“Well, how do you do it right now?”

Two overlapping talking bubbles in the form of a venn diagram.Earlier this year, I was playing tech support with my grandfather. He had asked me a question and I was almost ready to respond with the fastest, most-efficient way to do the task when I stopped and instead asked “Well, how do you do it right now?”

Many tasks—both technical and not—can be done in many ways. For example, to copy some text you can use a keyboard shortcut, the right-click context menu, or the “Edit” menu. ((To use an example from WordPress: I can think of at least six ways to make a new post in WordPress: Posts > Add New, + New > Post, the “Add New” button on the “All Posts” screen, go directly to /wp-admin/post-new.php, use “Press This” in a blank tab, use the “Quick Draft” dashboard widget.)) I personally love keyboard shortcuts, but if someone doesn’t use keyboard shortcuts, then teaching them that way is not setting them up for success.

When training someone to do a new computer task, this is a hard line to walk. Do you push them to learn new, more efficient ways to do something or do you teach the inefficient-but-more-likely-to-remember way? I often try to split the difference:

  1. Show the way they’ll understand.
  2. Show an alternate way if there’s a clear advantage.
  3. Let them decide which they prefer.
  4. Review and practice the preferred way.

Learning is hard. Teaching is hard. Changing how you do things is hard. We must remember these truths. There’s no complete way around them, but I do think they’re eased if we start with “How do you do it right now?”

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