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Three Steps to Improving Your Tech Literacy

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

For anyone who lacks confidence using today’s advanced information and communication technology, overcoming the fear of failure and the unknowns of the digital world can be a daunting task. I regularly teach introductory technology classes to adults returning to college to get a degree or enhance their career options with a new credential, and this fear of technology is the biggest obstacle that these individuals face in learning to use computers in ways that will make them more productive and more attractive candidates for employment.

Fortunately there are no obstacles to learning about technology that can’t be overcome with a positive attitude and some perseverance. Here are three steps that you can take to improve your tech literacy and become more confident using computers.

1. Face Your Fear
Fear is the root cause of almost all aversion to technology that I see. People are afraid that the computer doesn’t like them, that they are no good at using it, or that they will break something. But really all of these are rationalizations of underlying fear caused by a lack of knowledge. The next two steps will help you overcome your fear, but this is a catch-22. You must first face it and move past it before you can truly conquer it. It is like jumping off a cliff into water. If you are going to do it, eventually you just have to say, "damn the consequences" and step off into space.

Taking that first step with technology means booting up your machine and committing to make a real effort to use it. As for the fear that the computer doesn’t like you – it doesn’t care one bit about you. It is just a tool to be used. Certainly, you may not be immediately good at it, but name one activity that you picked up and were immediately an expert at? And as for the fear of breaking something – set it aside. There is nothing you can do with a computer short of throwing it out the window that can’t be fixed. For starters almost ANYTHING you do on a Windows machine can be undone by pressing "CTRL" + "Z" at the same time. That is your ace in the hole for almost any mistake you could make. For bigger technical problems, you might need to pay someone to de-bug your machine if you catch a virus, but that too can be overcome and you’ll know how to avoid or solve more problems the more you get your . . .

2. Get Your Hands Dirty
Take any activity you enjoy. You almost certainly did not become skilled at it by reading the manual or observing. You learned your craft by doing it. The same holds true for becoming technologically literate. In order to learn more about computers you need to use them. And by use them I don’t mean type up some word documents – really USE them. Fool around with the program settings, set your screen saver, change the monitor resolution, surf the web and install some cool programs, add some peripherals like a keyboard, second monitor, printer, etc. All of these experiences will help you become familiar with the way the machine works, what it can (and can’t) do, and how you can interact with it. In the end though, there is only so much that you can learn from random activity. To really develop your literacy you will need to have a purpose.

The purpose is not to build your skill, but rather to have a concrete thing that you want to do. For me, I learn a program best by having a motivating reason for using it. For example, I really wanted to learn to use Adobe After Effects so I promised my son that I would make a video of him with a "real" light saber. After looking for tutorials online I put together this short video of him in the living room with a light saber:
 

That is an extreme example, but because I was not afraid to try, I was able to sit down with a completely new program and create something. The worst case scenario from trying something new is that you will fail, and even that has benefits for developing your tech literacy.

3. Learn to Fail, Not Fail to Learn
With everything in life you are likely to experience failure at times. Developing your tech literacy is no different, and like every other failure in your life, these will also present learning opportunities. The key here is not to become discouraged by your failures. Believe it or not you can mediate this experience by attempting tasks that are, as Vygotsky would say, "within your zone of proximal development." That means undertaking projects that not two, three or four levels above your level of ability, but just beyond what you can already do.

For the novice tech user this means making a PowerPoint presentation, starting a blog, uploading a video to YouTube, or editing some photographs, rather than creating a game mod, starting a website from scratch, editing a feature film, or creating computer animations. There are really powerful online tools available to do almost anything, but one task that lends itself to the person looking to develop their tech literacy is creating a resume. Sure, you can use Word and type up a basic paper-based document, but we live in the digital age. So branch out and consider making an innovative multimedia resume that can showcase your digital skills and grow with you as they develop. Here are some suggestions for creating an innovative multimedia resume from Education Unbound to get you started.

In the end whether you become a tech guru or not is up to you and the effort you are willing to put in to learning. Technology is so diverse and flexible that, no matter your field or interests, you can focus your learning in a way that is personally meaningful and beneficial.  All you have to do is overcome your fear, get your hands dirty, and embrace failure as a learning opportunity.

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Image courtesy of pixtawan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net