Stress and, how adults learn computers

Stress is a major factor when learning new software. Regardless if you are a computer expert or someone who is not thrilled about having to use a mouse to order pizza. Here are a few things that I have noted about how stress can affect how adults learn computers.

Observations of stress in a Keynote Class

So while working at the Apple Store in Bondi I was giving a class on the Apple presentation software called Keynote. The people who showed up for the class all but one brought a project that was due in the next few days. The class included a Sales rep, a business owner, A college student and a woman over the age of 80. Will bring up each of these students and what they were working on.

The Sales Rep

The first student was a sales rep. His presentation was for a Keynote presentation for the VP of Sales later that day. He started the class already in a panic as he was worried that if the presentation would not impress the VP. I can only imagine the other consequences that were running on repeat in his head.

The Business owner

Unlike the sales rep .. the business owner was one of my regular students. We had a good teacher/student relationship. Though he was often very demanding and everything was always urgent. His presentation was for a new product launch.

The Student

Unlike previous adults, the college student was not a type-A personality. More laid back. The problem was that he had fallen victim to procrastination and had a presentation due tomorrow.

The Grandmother Cat lady

I’m calling her the Grandmother Cat Lady because that is what she asked me to call her. She was a regular student who often showed late and unprepared. Unlike a college class, this was not much concern for me as long as she was having fun.

The Class

The class was meant to be an overview and not a tech support session.

So during the class, I was often interrupted by the two Business folks who refused to create a new project (as was part of the class) and demanded they work on their projects instead. During the class, I noted that both of them started to get more frustrated. As much as I asked them to follow along they continued to work on their project. I would answer their questions but focus on the actual class. (as was my job)

However, the Student was paying attention and had decided to start their project from scratch. They did not finish the class and rushed out the door.

Then we have the Grandmother Cat Lady. She had never created a presentation before and was excited about the idea of creating a presentation for her granddaughters birthday. Unlike the others, she did not bring her own computer and had forgotten her USB stick to save her work. She was totally aware that anything she did would be wiped by the training computer after the class. During the class, she had to download images from the net to use with her presentation.

Frustration build up

While the class progressed the sales rep freaked out and went into a total rant about how the software sucked and he hated Apple and was going to sue the company. He had believed that the software had crashed and deleted his presentation. When what really happened was he had swiped the trackpad of his Macbook with three fingers and had moved to a different desktop. Getting him to calm down enough to swipe back to the screen that had his presentation was a chore in itself.

The Business owner was attempting to work with transitions between slides and you could see the panic on his face every time something did not look the way he had expected. He spent the rest of the time working on the first two slides and ignored the rest of the class. At the end of the class, he was very frustrated and then asked to book an appointment for technical help.

Grandmother Cat Lady had a great time creating the worst presentation I have ever seen. She had broken all the rules to how to make a good slide show. One slide even had 10 separate images that all had a different intro effect. (Oh is was hideous) However, at the end of the class, she asked if I had an advanced class because she was thinking that maybe Video editing was what she wanted to learn.

So what was different between the students? Stress!

The first three students who honestly would have more exposure to how to use presentation software all had brought their project to the class. Though the class was not a workshop where they could get help with their project. (We had other workshops for that very porpoise) Every error became a major stress point for them. Every mistake became a moment where they felt that they would have wasted their time or had the potential to fail. However, our favourite cat lady had nothing to lose. She was there for fun and learned a lot.

Stress changes how we perceive the world. When we are stressed I assume that we go into a fight or flight mode. (I’m a teacher, not a psychologist) Every error then had more impact and our error tolerance goes down making so we are no longer learning from our mistakes.

So how do we use this information?

By removing the stress and allowing errors to be fun. I have noted that Seniors and Adults seem to associate all sorts of potential dangers when using a computer.

  • It will cost money if I break it
  • I will get hacked
  • Someone is going to take my money
  • If I click the wrong button and delete my project I will get fired.
  • I have to look like I know what I’m doing.

Whereas a child looks at a computer and has a totally different attitude. Looking at every mistake as an adventure with no concept of consequences.

  • Oops broke it tell someone who is taller than me they will fix it.
  • That did not work try something else.
  • OoOh this is fun

Tips on teaching computers without stress.

So here are some tips on how to teach or learn software without the stress.

Play with the software when it does not matter.

This is the whole reason behind teaching pilots through a flight simulator. The idea is that they can make mistakes when it does not matter and nobody is hurt. Try over and over till they can get it right.

The idea of starting off with software and working directly with a new project your brain goes into crisis mode the first time there is an error. By working on a blank project or something that you do not care about. If something goes wrong it is just fun. (Like Grandmother Cat Lady and her slideshow)

In our classes with seniors, we always ask everyone to use a fake project. This way they can focus on learning and not worrying about destroying their project.

Count your mistakes as a success.

In our classes, we ask everyone to celebrate their mistakes. We have also have been known to give prizes to the person who makes the most mistakes in our group classes. The idea is to change the concept of a mistake from an error to a point of learning. Adults learn computers the same ways kids do however it is harder to get them into the mindset.

Adults learn computers when there is nothing to loose

Honestly business folk are the worst with this concept. They always seem to want to dive right into the parts of the software where they can do the most harm. Then panic when something goes wrong undoing anything they have learned. So creating an environment where there is nothing to lose works best.

  • Backup everything before a class
  • Be sure that everyone knows that they can not break anything
  • Never work on an actual project, Account or Media file.
  • Be clear that you will be there to undo any mistakes
  • Show the undo button.
  • If possible work on a training computer.

Once again kids are fearless and getting adults to learn computers the same way is far more efficient than fighting the uphill battle of stress. Business folks always resist this part but are very thankful when things go wrong.

Take Breaks

Another problem facing adults learning computers is that they often want to power through and achieve everything in a very short amount of time. Sometimes this requires that we make a stop and have a cup of tea. Sometimes when we start to get stressed about learning new software we start to make the same mistake over and over again. This is the perfect time to stop and take a break. Sometimes starting again after a few days is the best.

Understanding how adults learn computers is as important as how the software works.

At Macmason we really focus as much on our teaching techniques as we do the software. Being a computer expert does not always mean that they are a great teacher. And we know this! We trying to make computer classes fun for both adults and Seniors

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