Often times, we feel alone when we use our computers. We think our frustrations, our questions, and our needs are unique. Sometimes, we think that we have dumb questions, or we don’t want to show our lack of knowledge or experience — and, yet, that’s what we have to do to learn more…
Or, at least, to learn more the easy way! Learning the hard way is reading books, magazines, Usenet news and Internet web sites for years. The easy way is to find a local computer user group and learn from each other.
Computer clubs are full of people who want to learn and who want to share what they know. Strangely, before we find our first computer club — our first computer user group — we think that it will be nothing but experts and that we, alone, will be the outsider. In reality, many user group members are far from experts, but they are interested in learning more.
The most important thing about computer user groups is that they are full of people who meet to share information and to learn from each other.
Some large computer users groups are very structured. Others aren’t. I’ve been a member of a user group that charges members for classes it conducts and pays its instructors. Now, I’m a member of a group that doesn’t charge for its classes and all work — whether in the office, teaching classes, setting up for meetings, being an officer, or remodeling the office — is done by volunteers!
Almost all user groups have a newsletter of some sort, have mailing lists for members, and have monthly meetings. Some groups go much farther than that. A local computer club, of which I’m a member, is one of the largest and most active computer groups in the U.S. We have an annual membership fee, and membership includes our immediate families. We typically have 40 to 60 educational events (workshops, classes and special interest group meetings) per month, in addition to our main monthly meeting. And, all the work is done by volunteers!
Not every computer club or computer users group (the terms are synonymous) is as active or has as many members as we do. But, they all have the same goal. Computer user group members want to help other members learn more and use our computers more effectively.
Sometimes, that means we teach each other to use Microsoft Office. Other times, it means teaching how to use the Internet more effectively, to use a photo-editing program, how to take digital pictures, to set up a home network, how to research your family tree, or how to use the computer to help in scrapbooking. These are topics for ordinary people, not things for programmers.
A computer users group, a computer club, can be as dynamic as its members want to be. The key to a successful computer club, just like any other type of club, is to have active members — members who are willing to volunteer to help teach or volunteer for other club duties.
So, if you are a computer users group member, step forward and volunteer. Teach a class, or do whatever you can to help. If you don’t know much, you still know more than someone else does. Beginners classes are very popular. Some of our club’s most popular classes are for people who are just beginning to use personal computers, or who have never touched one.
If you are not in a computer club, find one and join it. Share what you know and soak up the knowledge that is available. You will have fun, meet people and save frustration and money — your annual membership fee is usually much, much less than you would pay for one computer class anywhere else.