Lesson plans to teach computers to an adult

A friend of mine is about to be laid off from a warehouse job. He currently has no other job prospects. His wife asked me if I could “teach him computers.” He has never worked at a job where he needed to use a computer, and apparently he has no clue how to use one, other than the on button.

Does anyone have any idea where I could find some lesson plans to help me go through things with him? I have years of experience on help desks, and I’ve trained people how to use software (like MS Office, Adobe, Firefox, etc.). I’ve been told I have a great deal of patience. I’m just not sure how to go about teaching an adult how to use a computer from the ground floor up.

Any ideas and/or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


I would recommend starting with, and putting a great deal of focus on, terminology. This will be endlessly helpful if/when you’re trying to assist him with something at a future date over the telephone. Then, basic navigation of the OS interface. I would probably teach him how to make the most use of Google before starting in on basic applications - a teach him to fish approach, if you will.

Best of luck!

Based on past experiences, unless the guy saved your life more than once or is paying you handsomely, I’d recommend running away screaming. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.

Given his situation, I’d start with a word processor, and have him work on his resume’. Then use a browser to work on online applications. IME it is nearly impossible to retain anything unless I need to use it.

Oh, and I agree with the “Run away!” advice. Odds of this ending well are not good.

I can’t. He’s a good friend and I have a soft spot in my heart.

Anyone have any experience with the Video Professor line of teaching videos?

I recall their infomercials. Never used them. Are they just crap, or could they help someone like the OP’s friend?

Crap in my experience. However they may serve as a “lesson plan”, i.e., used in conjunction with hand-holding.

I also strongly agree with the suggestion to concentrate, at least initially, on terminology.

I looked into Video Professor last summer when my 80 year old mother decided she wanted a computer … it’s totally worthless and horrendously expensive.

I never did find a worthwhile tutorial; I just had to sit down with her and go over things til she got it. Playing Solitaire got her over her fear of the machine and then we focused on email to build some basic word processing skills and give her some exposure to the web by following links, then on to some simple Google searches and she is happy as a clam now.

The advice to spend some time on terminology is good. It really helps when trying to do phone support if the student understands and uses words like task bar, title bar, minimize, maximize, scroll bar, etc.

Have fun. Take breaks. The hair grows back.

In my area the public libraries run programmes for introductory computer lessons for adults; many are free or charge a nominal fee.
Perhaps there is something similar in your neck of the woods. You can either enroll your friend or make nice with the librarians to get some tips. Maybe for the cost of lunch or coffee, a nice librarian (OK, I know they are ALL nice,) might give you a few pointers.

Failing that, any community or vocational colleges locally that have a syllabus on-line or in hand-out pamphlets/booklets to give you a sort of pathway to go about introductory courses?

Further, any other adults (family, friends, in-laws etc.) to maybe make a small class and make it slightly more formal. Students who are undergoing a similar experience may be more open to instruction as all are undergoing a similar “trial” and can feed of each other and not feel so foolish if they make a small error.

  • nth number for starting with the jargon; this is often the biggest stumbling block. And also the fact that today computers are really quite hard to “break” - a common fear for newbies.

Anyway, good luck with your quest.

Make sure to include a “street smarts” type of lesson to point out phishing scams, those fake scanner popups that claim your computer is running slow or infected with something, and other obvious scams (never give your password out to anyone, etc.)

This isn’t a lesson plan, but I have found the best way to teach people is to take over their computer, let them watch and repeat what you do. Talk to them over the phone. Sitting next to them pointing at the screen does not work.

You seem to have a lot of experience in the field, so you likely know this.

With a beginner don’t assume they are familiar with any of the metaphors used by software (e.g. ‘file open’ or ‘cut and paste’). Point them out explicity.

I recommend one of thefirst things to teach as how to write a letter of application and how to create a CV.

These will be highly relevant and should be motivating, this should enable you to teach more readily.

Try looking up material related to ECDL or CLAIT, for example this will give you some ideas, use search terms such as “ECDL resources free” or perhaps “CLAIT resources free”


You will not get much for free as these courses are highly marketised but this will give you some idea.


I agree that it would be useful to produce a glossary, however what I would do is work out what you are going to teach in a given session and break the glossary down so that it is relevant to just the one you are doing.

