Which Web-based Free E-mail Program to Teach?

I have been thinking a lot lately about FREE web based e-mail and which program to teach to the 50+ crowd, new moms, immigrants and construction workers – this is the typical make-up of those attending this computer classes which I teach.

For the past year and a half I have been teaching the email class using Yahoo but over the past few weeks I have noticed that Yahoo has totally revamped their interface. In many ways I prefer the new interface but when I teach groups to sign up for e-mail using the new Yahoo I can’t spend very long talking about each field on the sign up page. If you take too long than clients are automatically booted out and have to start over, except you don’t find that out until you finish the form.

I could teach my course differently so that I talk about the form and then have students fill it out, but I know that for the most part my students don’t listen well for long periods of time (they aren’t in school and aren’t used to listening to lectures) so it works far better if they can do what I want them to do right away. Does anyone know if sign up forms for different web based e-mail programs allow a longer time window for users to fill them out?

The programs I could consider switching to are Windows Live Mail (aka Hotmail) or Gmail. There are other free web-based e-mail programs out there, however I am not sure how stable they are. Also, many of the people attending my class will go home and practice and may then ask for the help of friends and family. If I use a popular program chances are that friends and family will be able to assist if required. Some of the other factors I have been weighing are:

Other Features:

Yahoo and Gmail both have chat built-in to the e-mail program. I do not have the time and students won’t be ready to learn IM chat during the course I teach so I end up leaving this feature out of my teaching. I am not certain whether or not this is a good idea, but I only have an hour and a half time frame and I think it is most important to students to get across the basics of e-mail without overloading students with too much information.


All three of these web-based e-mail programs have advertising, but Gmail does it in a very different way from the other two options. Although advertisements are unpredictable, with the way Gmail works — they put ads up based on the content of your email — this could be pretty offensive to some people so for this reason I am hesitant about teaching Gmail to new e-mail users.

Tabs vs. Separate Windows:

I initially thought it may be more difficult for new users to understand the difference between having separate tabs open which is how the new Yahoo! Mail works vs. the separate window effect which Windows Live Mail and Gmail utilize. I have found that new users are surprisingly quick to pick up the tabs using Yahoo so I don’t think this is an issue at all.

Folders vs. Tagging:

I am unsure whether it is easier for new users to understand the concept of tagging e-mails as Gmail allows or of putting emails into folders as Yahoo and Windows Live Mail offer. I think new email users will understand the concept of folders more easily than tagging, but I am unsure.

Any ideas or thoughts on this would be helpful! I would be curious to know which web based email other libraries teach and also about what you think would be easiest to learn as a new email user.


2 responses to “Which Web-based Free E-mail Program to Teach?

  1. Pingback: flashda » Blog Archive » The Best Web-based Free E-mail Program

  2. Regarding tagging and folders… I think the concept of tagging is more natural to us than folders — only if we have not encountered the concept of folders first.

    It is almost natural to assume that things fall into categories. The concept of folders (which stems from ontologically inclined education system) is a useful one, but it isn’t complete due to its inherent design. One item that can be in one folder cannot be another. This goes against real life experience.

    .. my 2 canadian cents

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