Learning about technology: how do you do it?

In a recent comment to our latest poll, Dave Jackson offered his thoughts on his favorite tools (or lack thereof) for learning:

"When it comes to new software, I always avoid the user manuals, How-To books and resources, and other such tools until after I've grabbed the software (or whatever the technology is, such as a handheld device, etc.), installed it, and fired it up.I use stuff to learn about it. I was to see how solid it is. In all my years of using computers and other tech toys (going back to 1978), I've never read a manual prior to using anything. Only one piece of software was so un-intuitive that I had to refer to the manual to figure out how to do anything with it! Yes, despite having to turn to the manual to even begin using the software, I did give it a fair trial, and in the end, no, it wasn't adopted.
A well-developed piece of software or other technological gizmo, whether a handheld device (phone, tablet, etc.), or anything else, should be designed so it's user-friendly. Basically, if it isn't intuitive, the design is all wrong."

Nicely said. I'm curious as to what that once piece of software was that was so unintuitive! What was it?
So how do you do it? Leave a comment, and tally your vote on the poll.

And be sure to check out ONE way you can learn about maintaining your computers: participate in the next 30-minute webinar, "Notes on wireless acceptable use policies." Join Louise Alcorn, Reference Technology Librarian at West Des Moines Public Library (IA), contributor to Recipes for a 5-Star Library Cookbook, and author of Wireless Networking: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians, as she draws on her expertise and experiences with wireless, including considerations around the ever-important wireless acceptable use policy. Take 30 minutes out of your day and learn from the experiences of others. Visit WebJunction for more information about the webinar, and I hope to see you there!


Being a librarian and a textual learner, I have a fondness for manuals and books of all types, but I agree that technology has to at least meet the 80/20 test. 80% of all functions should be intuitive, and 100% of the core functionality should be easy to understand. I'll occasionally use a badly designed piece of software for myself if I can't find an alternative, but I agree with Dave that we shouldn't roll out clumsy technology in our libraries. So using a gadget or software and relying on its built-in cues, without referring to websites, manuals and help files, is a great testing technique. If you have an IT background and you can't figure it out on your own, there's no way that staff and patrons will adopt it.

OTOH, if I'm not in testing mode, books and websites can help me with learning advanced features (e.g. mail merge in Word, setting up views in Outlook). Not that I couldn't figure those things out by playing around, but a well-written website makes it faster and less frustrating. Also, I'll turn to a book if I want to know something about deep IT (e.g. a programming language, a new operating system, etc.).

This is one of my favorite topics! :)

I just finished reading A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. In the book he mentions Xerox repair technicians... and that they learn by sharing stories with one another. Apparently Xerox has created a database of these stories. I absolutely agree that stories really are key to technology learning. They provide context and so much more.