Using web browsers and emails –
the only consistency is the inconsistency!

For 2 years I have battled to teach computing to people who have never turned on a computer before and I am now reaching the point of total despair!

If I have a washing machine (and I am sure I do somewhere) I don’t expect the company who produced it to turn up in the middle of the night to paint it a different colour and move all the knobs and buttons around. When I get in my car in the morning I expect the dashboard to look the same as it did last night when I parked it. And when I turn the key I don’t expect a sign to appear blocking out the windscreen asking me if could send my mobile phone number or asking me if I know all these other people who drive a similar car to me and who the manufacturer feels I would really like socially if I would just allow everyone access to my car.

Of course no one else would tolerate this either but for some reason when it comes to our digital world different rules apply.

We accept being bombarded with intrusive messages, invasions of our privacy and our settings being changed for our own good.

But try teaching a new computer user how to surf the web or use gmail and the world becomes a different place. My learners can be very selfish. When they learn something one week and learn where all the buttons are they kind of expect the screen to look the same next week. No chance! Google may have changed the layout, bling may have snuk in somehow and become the default search engine, Microsoft may decide to do an update in the middle of a class and then shut down the computer (as it did with 2 laptops in my class today!). The list of interruptions is endless.

It is like being a driving instructor with a car that completely redesigns the dash board before every lesson.

If the government is serious about getting the 8 million people who have never been online engaged then it needs to find a stable consistent platform which people can use to learn on and which doesn’t bombard them with changes, adverts, and which can reasonably be expected to look the same from month to month. Oh and an email system that just has a few, big important buttons with plain words on them would be really useful and preferably one which just does as its told without trying to sell me something.

This may sound like a flippant rant but my experience suggests that up to 50% of training time is dealt with answering questions about changes and it really stresses learners at a stage in their development where they are stressed enough.

I can’t imagine Google, Microsoft or even Apple doing much about this as their target groups don’t have these problems so that leaves some form of public intervention required if we are genuinely interested in getting people on line.