Reasons for computer education

Almost every industry, every office or retail store uses a computer in some form, and according to the Economics and Statistics Administration, almost 80 percent of American households have access to the Internet. Broadband access is increasing, while the use of dial-up modems is on the way down. As a result, users of all ages need to learn how to effectively use a computer or else risk being left behind as technology advances.

If you're completely unfamiliar with computers, you'll want to start with training that focuses on basic desktop use, and this means learning to use Microsoft Windows. This operating system is installed on the majority of computers in the United States and offers what's known as a graphical user interface (GUI), allowing you to "see" actions which can potentially be performed by the computer. Icons on your desktop represent programs. Training either in person or online will teach you how to run and stop programs, search for files, print documents and access the Internet. Basic courses shouldn't take you more than an hour, and there are plenty of free tutorials available online. You can also purchase more comprehensive videos or hire an in-house trainer.

Advanced computer training

Once you've mastered the basics, you'll want to tackle more complex programs. Popular options include the word processing program Microsoft Word, the spreadsheet application Excel, the presentation creator PowerPoint, or -- if you're looking for something a little more advanced -- the open source operating system Linux. These can require weeks to fully master, as they're powerful programs with a wealth of options. Many operate using a similar framework, which makes learning subsequent applications easier.

Excel, for example, is able to not only create rows and columns of numbers for ease of reference but perform calculations on those numbers. Understanding how to input formulae and define the parameters of spreadsheet cells allows you to manipulate data as needed. PowerPoint, meanwhile, lets you create slide-based presentations and add colors, graphical effects and basic animations.

Business-based computer training

While home training courses abound online and some companies offer one-on-one at home sessions, there's also a growing market for business-based training. These group training sessions focus on word processing and documentation programs and show employees how to maximize their time in a company system. Typically, training providers will balance specific details about program use with practical examples, allowing trainees to make mistakes in a safe environment, rather than causing issues in a live company system.

In addition to basic training, businesses are also bringing in experts to train employees when they upgrade systems. These may include accounting programs, customer relationship management (CRM) applications, or even new vacation booking systems. While it's possible to have in-house technology professionals take on this task, it can be slow going; training companies, on the other hand, can often train an entire staff in less than a week.

Hiring a service for computer training

Whether online or in person, computer training experts should have more than just a business card and a working knowledge of computers. Although there are no federal or state requirements for training providers to be certified in any particular methods or programs, you'll want to seek out instructors who have at least some level of certification.

Certification can take several forms. Microsoft offers training for servers, desktops, applications, databases and developers. Vendor-neutral provider CompTIA, meanwhile, is well known for its comprehensive testing and certification programs, which are recognized around the world. Make sure to ask any provider for a list of her certificates as well as references you can contact to ask about her training program.

Exceeding expectations

The world of software training isn't heavily regulated, which means that the way companies present their course materials and provide guidance to students can vary widely. Some will offer hard copy materials which are yours to keep, while others will give access only to their online resources.

Online training in particular is a hit-or-miss endeavor, so if you're considering this route, make sure to do some research and find out which companies offer the best deals. Price is obviously a consideration: Does the company require a monthly subscription to access content, or do they have an a la carte purchase program for individual courses? In addition, seek out reviews from trusted sites like Angie's List, which will help you determine if the style of online computer training suits your needs. Some offer only an unwavering view of desktop monitors along with narration, while others are more interactive.

The right training makes all the difference when it comes to software; consider not only price but what trainers offer, how they present their materials and how they interact with students.

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