The world today is changing faster with every passing year, and basic computer skills are all but necessary. The internet can seem daunting for someone who has relied on traditional methods of communication for their entire life.

But it can also be exciting for those who desire better ways to stay connected with their loved ones, keep up on daily news, look at photographs, or read and watch videos about their interests.

The potential of the internet doesn't stop there. For example, it is now possible to buy almost anything online, even groceries, and have it shipped straight to your door.

Embracing the internet for what it is can enrich your life and make it easier. Think of it as a tool, like a hammer or a broom.

What Are Computer Skills?

Sending email on computer

​Via Pixabay

Computer skills can refer to a wide range of things, from the hardware that makes them to the programs that they run. For our purpose, we just need to know how to find our way around the darn things.

Beyond that, there are some commonly used websites that we will go over.

If you were shown this article by a relative or caretaker, it's possible that you have never used a computer and know nothing about basic computer skills whatsoever.

If that's the case, have that same person go through each section of this article with you multiple times on different days until you feel comfortable. We want to be as thorough as possible, but it's impossible for us to cover every nuance.

Start by asking them the following questions:


  1. What is the difference between a laptop and desktop, and which one am I using?
  2. What are operating systems, and which one am I using? Note that this guide gears towards Windows.
  3. How do I use the mouse and keyboard?
  4. What is a left-click and right-click?
  5. How do I scroll?
  6. How do I turn on my computer?

Once you understand these basic computer skills, you are well on your way to mastering them. It will likely feel awkward at first, but that will go away with repetition.

Practice, practice, practice!

You don't have to spend hours on the computer every day to learn basic computer skills. In fact, studies show that 30 minutes of consistent daily practice will help you learn faster than binging 5 hours here and there.

Another trick is to practice directly before taking a nap. This gives your brain time to go over what it has just learned.

During your practice sessions, start small and work your way up. Do some left-clicks and right-clicks. Type out a few sentences. Scroll up and down on a web page. You'll know you're ready to move on when those things start feeling trivial.

There are also interactive tutorials on the internet designed to help people learn these skills.

Basic Computer Skills: Navigating Windows

Now that you know how to use your mouse and keyboard properly, the next step is learning how to find your way around. This part of the guide is for Windows operating systems. We highly recommend this operating system for mastering basic computer skills.

The start menu

In the bottom left corner of your screen, you'll notice an icon that looks like a window pane. If you are using an older operating system, it might say "Start" instead.

In either case, left-click on this to bring up the start menu. That is where you access everything on your computer. To leave the start menu, left-click on blank space outside of the menu.

The search bar

If you're using Windows 10, the newest operating system, there will be a space next to the start menu that says, "type here to search." Left-click on this and type in the word calculator.

Notice a menu appears that says "best match" at the top, and "calculator" directly beneath that. If you then left click on "calculator," it will open up a calculator that you can interact with using your mouse or the numbers on your keyboard.

Use this search bar to find programs and files on your computer quickly.

The taskbar

So, in the bottom-left corner you have the start menu, and in the bottom-right is the clock and a few other knick-knacks. But what is all that empty space along the bottom in-between used for? It's called the taskbar.

When you open a program, it's icon will appear in the taskbar to let you know that it's active. You can use the taskbar to switch between active programs by left-clicking on the one you want to go to.

On newer versions of Windows, there may be icons in the taskbar that stay there even when you close the program. This is a feature that lets you quickly open your favorite programs. The active programs will have a blue line beneath their icon.

Exiting and minimizing

Another one of the most basic computer skills is exiting and minimizing. To exit a program, find the X in the upper-right corner of the program and left-click on it. This action is called "closing the window." The window is the space that the program exists in.

You can also "minimize" a window by left-clicking on the "-" symbol that is near the X. Minimizing a window makes it disappear without actually closing the program. Notice that the program will still be open in your taskbar if you wish to return to it.

The desktop

If you close or minimize all the programs on your computer, you will see the desktop in front of you. The desktop is comprised of a background image called the "wallpaper," and icons which you can use to quickly open programs.

To open a program from the desktop, left-click twice on an icon in quick succession. That action is called a double-click, and it is always done with the left mouse button.

Basic Computer Skills: The Internet

basic computer skills Searching on google using a laptop

​Via Pixabay

Using the internet is by far the most important of basic computer skills you can have. You are currently reading this article via an internet browser. There are many types of browsers, such as Google Chrome and Internet Explorer, but you only need one and they all function in basically the same way.

At the top of the browser, you will see a space that says "http://www.grandparentinginfo.com." This is where you type in a website address, aka URL, to access webpages on the internet.

Sometimes you will want more than one webpage open at a time. That's when tabs come in handy. Above the URL space are tabs for each webpage you have open. If this is the only site you have open, there will only be one tab.

To the right of your open tabs will be a +, or a symbol that looks like a piece of paper. That is how you open new tabs. To switch between tabs, left-click on the tab you want to go to.

You can close an individual tab by clicking on the X on that tab.

Links

Sometimes, you will click on something that takes you to a different webpage. Pages are connected to each other with things called "links." Links can be words or images.

