Playing with online tools

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Just like any other tool, the best way to learn a new online service or website is to play with it. Push the buttons, click the links, enter some information – it’s by using a tool that we figure out how it works and how it might be useful to us.

Here are some guidelines to work with:

  1. Read the screen. Most times, all the information you need about using a site is right on the screen. Even if the page is cluttered, take your time and read from top to bottom and left to right. If something big jumps out at you, read that first and then start at the top left. No, you many not know what all the words mean now, but you’ll figure it out by using the site and looking up a few things later. Keep a notebook or paper handy to write down words to look up later.
     
  2. Push the buttons. Just reading the screen alone won’t teach you anything about how the tool works. Carefully, deliberately, push a button or click a link and see what happens. Did the page change? Did a new box or choice show up? Did you go back to a page you’d been on before? Take a moment and read the new screen to see how it relates to the previous one. Work your way through different pages and options one by one.
     
  3. Take your time. If you’re learning a new tool, find 15 minutes or a half hour to slowly work through it. Don’t rush, and don’t click blindly — that won’t help you learn.
     
  4. Don’t be afraid. You can’t really break anything on the internet. Even when you accidentally delete an email, there’s often an Undo option right there, so you can change your mind. You also can’t share any information that you don’t type in, so don’t worry too much about your privacy. It’s by slowly learning a tool that you also learn how to use it safely and well.
     
  5. Do the ‘driving’ yourself. Watching someone else navigate through a site is good, but doing the clicking yourself is much better for learning. Work with a partner if you’d like – someone else who’s learning – and take turns at the keyboard and mouse. You’ll both benefit from the workout.

When you get a new car, phone, or refrigerator, you use what you know about how these things work and figure out what the buttons on this model does. It’s the same with online tools. Once you’ve seen how one works, you’ll learn the next one more quickly, and the one after that even faster still. The goal of Learning for Life Online is to make using those first few tools a little less intimidating, and then to introduce you to the best of the rest that’s out there waiting to be found.

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