Never Assume When Teaching WordPress

Over the weekend I gave a Lightning Talk at WordCamp US called Never Assume When Teaching WordPress. The response was overwhelmingly great! While I don’t normally do this, since it was a shorter talk I’ve decided to post the script I wrote for it. You can check it out after the jump.

View the Slides here

Imagine a Baby

Specifically, Imagine that baby learning how to walk. Perhaps some of you experienced this through parenthood already. This baby is try to learn something that you’ve been doing literally your whole life, minus a year…or 2…or 4. I’m not really sure when babies learn how to walk. How would you react? Probably with encouragement. But imagine if you reacted like this:

Come on! It’s easy. Obviously you just move your legs back and forth!

That sounds pretty ridiculous, right? You’re discouraging that child by making it seem like they should already know how to walk.

Now think about the last time you taught someone how to use WordPress, or maybe just how to use a computer in general. Think about the last tutorial you read.

I’ve been using WordPress for 12 years, so a lot of its functions and terminology are second nature to me. But to people who have never seen WordPress before, learning WordPress could feel like learning how to walk. And the last thing you want to do is discourage that person.

Today I’m going to talk about 4 things that I keep in mind when teaching someone how to use WordPress.

Remember Your First Time

How would you explain Posts vs. Pages to someone? What about Custom Post Types? Looking at these from the user’s point of view, they all seem like web pages. But you know, posts are displayed in reverse chronological order, and pages are not, and dates don’t matter for pages, and neither do categories and tags. And the permalink structure is different.

That can sound pretty overwhelming to a first time user. I know because I’ve given something very similar to that description to my students.

Now think about the first time you learned something. You probably didn’t fully understand it on the first try.

When I first started programming, I went through my whole first semester of college before I actually understood what I was doing. And after that, it just clicked. I try to think about that moment every time I teach programming to a new class.

Know they don’t know

Never talk down to someone who doesn’t know what you know!

I love this xkcd comic. It says that there roughly 10,000 people every day that don’t know something and if you come across the opportunity, you are the one that gets to teach them!

When someone says they’ve never seen Star Wars, I usually react like this: “Oh my God…you never seen Star Wars?” I should react like this: “Oh my God! You’ve never seen Star Wars! …I get to show you Star Wars!”

You have an opportunity to here to teach your clients or students or readers a brand new thing, not to mention something you’re passionate about! You should relish that opportunity.

“Obviously” Kills

“To add a new post, obviously you go to Posts, Add New Post.” I hear that a whole lot. I have probably said it. It’s a killer.

It makes the learner feel like he or she should already know this stuff. You need to let them know that they shouldn’t, and it’s OK that they don’t.

One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from Rami Abraham, and it’s this:

It’s important to consider your capacity for empathy. Be  the reader.

This really echoes what I’ve been talking about today. Put yourself in the learner’s position.

Make them feel comfortable

“I’m really bad at computers,” is something I hear all the time. It’s coming from someone who is uncomfortable and maybe a little nervous. They are doing something they have never done before. It’s your job as the teacher to make them feel comfortable. I tell them that’s OK – I’m here to help them. I usually follow up with this:

If everyone could do what I do, I’d be out of a job.

It’s a small joke, but there is some truth to it. Hopefully it makes the person I’m talking to feel more comfortable.

If the learner is comfortable, he or she will as more questions, be willing to try more things, and get a lot more out of the session because they won’t be too nervous or worried about sounding dumb.

You’re There to Help

Above all, you’re there to help. Make sure the learner – whether it be in a tutorial, a video, or in real life – knows that.