Make technology maps and remember what you learn

There is a common belief that different people have different learning styles. Have you heard of this before?

Some people like to hear things, while others like to try. There are visual, tactile, and auditory learners. But is this just myth?

A recent New York Times article cites a body of research that finds “almost zero support” for the learning styles idea.

Regardless whether or not you agree with these findings, there is no question that when it comes to learning technology, being shown is better than being told.

Is seeing enough?

Have you ever had someone show you something but when you go to try it yourself the next day you've no idea where to start? I think that answers the question.

Just seeing something once and then trying to go and do it yourself separately simply doesn't work.

Let's apply lessons from elsewhere in life:

  • Most people don't try to drive somewhere new without a map or GPS.
  • Most people don't try to cook a new dish without a recipe.
  • When you're looking for your hotel room, usually try to find the plaque on the wall that tells you which direction to walk.

All these examples have one thing in common: they are all times when we use a map to help us apply knowledge.

You need a map

There's an assumption that we all must use technology like we're Tom Cruise in Minority Report.  In reality, it's really hard to memorize all the things we need to do and operate so fluidly. Even things that we do every day can trip us up when we introduce small changes or tweaks to the environment.

This is why I've started building technology maps both for myself and my clients.

What the technology map?

I'm glad you asked.  The technology map is like a picture of a task that you need to do with all of the other options, settings, buttons, and windows stripped away.  It's like the set of directions you used to print out from Google maps that showed you where to turn.

Here's an example of a technology map for creating a new blog post in WordPress:

Yes, it's crude. But it works.

How to Make Your Own Technology Map

Step 1: Take Screenshots

The most important skill you need to make a technology map is how to take screenshot. On the Mac, press command-shift-4.  Your mouse cursor will turn into a little set of cross-hairs, and you simply click and drag a box over the area of the screen you'd like to capture. When you release the mouse, a new file will show up on your desktop.

On Windows, press the print screen button on your keyboard. You can also press alt-print screen to just capture the active window. You'll have to do any cropping in another application such as paint, PowerPoint, or even Microsoft Word.

Take screenshots of all the actions you need to complete for the technology task at hand. Try to focus as close in as you can without losing context.

If you need to just click a certain button, you probably don't need to take a screenshot of the entire window.

Step 2: Annotate

Now, add arrows boxes  to your screenshots to emphasize the action you need to take. You can even add numbered steps to help you remember the order of things.

I found that Microsoft PowerPoint is actually a great program for putting these things together. It's software that most people have, and it can do all of the arrows, boxes, and text that you'll need for your technology map.

Programs like Skitch (free for mac), and snag it (free for windows)  have built-in editing environments that are made specifically for adding annotations to your screen captures. They even have screen capture utilities of their own that replace the built-in system ones.

Step 3: Collate (and print)

Now that you've documented the technology process that you need to remember, it's time to put it all together. If you've been using Microsoft PowerPoint to annotate your screenshots, you're probably already there. But, if you been using Skitch or Jing, you'll need to take your screenshots and arrange them together into a set of instructions. Again PowerPoint, Word, or Pages for Mac are all good choices.

Optional: print out your technology map and keep it in a location where it's easy to follow.  I  am terrible with paper and tend to lose anything printed,  So I like my technology maps to remain in the digital form. I would encourage you to print your map, especially if you don't have a big monitor.

They are the most helpful when you can look at the map while you are doing the task. If you have to switch back and forth between the instructions in one window and the task at hand in another window on top of it, you're going to get thrown off.

Time to get mapping!

The next time you look up how to do something, don't just stop at writing it down. Make yourself a map so you don't get lost the next time you try.

Here are some technology maps that you should make yourself, especially if you're new to having your own website:

How to log in to edit your website

How to create a new blog post

How to create a new blog page

How to send a newsletter to your email list

How to… [In the comments: share what technology map you need the MOST]

Photo by TonTonCopt


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