hard and find another aspect to look at. When you are trying to actually do a task, it helps force you through the things that might be more difficult to understand at first.
I utilize the tremendous amount of helpful, free advice available online. I subscribe to a number of blogs about blogging and technology, which are great resources and have boosted my confidence with regard to trying new things. Lots of trial and error, too!
I have had good luck using Amazon reviews to get information on products I already own.
To learn a new piece of technology, it is important to first know about its area of application and whether it will help you in any way. For example my next target is learning CSS and PHP languages. Now I know that these will be useful in blogging, which is my work and hence I will enjoy learning them. The first thing I will do is go to Wikipedia and get to know more about them and do a Google search and find useful resources about them. And then I will also consult my friends who know about it for some recommendations and once I know where to start learning online, I will be at a better position to do it.
One of the wonderful things about the web is that it is very easy to get enough of an overview that you know if you are asking the right questions or not. I remember back before we had access to the internet. It took a very long time to just get familiar enough with something to understand what it was supposed to do or what type of problems it solved.
More and more I’m finding that Twitter provides me with great tips, insights and allows me reach out to a community of very smart people for immediate feedback.
This is very interesting. The ability to quickly reach out to an expert and get a response is incredibly valuable. The short format of Twitter helps people keep requests to a small enough size that people will actually read.
I take pretty much the same approach no matter what the technology–
I start by reading enough of the manual to keep from destroying the product. Then I jump in and start paying, pushing it to its limits. Once I have a feel for the boundaries and abilities, I go back to the manual. This time I start digging into the details and studying the finer points.
Once I have pushed it as far as I can, I start searching the web to see what other people are doing with the technology.
Not destroying the product is always desirable. :) This is a good point. You should probably at least read the warnings in the manual before diving in.
There are so many of them that come down the pike that you really have no choice but to learn as you go.
If I see a piece of new technology that does something extraordinary and fills a need, and it was recommended from a reputable peer source, I usually just jump in and buy (or download) it and go from there.
That way, you really go in having no idea how far the technology can take you until you push the limits of its features.
While you don’t want to get in the habit of using the wrong tool for a job, it is very good to know your tool’s limits. For example, do you know how many columns you can have in your version of Excel? I was trying to use Numbers (Apple’s spreadsheet) the other day and assumed it could handle the same number of rows as Excel–this was not the case.
I learn a new piece of technology through a combination of the following:
If the particular technology is not fun to play with then chances are I’ll never really get a handle on it. A recent example of this for me is the blogging software called WordPress. I have just been blogging since last fall but I have learned a great deal about WordPress because I really enjoy blogging and therefore the interest is there to learn more.
Sometimes you may be interested in getting help sooner rather than later because you may have to learn a new piece of technology instead of just wanting to learn it. There are numerous sources you can turn to for help. You can ask your co-workers, mentors or friends. You can also check on the internet by searching blogs or asking questions on LinkedIn great professional networking site).
Hope this helps!
Knowing who you can ask about something new can do wonders for your productivity. I haven’t used LinkedIn much for asking questions, but I do have a bunch of friends on iChat that I can ask about various things. For example, I have a friend who is a whiz at Photoshop. If I every have a question he can usually help me in a few minutes. He doens’t have as much experience with computer networks, so I answer his questions on that topic.
I usually just jump in and “mash buttons” – that is, just try to play with it and see what comes of it. I may Google the technology to see what others have said about it on blogs or review sites. I also like to shout out to my Twitter network and ask folks what their impressions are; I follow enough people that I usually get at least a few responses to guide me as I learn the new technology.
Here is another suggestion of using Twitter. I’m going to have to try this a bit more. I’ve used Twitter to ask people what they think of a product, but I haven’t tried asking for tips or suggestions. Twitter search might be another good place to look.
I always start off collecting a number of articles and blost posts on the topic, bookmarking them with Delicious, and printing them out. I then take a day to read through the articles, finding more if there is other information about the technology I need to know but isn’t explained in the article.
After I’ve done my reading, I pick a day within the coming week where I will spend 5 hours straight (no more, possibly less if all things go smoothly) where I actively play around with the technology.
Nathan has a good idea about bookmarking stuff. Often the resources that you find while researching a product for purchase can come in very handy when you need to learn how to use it later.