choose what to learn computer index The ABC Study Guide, University education in plain English alphabetically indexed. Click here to go to the main index, or the ABC image for the cover
Choose what to learn Home Page
the ABC Study
Guide home page

home page to all of Andrew
Roberts' web site

Learning how to use computers

With some machines you read the instructions and do what they say. To learn computing that way would need a vast library of instructions. Instead, computer programs (like the one you are reading this in) are designed to be learnt by using them.

Switch on and see what happens

If the computer is not already running, you turn it on by pushing the Power Switch on the front of the computer. Usually the screen runs through quite a few items of technical information before settling down. This kind of thing also happens when you start some programs, especially on networked computers in Universities and Companies. Just let the process continue until it stops. When it stops, look at the screen carefully to see if you can work out what to do next. Often the screen suggests what you should do. If so, do it. If not, look in a manual or ask somebody. Carry on doing this until you want a cup of tea (or whatever).


Do not be afraid to experiment with the keyboard or the mouse. Try moving your mouse now to see what happens as you go to different parts of the screen. Does the "cursor" that moves on the screen change shape? In some programs, when you put the cursor over an item on the screen a message appears telling you what the item does.

It is usually a good idea to click on buttons to find out what they do. The worst that can happen, normally, is that you get lost. You could try clicking on the buttons at the top of this screen now. When you get stuck, look at the screen to see if it suggests what you should do. Messages or reports on what is happening are often displayed at the bottom of the screen.

When you really are stuck - ask for help.

Built in Help

Most programs have built in "Help" programs. You should look for these. Often you will find "Help" written at the top of the screen. Click on this to see what it gives you. Pressing "F1" on the keyboard is another way that often provides help.

Technical Terms

Technical terms can be confusing when they are used in more than one way, or when many different terms are used for the same thing. In this Guide I have tried to:

  • explain terms in plain English
  • explain the theory behind the terms
  • find terms which are common to many applications
  • point out when different terms are used for the same thing and
  • explain when the same term is used for many things.
You will still get confused - just do not worry about it! Carry on looking up the terms you do not fully understand and you will pick up the vocabulary and learn to speak the language. Often you will find terms highlighted in colour. If you click on these coloured terms you will normally be taken to a definition and discussion of the term.

If you have not already done so, click on "highlighted" above, read what the definition says and then use the "Back" button at the top of the screen to return to this page.

Enjoy Yourself

Whatever happens, never be put off trying again. Try to relax and enjoy playing with a computer whenever you can. Anxiety can stop you learning, but enjoyment is one of the greatest aids to learning that exists.

If you have not already done so, click on "Anxiety" above, read what it says and then use the "Back" button at the top of the screen to return to this page.

If the best way to learn about computers is by playing with them, which bits might you start playing with? Here are some suggestions


I enjoy onscreen tutorials and am irritated when they are hidden on some computer programs. If you have not seen them, hunt one out. These details of where the tutorials are on some versions of Windows may also give clues to where they are on other versions:

  • On Windows 3.1 the Windows tutorial is on the Help menu on Program Manager. It teaches you how to use the mouse and/or how to use Windows.

  • On Windows 95 there is an online tour on Help Contents called Ten minutes to using Windows.

  • On Windows 98 the tutorials are started by clicking on Run in the Start menu, typing in tour98 and clicking OK. The tutorials include Computer Essentials for people new to computers and tours of the program's features.

Some of these tutorials encourage you to practice skills and ask you questions about what you have learnt, others are like watching a video about the programs.


A wordprocessor will let you use words differently to pen and paper. Some people prefer it, some people prefer pen and paper. Most of us need to use both. The section on How to write on a computer will get you started.


With a paint program, you can make pictures on screen by using your mouse to move crayons and paintbrushes across your on screen easel. One of the easiest paint programs come already installed with Windows. It is called Paint or Paintbrush. Start it running and use the Help menu to discover how to use it.


Some people have problems moving the mouse to the position on the screen they want. You can practice this by playing one of the card games (like Solitaire) in the Games section of Windows. First read the rules of the game under its help menu.


If you are using a computer that is equipped for sound, and you have some music CDs, you could use a CD Player Program to play your CDs. You can make a play list for each CD, with the titles of the tracks and the order in which you want to play them.


Most computers have a Calculator that is very like the hand electronic calculators that people use. The difference is that you click the buttons on screen instead of pressing them with your fingers. There is usually a choice of basic and scientific, so you can check your shopping list or do your statistics homework. The help file may tell you how to do either.

Study Link
Andrew Roberts' web Study Guide
Top of Page Take a Break - Read a Poem
Click coloured words to go where you want

Andrew Roberts likes to hear from users:
To contact him, please use the Communication Form

© Andrew Roberts