Where to start if you’re a technology beginner

It probably happened slowly. While you were busy with the demands of daily life, the world of technology grew around you. One day you were the expert with Hi-Fi sound systems, and the next you are hiring the neighbor kid to hook up your new “smart” TV that plays music through your speakers. It suddenly feels insurmountable to learn the ins and outs of all this new stuff (computers, smartphones, tablets, and eReaders, to name a few). Maybe a part of you wishes this day didn’t have to come, and no wonder—technology can feel overwhelming, like being in a foreign country and not speaking the language. But beyond the language barrier are concepts that are familiar and predictable, even if you are brand new to this digital world.

This article has tips and suggestions for technology beginners who don’t know where to start. With a little help and an open mind, everyone can learn to use technology.

Step 1: Start with a goal

So where should you start? It may seem strange, but start at the end. Make a goal. Ideally you should pick something that technology can help you do. Maybe you want a better way to communicate with your family, which means learning about email, text messaging, or photo sharing services like Instagram. Maybe you need to fill out an online form, like a job application, or access an online service, like a health benefits website. Maybe you want to be more productive at work by learning to use office software and list-making tools. Or maybe you want to listen to audiobooks on your commute but you’re not sure how.

Technology can help you in unexpected ways, both big and small:

  • Use your smartphone to make grocery lists, packing lists, to-do lists…any kind of list!
  • Not sure if something you see at the store is a good deal? Use your phone to check a competitor’s price.
  • Never miss a soccer game or a potluck again by keeping a shared family calendar.
  • Take a picture with your phone to help remember little things that can become big headaches, such as where you parked, the type of vacuum cleaner belt you use, or a specialty ingredient you need at the grocery store.
  • Track your spending on a spreadsheet to help you stick to a budget.
  • Take dozens of books with you on vacation (without lugging a giant bag) by using an eReader.

Having a specific goal helps you to focus your energy so that you are motivated to start learning.

Step 2: Jump in

A great place to start learning is at your public library. Many libraries offer computer and technology classes for adults. For instance, Poudre River Public Library offers free classes in eReaders, Microsoft Word and Excel, social media for small businesses, iPad basics, and blogging basics. Ask your public librarian about the classes they offer or recommend. He or she can even gather resources to help you with your technology goal.

Many colleges also offer computer classes for beginners, though usually for a fee. Check with your local community college for a schedule of classes.

If you like learning on your own, here are some websites that provide great information using simple, clear language:

  • DigitalLearn.org – This site, a service of the Public Library Association, features short classes for beginners on a variety of helpful topics, from basic internet searching to buying plane tickets online.
  • GCF LearnFree.org – This site also features short technology tutorials and classes. It’s a great place to start if you want to learn the Microsoft Office suite, email basics, typing, or using the mouse.
  • Teach Parents Tech – This playlist contains dozens of short, simple videos for learning some of Google’s best tools. For example, you can learn how to check movie times, how to copy and paste, and how to stop getting an email newsletter—all helpful tips.

Step 3: Develop a growth mindset

“Growth mindset” is a term you hear a lot these days, and it means being flexible, seeking opportunities to learn, and adapting to change. Having a growth mindset is important because technology is constantly changing. Your favorite phone app might not look the same after it goes through an update. You may have to learn Windows 10 after you finally got used to Windows 7. Rather than feeling frustrated or anxious when things change, it’s more helpful to expect that they will change.

This InformED article, 25 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset, explains more about how this shift in attitude increases your ability to learn.

When you develop a growth mindset you will start seeing bigger picture patterns and connections. You will also start asking more questions, identifying more goals, and seeking out more learning opportunities.

More tips for learning

Use a decoder ring

This isn’t the kind of decoder ring that comes in a cereal box. This decoder ring is a cheat sheet that helps you make connections between a technology term and something familiar to you. Here’s a simple example of a decoder ring:

URL is like Address
Email is like Mail
Computer folder is like File folder
Wi-Fi is like Radio signal

Try making your own decoder ring to connect new terms with familiar ideas. You’ll soon find that what seemed new and strange is actually similar to something you already know.

There are no dumb questions (really!)

It may seem like everyone but you speaks the language of technology, but most people actually have a limited vocabulary (and many gloss over the parts they don’t know). If you’re stumped by a tool or a concept, don’t be afraid to ask someone. Talk to your public librarian, ask a family member or friend, or simply Google it.

Here are examples of common questions that you can find answers to online:

  • How do I set up email on my smartphone?
  • How do I check out eBooks from the public library?
  • How do I stream movies on my tv?
  • What is the cloud?


You have already taken the first step of a journey. With each goal you achieve, you will become more confident in your ability to learn technology. By partnering with helpful people, you will get the support you need to be successful. By developing a growth mindset you will focus on the learning instead of the frustration. You are ready to take the next step.


Amy Hitchner
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