10 tips for avoiding technology overwhelm

There’s one complaint about technology that I hear from almost every single person I talk to: it’s just plain overwhelming. There’s too much to learn. There are too many options. It’s always changing and I’m always behind.

Between ed tech for your classroom and the technology you use in your personal life, there’s always going to be a massive amount of tools you wish you could explore and master. Here’s what to do when it all starts to feel overwhelming.

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1. Know that everyone feels like they’re constantly behind and out of the loop

I’ve worked as an instructional technology coach for several years in NYC, and when I talked with other local coaches, we often hadn’t heard of half the programs and apps that one another were using even though we were doing the same job in the same school system! Seriously–it’s not just you that can’t keep track of all the new tools that are out there. With as many as 60,000 new apps launched in the iTunes app store every month and hundreds of thousands of educational websites in existence, there is simply no way one person can learn all of them.

And that means you don’t have to feel pressure to try. Stop telling yourself you need to learn to be proficient in all technology and know the latest about every type of tool out there. It’s not going to happen, and it doesn’t need to.

2. Recognize that your frustrated feelings will only change if YOU do

The sheer amount of technology that’s available is only going to increase with time, so if you’re waiting for that feeling of being overwhelmed to go away, you’re just going to get more frustrated. Now is the time to jump in there.  You might not ever be a technology expert, but you can be a determined, lifelong learner who is willing to put yourself out there and keep trying.

3. Innovate like a turtle

That’s a phrase coined by educator Vicki Davis (Cool Cat Teacher), who reminds us that transforming the way we teach is not about speed and making huge, rapid changes, but about slow, steady progress over time. Start with whatever you’ve got and whatever you’re capable of learning how to do right now. Remind yourself that small changes add up to big results!

4. Focus on versatile tools that you can use again and again

Rather than try to learn about every tool that’s out there, just pick one or two that will give you the most bang for your buck, and work on familiarizing yourself with those first (I’ll share suggestions later this month.). Play around with them and practice. Resist the urge to think about all the things you’re missing.

If you lived a thousand years, you wouldn’t have time to learn every resource that is out there right now. But the only resources you need to learn are the ones you NEED in your life to solve specific problems. That might only be a handful of tools for right now. You can add a few more over the next few months, and a few more after that as you’re comfortable.

5. Let go of the mentality that you must be trained by someone else in order to use a tech tool

I have never received training in 95% of what I do online. No one taught me how to use a SMARTboard or create screencasts or start a podcast or maintain a website, or any of the other things I do with technology. I just get curious (or get stuck) and do a quick internet search to find blog posts or videos that answer my questions. I try different things out to find the best approach for me personally, and bookmark helpful sites for my reference. I repeat the tasks enough times and experiment enough to feel comfortable, and that’s all there is to it!

If you wait until your school district provides training on everything you need to know about technology, you’re going to be stuck in the dark ages. Don’t put your professional development in the hands of your district and wait for someone else to mandate what and how you learn–it is so much more empowering to take charge!

10 tips for teachers to avoid technology overwhelm

6. Keep a running list of tech problems you need to solve and tackle them in batches

Got an annoying error message that pops up every time you open a specific application? Don’t fall down the rabbit hole now and waste 45 minutes trying to get rid of it. Write the problem down in a Tech Troubleshooting list (perhaps in Google Keep or another tool that syncs across devices) and check it out at a more convenient time when you’re in “tech problem solving mode.” If you have IT support at your school, you may want to go through the list once a month or so together, rather than trying to figure little things out on a daily basis.

7. Set aside a small, well-defined block of time so you can experiment with tech tools

If you’re being selective about how many tools you want to master, prioritizing time to explore those tools won’t be a hugely time-consuming task. Be very focused with your goals for that block of time (“I want to learn how to create X and organize Y”) and allot some time to researching and trying things out. Just pull up the site or program you want to use, and do what the kids do: play around with it!

Experiment. Make mistakes. Fail, a lot. The only way to really learn something is to explore it yourself. Trial and error is your friend. Kids understand this intuitively: that’s why they are fearless with technology and adapt to changes so quickly.

8. Remember that Google is your best friend

If you’re fortunate enough to be offered technology PD or have someone show you how to use a tool, don’t try memorize everything or write down copious notes about every little detail. When you get stuck, you can Google it: How to copy and paste. How to create an email list. How to download a video from YouTube. No matter where you are on the tech proficiency spectrum, I guarantee that three million other people have already searched for the same thing and there will be dozens if not hundreds of websites and videos with your exact search phrase that will explain, step by step, exactly what to do.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the results: pick one with a description that sounds like a good match, and check it out. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, pick again. You can do this! And the more you practice it, the faster you’ll get at finding authoritative sites that provide accurate tutorials.

9. When you find a good resource that explains how to do something, bookmark it/save it to your favorites, or pin it to a Tech Troubleshooting board in your Pinterest account

Don’t beat yourself up by saying, “I read it but I don’t remember! Someone showed me how to do it but I forgot! I’m so bad with technology!”

No, you’re not. And you don’t HAVE to remember. Who could possibly memorize all of this? Go back to the site you bookmarked and re-read how to do it, or search again. All the information you need is stored online, so it doesn’t need to be stored in your head.

10. Get connected with other educators who can help

Being a connected educator means creating a personal learning network, often called a PLN. The people in your personal learning network are those you connect with to share ideas and encourage each other. You can join Facebook groups for teachers, participate in Twitter chats, follow educator hashtags on Instagram, or use any other social media platform you’re comfortable with. You are not alone in this!

Christian Lous Lange was a Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize winner…and he was born in 1876. If his words were true then, they’re doubly true now! Technology is your servant. It’s a tool to make your life better, faster, easier, and to make teaching more effective, efficient, and enjoyable. YOU are in charge of your technology, not vice versa.

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

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