Basic Computer Skills: A Guide For Complete Beginners

Senior couple video conferenceThe computer revolution of the last two decades has transformed lives the world over. It has increased productivity in industries as diverse as deep sea drilling and fashion design, drastically improved communication globally and made the world’s information available at your fingertips. With increasing digitization, knowing how to operate computers has almost become a basic survival skill.

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Learning basic computer skills can be difficult. Fortunately, with the right guidance, anyone can learn how to work with computers:

1. Working with Computer Hardware

Chief Focus: Using the mouse/touchpad and keyboard.

Making the transition to computers can feel intimidating at first. The mouse can feel patently unintuitive and the touchpad (which does the same job as the mouse) can be incredibly difficult to work with. If you’ve worked with typewriters, the computer keyboard won’t present that big a challenge, though the tactile feel of a keyboard is dramatically different from a typewriter’s.

The first step, therefore, is to familiarize yourself with basic computer hardware. Feel free to pick up the mouse and move it around. It’s okay if you can’t make sense of what’s happening on-screen – you will learn more about that later. For now, focus on being physically comfortable with the mouse, and if you are using a laptop, the touchpad.

The same applies for the keyboard. Try typing your name on the keyboard, one key at a time. You might make mistakes, but remember that unlike typewriters, undoing things on computers is as easy as pressing the ‘backspace’ key!

To use computers, you should be able to perform the following tasks:

  • Moving the cursor on-screen with the mouse or touchpad.
  • Clicking, right-clicking and double-clicking the mouse.
  • Using basic keyboard functions such as backspace, enter/return, space bar, delete, tab, shift and caps lock.
  • Basic typing skills.

2. Learning How to Use an Operating System

Chief Focus: Windows or Mac OS X

Think of an operating system (OS) as the interface which lets you communicate with the computer.  The majority of you will start your computer experience with Windows, the operating system built by Microsoft. Some will start with Mac OS X, which is the operating system used on Apple computers.

For the purpose of this article, we will assume that you are using Microsoft Windows. You will be pleased to know that both these operating systems are quite similar. If you can work with Windows, it won’t take you long to work with OS X, and vice-versa.

To use an operating system effectively, you should be able to perform the following:

  • Finding, running and closing a program.
  • How files, folders and directories work.
  • Saving a file.
  • Using Windows Explorer to find and open a file.
  • Shutting down and restarting a computer.

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If you prefer to use Mac OS X instead, you will find this beginner’s tutorial on OS X to be of great use.

3. Using Word Processors

Chief Focus: Microsoft Word, WordPad

Now that you know how to use an operating system, you will undoubtedly be excited to get some actual work done. One of the first things you should familiarize yourself with is the humble word processor. A word processor is basically a software application that can create textual documents. Think of it an incredibly powerful typewriter.

Windows ships with WordPad and NotePad – two simple, yet effective text editors. Their Mac OS X equivalents are TextEdit and Notes.

If you want to do something more than write a basic text document, you will need a more powerful program like Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word is a part of the Microsoft Office suite of software tools. It is a highly capable word processor that can create everything from a simple letter to a complicated graphical flyer.

Knowing your way around a word processor is crucial to getting the most out of your computer. You should be familiar with the following before you proceed further:

  • Opening Microsoft Word.
  • Creating a new document in Word.
  • Using basic formatting functions (bold, italics, underline, font size and type).
  • Saving and printing a finished document.

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4. Getting Online

Chief Focus: Web browsers and websites.

A computer without internet is like a Corvette without gas; it might look great sitting on the curb, but without gas, you aren’t really going to go anywhere.

The internet is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. You can use it to stay in touch with friends and relatives, follow the news, reference encyclopedias, shop for things, and search for virtually anything. Getting familiar with the internet is the first step in unleashing the full power of the computer.

To use the internet, you will need a web browser. A web browser is a software application that can open websites and communicate with the internet. Both Windows and Mac OS X ship with built-in web browsers – Internet Explorer and Safari respectively. There are other browsers as well, but for now, these should suffice.

Using the internet requires that you have basic competency with the following tasks:

  • Finding and opening a web browser.
  • Opening a website.
  • Understanding links.
  • Creating and using an email account.
  • Searching on Google.
  • Using Wikipedia as a reference tool.
  • Opening a video.

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Learning how to use computers is not easy, but it is a vital skill in the 21st century. It will take you hours of effort to become comfortable with operating systems and web browsers and word processors, but the rewards – better, faster communication, increased productivity, and access to the wealth of the world’s information – are well worth it!