You could also produce a crossword or perhaps a wordsearch with various terms - this would be very useful.

Don’t get involved in the hardware side of things at all except where it is absolutely necassary, you may find it very useful to get the learner to sign up to a message board in a subject they are interested in, might be cars, bikes, sport, whatever - thing is, it teaches other skills beside the strict ‘learning about computors’ because, as you will no doubt know, what this person needs is to place computors in a real context and relevant to them, that will spur them on to other things.

From your outline of the learner, it’s more than computor skills they need, confience to try things will be important in so many ways - what I’m trying to get at is that you may need to look at the whole package and not just the skills.

Reassurance will be important, they can’t break anything - especially if you set up an account on whichever system so thay can’t delete anything important.

Give them as much material that they can do without your input, trust me on this.

Oh, no.

First, vocabulary.

Then, the mouse: minesweeper, Mah-Jong. Despite its name, the mouse doesn’t bite: grab it with the whole hand, not with the tip of half a finger.

Then, more mouse: Paint. Once he’s happy making colored figures, you use it to remember you have a keyboard: hey, look, we can add text to the pictures!

And only then do you go on to the processor, browser, etc.

Keep your hands in your back pockets whenever the student is doing stuff. Avoid pointing at the screen when he’s doing stuff. And don’t use your finger to point at the screen, since it’s attached to your hand and that will hide part of the screen: use a pen.
I once got sent to a factory to help the Production Manager who “had problems with SAP.” Turns out the poor guy had never used a computer before his “intro to SAP” course. You should have seen the look in his face while he lovingly folded up the “I love you” card he’d made for his wife using MSPaint :smiley:

Two people have mentioned stressing ‘terminology’ at the start. While I don’t disagree with the importance of knowing the correct terminology, anything that’s taught out of context, especially a list of definitions of stuff you know nothing about, is not only boring, but will soon be forgotten (if, indeed, ever learned).

IMO, as much as possible, terminology should be introduced as it’s encountered. So, for example, don’t talk about ‘headers’ until he is word processing and thinks maybe it’s a good idea to put his name on the top of every page of his resume. Another example night be to avoid defining notions even as basic as “save” versus “save as” until he’s saving and editing stuff. Not great examples, I know, but I’m sure you get my drift.

If Pedro’s is not the answer, then Nava’s.

I have thought computers to adults for more than I care to remember. The first thing they need to learn is that the computer does as the computer is told. That it is a machine much like the washer, just with more buttons that do more things. That they don’t think, that they don’t know, that they are not out to get them (hard as that might be to believe).

Second, that you need to speak their language. Start with the mouse. Make sure he knows what needs to be pointed, what needs to be clicked, what needs to be double clicked. I have seen too many people put the little arrow over the text and start typing without clicking. This is all very intuitive to those of us using a computer since they existed. It is not to them.

After that, it all gets very iffy. What will he use a computer for? Most people don’t grasp the idea that the computer is like a phone. If you don’t have someone to talk to, you don’t need a phone. If you don’t have a use for the computer, then you don’t need one.

So start with the most natural use for a computer, the internet. emails, job sites. Teaching him how to use a word processor to make a resume is like teaching someone to fish when all they need is to babysit a cat for one night. Give him the damn fish. Make his resume for him.

Does he have a computer? I have seen a lot of people in his situation who somehow inherit an 8-yo computer that’s not even a good door stop. Go with him to buy a good computer. A fine $200 piece of equipment that won’t run Crysis but will run as advertised without 6 years of malware and file corruption on its saddlebags.

Remember he won’t be getting a job as an IT consultant. What he needs is to be able to use the computer at the hiring center of his next job. Keep it simple.

You are probably thinking from the vantage of a computer savvy person. I had to teach an adult with zero experience. I used the Professor series with me sitting right there. We did some lessons then followed that with actual computer work. I found that I had to start with terminology and file structure. We did basic computing, Internet basics, Email (outlook), Word, Excel and PP.
I knew I was in trouble when he (pointing at the keyboard) said I dont even know what that is! Dont take shortcuts and start basic. Things that are very obvious to you will be greek to him. Good luck. Oh yeah, it was every bit as tedious as it sounds.