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Trial and Error

Learning software applications

If you want to quickly learn how to use a software application, here are some strategies to apply:

Menu Item Search Strategy (MISS)

MISS was created by Professor B. S. Allen at San Diego State University [1]. The steps of MISS are extremely simple.

  • When opening a new software application, pull down each menu item to see what is available [2].
  • Have keywords in mind when looking through the menus, especially when trying to figure out how to do a specific task.
  • When introducing new employees to the work place and new software, introduce them to the MISS system.

RTFM - Read the fancy manual

Fortunately, most software applications are so intuitive to use, that you do not have to start with the manual. Often you can apply previous experiences to new learning opportunities and figure out how to use the software. There are the rare occasions where you will have to read the manual [1]. More frequently, software manuals are online in the form of frequently asked questions or online help.

Learning through trial-and-error

Dennett (1995) points out that to learn we must make mistakes [3] In order to learn something new, we must either learn from someone else, or learn from our mistakes. If there already is not a solution, you must take a risk and try a new solution. This solution may be either successful or an error. Your risk taking may be informed by your experiences and knowledge, but it is still a risk.

The key to making mistakes is to not repeat them, make fewer of them in the future, and avoid ones that cause damage and injury. Mistakes should be shared so that others can learn from the process. This helps reduce mistakes in the future.

More information on this topic


  1. 1.0 1.1 Clark, C. (2000). Geek learning: The benefits of discovering your inner geek. Retrieved from
  2. Hoffman, B. (2003). Informal learning: Managing the training function. Alexandria, Va.: ASTD. Retrieved from
  3. Dennett, D. (1995). How to make mistakes. How Things Are. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company. Retrieved from

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