Words that are links are generally blue and underlined. Images are less obvious, but will usually look like a button. When scrolling over a link, your cursor will change into a hand icon.

If you accidentally click on a link, click on the left arrow in the top-left of your browser to go back.

Gmail

One of the most useful features of the internet is email. You can use it to stay in touch with friends and family members, have bills and receipts sent to you, and more.

There are a lot of different email websites out there, but we're going to go out on a limb and say that Gmail is probably the easiest to use.

Have someone walk you through setting up your Gmail account. Once it's set up, all you have to do to get to your email is type gmail.com into the URL space in your browser, and then press "Enter" on your keyboard.

Don't forget to open a new tab first so you can keep this page open!

Inbox

At this point, you will be in your inbox. That is where any emails sent to you are available for you to look at. They are displayed in a list format, with the most recent one at the very top.

When viewing an email from your inbox, the name of the person or company emailing you will be displayed on the left, followed by the subject of the email. Left-click on the email to view it.

To leave an email and go back to your inbox, either hit the back arrow or find "Inbox" on the left side of the page and click it.

Notice that once you've opened an email, the text is lighter and no longer bold. If you wish to delete an email, move your mouse over it but don't click on it. Instead, find the trashcan symbol on the right side of the email and click on that.

Writing an email

To write an email and send it to someone, left-click "Compose" on the left side of the page above Inbox. A window will pop up in the bottom-right corner.

Where it says "To," enter the person's email address. You'll have to ask them for this in advance. Then left-click in the space next to "Subject," and write what the email is about. For example, if you are emailing your daughter then you could write, "Hi honey!"

Finally, click on the space below the subject and write your letter. When you finish, click "Send."

If you ever want to view the emails you've sent, find the word "Sent" on the left side of the page and click on it.

Avoiding scams

Unfortunately, the internet is filled with people who will try to take advantage of you. While sites like Gmail will do their best to filter them out, some still manage to slip through the cracks.

So listen closely, because this is very important: Do not open an email unless you know exactly where it came from!

If for some reason you find yourself looking at an email you are unsure about, pay attention to warning signs. Emails promising you quick and easy money are always scams. If it is written in poor English, it could also be a scam.

In rare circumstances, the email account of someone you know may have been compromised. If you receive an email from them with a link to an unfamiliar website or telling you to download a file, it would be wise to close the email until you can talk to that person.

Using Google

No matter what you want to do on the internet, you can find it with Google's search engine. Google uses complex algorithms to scour the internet and give you the best search results.

You can access Google by typing google.com into the URL space in your browser. Once you're on the website, you'll see a search bar in the middle of the page.

Try typing "cooking recipes" into the search bar, and then click "Google Search" or press "Enter" on your keyboard. There will now be a list of links to websites with cooking recipes.

By clicking "Images" beneath the search bar, you can search for pictures and photographs instead of websites.

If you'd like to save a photo for later, you can do so by right-clicking on it and then left-clicking on "Save image as" from the menu that appears (called a drop-down menu).

A window will appear and you'll need to select where you want to save the image. For now, find and click "Desktop" on the lefthand side of the window. Now, click save. You saved the image to your desktop!

Facebook

Facebook is a very popular website people use for keeping up on the lives of people they care about. With Facebook, you can create your own profile and upload photographs for others to look at and comment on.

You can also type updates about what's going on in your life, something interesting you read, or whatever you'd like.

Facebook is more complicated than anything we've discussed so far, so you will want help figuring it out. But you can apply many of the concepts you already know here as well.

For example, Facebook has a search bar for looking up people. It has menus along the top and left sides for accessing different pages of the website.

In the same way that programs on your computer are separated into windows, parts of Facebook are also broken up into little boxes where everything inside them goes together.

Shopping with Amazon

Amazon is the one-stop shop for virtually anything you might need short of prescription medication or nicotine products. Using Amazon is as simple as setting up an account, adding items to your virtual cart, and entering your credit card and address at checkout.

Have someone help you set up an account and walk you through your first purchase.

Amazon is very similar to Google in that you enter a search and it presents you with a list of results. You can browse through the items and decide which of them you would like to buy.

Other customers rate products from 1.0 to 5.0 stars, so you can get a sense of your best options.

Clicking on a product will take you to the product page where you can add it to your shopping cart by clicking "Add to Cart" on the righthand side.

When you are ready to check out, click on "Cart" at the top-right of the page.

Basic Computer Skills: Additional Help

woman browsing on laptop

​Via Pixabay

You've mastered many basic computer skills and are well on your way to becoming a proficient user. However, there is always more learn.

Ask the person guiding you how to bookmark this page for later use, so you can refer to it when no one is around to help you. Bookmarking is different for every web browser, so it will be easier to have them show you.

Your local community center may offer courses on basic computer skills to help you learn more quickly. There are also several online courses you can take for this very purpose. And always remember to practice, practice, practice!

If you have anything to say about this article or basic computer skills in general, please feel free to post in the comments below.

​Featured Image Source: Unsplash

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