The time it requires to enroll for and complete a formal computer software course or class may not be fast enough for you. Many free tools can help you learn highly-valued computer software skills that you need to increase your earning power. Here are a few suggestions:
1- Install Free Trial Versions of Software
Many software companies generously offer 30-day free trial installations of their software applications. If you set a goal to learn an application, just an hour or two a day in the trial software may be enough to put you far down the road to efficiency. Here are links to the free installation pages for a few leading software companies.
Adobe Flash Screenshot
Microsoft’s free trial installations (60-day trial periods!)
Screenshot for MS Word 2007
Sony Acid Music Studio Screenshot
An important point to remember is to only install one of the applications per month, so that you can exhaust the opportunity to learn that one piece of software before the trial installation expires. The software will stop working after 30 days unless you buy the full license. If you ambitiously install the trial versions of several of these applications, then you only have 30 days to use/learn them all! Pace yourself!
And here are some great open-source software applications worth learning – and they’re entirely free, no trial period that expires!
Openoffice.org – a work productivity suite very similar to Microsoft Office
MySQL – a free database software program
GIMP – a Photoshop-like image editing program
Audacity – a free audio editing software great for recording/editing podcasts, audio tracks for home videos, or your own music demo cds.
Using this method of installing the free trial versions of software has helped me learn Adobe Flash, Adobe Dreamweaver, Sony Acid, Sony Vegas Video, Microsoft Project, Microsoft Visio, and many more applications.
2- Use the Help Menus
Just about every software application has a help menu accessible by pressing the F1 key at the top of your keyboard, or by selecting Help from the menu bar. These help menus usually have search tools where you can type in words about what you’re trying to do with the program and it will give you links to those topics in the help database. Some of them even link to actual web-based demonstrations of how to accomplish what you’re trying to do. The help menus in computer programs are like having your own on-call learning coach.
3- Search Engine Queries
I don’t believe a work-day has passed in the last few years that I haven’t used a search engine to find out how to do something in a software program. What’s more, I’ve ALWAYS found what I’ve needed to know this way (you need to learn to use search engines effectively though). Here are some recent examples of searches I used recently:
4- Ask Someone
Proficient software users can often demonstrate a skill more efficiently that a book or even an online tutorial. You get real-time feedback also. If you have friends or coworkers that know a program well, just be sensitive to their time and responsibilities before you ask them to show you how to do something in a program. Do all you can on your own first, using some of the tools I’ve already mentioned. I learned Adobe InDesign on my own over a few months. My wife was able to learn it quicker than I did because she simply asked me how to do several things in the program without having to look it up in a book or online.
There are more ways to learn software. I limited the list in this article to some of the better, cost-free options. Later, I’ll write about a few other cost effective options to learn computer skills.