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5 tips on teaching software – delivery

Posted in all posts, software, teaching by coleman yee on March 24, 2008

When teaching software, although the approach you take is paramount, how you deliver the lesson can also significantly affect how easily your lesson is followed, and whether the learner can actually use the software by the end of the lesson.

This post assumes a particular setting – the one I’m most used to (both as the teacher and as the learner) – the teacher in front with a computer and projector, and around 15-30 learners with their own computers.

In such a setting, the learner have at least 3 things to look at and focus on – the teacher, the projection screen, and their own screen. They may also be looking at the handouts, or taking notes.

In other words, the learner isn’t always looking at your screen (the projection screen) even if you want them to, or even if you ask them to. They may be trying to copy what you’re doing – click the same buttons, press the same keys, etc. Inevitably, they would miss something on the screen that you’re trying to show.

Which brings me to my first tip…

1. Slow down or pause your mouse

You may be pretty efficient and accurate with the mouse thanks to your great hand-eye coordination. However, the learner would quickly lose track of the tiny mouse pointer if they’re not completely focused on your screen.

Even if they are focused, it’s still hard to follow if the pointer is skipping to different parts of the screen very quickly.

Added to that, because the learner is new to the software, they have no idea where you’re going to move the mouse next. This uncertainty can become stressful, but can be greatly reduced if your mouse pointer slows down, and the learner is easily able to follow the mouse pointer.

An alternative method I prefer (because I find it hard to slow my mouse pointer) is to pause right after I move the mouse.

So instead of moving the mouse to, say, a button and clicking on the button in one swift motion, I would move the mouse to the button and pause or leave it there first, so that the learner has time to relocate my mouse pointer. Then I continue on.

(An exception to this tip is when the learners are already familiar with the step you’re doing. For example, if they’ve already saved the file many times, there’s no need to do the File > save sequence slowly. Just tell them to save the file.)

2. Verbalize positions of controls (buttons, menu items, etc.)

Sometimes, no matter how slowly you move your mouse, the learner just isn’t looking at your screen.

For example, if you’re teaching Powerpoint and you show them the ‘Slide Sorter View’ button and ask them to click it, if they don’t happen to be looking, they wouldn’t know where it is.

It would help a lot more if you say “click on the ‘Slide Sorter View’ button which is right at the bottom left.”

In fact, I would say this instead: “click on the ‘Slide Sorter View’ button which is over here at the bottom left.”

It’s a slight but important difference.

I’ve found from experience that when I say things like “over here”, they know it’s time to look at my screen. It’s just a subtle way of saying “look over here – what I’m showing now is useful!”

And as mentioned in the previous tip, I would also leave my mouse pointer there on the button to give the slower ones more time to locate it.

If it’s within reach, I would even walk to the projection screen and physically point it out. There’s no way they’d lose you like this.

3. Verbalize mouse and keyboard actions

Besides verbalizing where things are, you also want to verbalize what you’re doing.

The learner isn’t just uncertain about where you’re going to move the mouse next, the learner is also uncertain about when you click the mouse button (and which button) or hit a key (or a combination of keys).

One might think that this seems obvious or trivial, but I’ve been through countless software classes where the learners struggle to keep up simply because the teacher didn’t verbalize an important mouse click.

A context menu appearing out of nowhere is particularly mystifying especially for non-expert learners. Even for expert computer user learners, it still takes a bit of thought before they realize that you’ve clicked the right mouse button.

And all this while they’re trying to remember the steps that you’ve just taken, and understand what’s going on.

Thus, make it a habit to verbalize all your mouse clicks and right-clicks and keystrokes.

4. Repeat the more-difficult procedures

The learners won’t always be able to get the steps right the first time, so it’s often a good idea to repeat them.

There’s usually no need to repeat simple one-click steps since those are easy to follow, but which procedures should be repeated depends on the type of learner you’re dealing with.

I’m most used to the non-expert learner, so any procedure that requires 2 steps or more, I repeat.

And if the process is particularly complicated, I would say something like this:

“I’m gonna show you how to do this first. I’ll do it pretty quickly to give you a feel of how it’s done – don’t try to do it yet. After I’ve finished, I’ll go through it again slowly so that you can follow.”

A few things to note from there:

  • I assure them that they’ll get an opportunity to follow my steps later
  • I show them the steps quickly as an overview
  • I show them the steps slowly, both to reinforce, as well as to make it easy to follow

5. Cut down unnecessary mouse movements

A software teacher of mine had this very annoying habit of jerking the mouse around as he spoke. This meant that the mouse pointer would be flying all over the screen as he spoke.

Unnecessary mouse movements is bad enough in any lesson where a computer is used, but it’s far worse in a software lesson.

During the software lesson, the learner subconsciously realizes that it’s important to pay attention to follow where the mouse pointer is moving, so that the correct procedure can followed.

So if the teacher is making unnecessary mouse movements, the learners are also expending unnecessary effort trying to keep track of those movements.

The next time you’re attending a software lesson and you find the teacher moving the mouse unnecessarily, see if you catch yourself trying to keep track of the pointer. You’ll find it even more annoying when you find it hard to stop yourself from tracking the pointer. Then look around the room – you’ll notice most people’s eyes following the mouse pointer as well.

It’s a sad but funny sight.

Conclusion

These tips are simple and small, but they can make quite a lot of difference in your delivery once you manage to turn them into a habit.

Your learners probably won’t notice the changes you’ve made, since most of these are quite subtle. They’d just find that your software lessons have strangely become much easier to follow.

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