The Big Four: Learning Microsoft Office

Learning how to use Microsoft Word will be a big help in distance learning (Photo by

With all of the emphasis on texting, apps, games, iTunes, and all of the other ways that people can use their computers, the applications that are really useful in distance learning can sometimes be lost in the shuffle. Any student who aims to do well would be well-served to have more than a glancing acquaintance with the Microsoft Office Suite programs. The four most often used programs are: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. On Apple computers the equivalent programs are found in the iWork Suite. Since Microsoft is the gorilla in the room, this article is focused on it, though the principles remain the same for Apple users. Also, be aware that Apple programs try to be compatible with Microsoft programs, in case you use both a PC and a Mac, or you are working with someone who has the opposite system that you have.

Whether you are just embarking on distance learning, or need a refresher course, Microsoft offers free tutorials for each of these programs, as does Goodwill Community Foundation.

Microsoft’s word processing program is called, appropriately enough, Word. This program is used to create any kind of text, from cover letters to resumes to term papers. This program is a must-know for any college classes.

Excel is the spreadsheet program. A spreadsheet is basically an interactive grid of rows and columns, used mostly for accounting and financial data manipulation. But it can also be used for scheduling, and for almost any types of calculations.

PowerPoint is used to create presentations, through text combined with slideshows, video and audio. Not all classes will require expertise with PowerPoint, but odds are that you will come across it at some point in your distance learning career.

Outlook is the email service for Microsoft Office. Many people use the free email services available at Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, and other providers already. The advantage of adding Outlook is that it has Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps built in.

A fifth application is Access. This database program is used more for business, but is a useful tool for gathering and manipulating data. From addresses, to the guest list for your wedding, any time that you’ve got a lot of information and need a way to control or search through it, Access is the way to go.

Other featured programs in Microsoft Office Suites are OneNote, a digital notebook in which you can record all kinds of ideas, from homework to house renovation, set them up in an outline, and jazz them up with graphics;  and Web Apps, a program that allows you to access documents that you’ve posted in the cloud, so that you can work on the go. This app is also useful if you are working on a team, because it allows all team members to edit and post to team documents and presentations.

If you can’t afford to buy Microsoft Office Suite, Apache OpenOffice is shareware, available online for free. It has programs that are equivalent to those of Microsoft Office Suite.

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