By Lee Huffman
Technology moves so fast, it can be hard to keep up with the latest and greatest. Not understanding a new program, phone app, or piece of hardware doesn't mean you aren't technologically capable. It just means you need to shift your approach a bit. Even though the world is constantly moving toward the "next big thing," there are steps you can take to make technology work for you.
Everyone learns differently, and one person may learn different programs with different tools. For example, they may learn Microsoft Office by watching someone else do it, while they learn their CRM platform best by reading written directions. No matter how you prefer to learn, here are nine ways to make new technology less intimidating.
Before learning anything new, you have to be in the right frame of mind. The mind is a powerful machine. If you go into a tutorial or demo thinking that learning the technology is too hard, it will be. Repeat mantras to yourself: “I am smart” and "I am capable of learning" may sound hokey, but mantras and visualizations work. Visualizing your future self as being competent and mastering a skill actually brings you closer to being proficient at that skill.
We all have a bit of fear of the unknown. We may delay certain projects or assignments because they cover ground we don't know much about or are outside of our comfort zones. But once you get started, you may realize you had made a mountain out of a molehill and the project is nowhere near as difficult as you had imagined.
There are more opportunities to learn new skills and abilities than ever before. Classes are available in person and online through community colleges, local libraries, community centres, universities, online platforms, and more. Some classes are free, while others are available at a nominal cost. Generally speaking, you don't have to spend thousands to learn a new technology.
Examples of free and low-cost classes online are:
Many workplaces also recognize the value of an educated workforce and offer free training or tuition reimbursement to employees. Speak with your manager or human resources department to find out what training opportunities are available and how you can take advantage of them.
Since you can look up almost anything on the internet, many people may discount the value provided by their local library. Librarians are there to assist the community in learning about new topics. They can direct you to books on the subject or share other available options for learning a new skill.
Some libraries hold classes on site that are free for the community. Most also belong to organizations that offer free resources available online, such as e-books, foreign language instruction, and test prep courses. If you need assistance with learning a common program, a library is an excellent resource.
Videos can be very effective when it comes to learning new skills because you can watch someone while following along yourself. Many online course resources include videos in their lessons. If you need to pause, rewind, or restart, you can do so without affecting others. This allows you to learn at your own pace as you master the new program or skill.
YouTube is one of the most popular sources for free online videos. Its search function works similar to a Google search. You can type in any topic and will most likely find a video that offers what you are looking for. If you find a video, but don’t feel like it’s explaining the program in a way you understand, keep searching. Just as learning preferences differ, so do teaching methods.
Tackling a new piece of technology all at once can overwhelm even the most confident among us. However, when you break the task into smaller components, you can master the new technology one piece at a time. As the saying goes, you need to learn to walk before you can run.
You can build upon the skills learned in one section and apply that approach to the next section. Learning like this builds confidence and makes successive lessons easier. For example, when you’re learning how to use an email marketing platform, break it into chunks:
Continue learning in steps, and soon you’ll know how to set up an entire email campaign.
As you continue to learn new skills, don't let them gather dust. Practice the skills in new situations and with different variables. The more that you practice, the more these new skills will become second nature to you. If you’re working on mastering your email marketing program, create multiple lists based on different factors, then delete whichever ones you don’t actually need. Keep the knowledge fresh.
Continue to experiment. Maybe the skills you learned can be applied to other technologies you have already mastered. You can also go back to other software that seemed difficult to learn in the past. With these new skills and ways of thinking, you may discover that what was once a challenge is now a piece of cake.
Being a mentor is often viewed as a way of giving back to the next generation. For those who aren't already a mentor, consider carving out time to mentor someone. When treated correctly, the mentor-mentee relationship can be a two-way benefit. The mentee will learn from your experience and have a confidant to discuss career questions. Plus, you can introduce them to others in your network who can help move their career along.
As a mentor, you should take advantage of this opportunity to learn from the mentee as well. Mentees are often younger and more in touch with the latest software and technology. Learning from them can be a win-win situation because it develops a closer bond between the two of you. Plus, it gives the mentee valuable experience in teaching an audience.
If your company has projects related to the technology you want to learn, consider volunteering to be on a project team. You'll be able to contribute your experience to the project while gaining first-hand experience with the new technology. Other team members will be well-versed in the technology, too, which gives you the opportunity to ask questions of the experts in a one-on-one or group setting.
By volunteering, there will be less of a reason to be timid because you are providing valuable expertise to the project. You’ll likely provide insights that others in the group will miss. You can ask questions as the devil's advocate, which will improve the project while simultaneously helping to build your knowledge of the tools and technology you’re using. This is especially important when these tools will be rolled out across the company to other users who are inexperienced. Your input will help the team to address questions in beta (aka test) mode before rolling it out company wide.
As you learn new technology, realize that you don't need to become a master in the first day, week, or even month. Learning should be a continuous process, and it is okay to take a break. Step away from your computer to take a walk, grab a bite to eat, or chat with your coworkers. You can even work on an assignment or project that you're already proficient at. Giving your mind a rest allows your subconscious to process what you've been learning and cement those lessons.
After you've had a chance to clear your mind and you're feeling refreshed, jump back into the new technology. Refresh yourself on what you learned last to give yourself momentum heading into the next lesson. This will make it easier to grasp and master the new material.
A lot of new technology is in the works — completely new programs, upgraded platforms, and tech that will improve the software and hardware you already use. Computer programmers and entrepreneurs are focused day and night on changing the world one app, software program, or device at a time.
Even if you are proficient with today's technology, there are no guarantees that you'll instantly understand how to use what's coming next. Take steps now to learn new technology and open your mind to new ways of completing the same tasks you do today. By embracing change with a desire to learn, you'll be ready to tackle whatever new technology tomorrow brings.