Integrating documentation and training?

Subject: Integrating documentation and training?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com, "Stevenson, Rebecca" <Rebecca -dot- Stevenson -at- workscape -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 03 Mar 2004 14:30:19 -0500

Rebecca Stevenson reports: <<Our group has recently taken responsibility for developing and delivering training on our products, something we have been lacking up until now. This is a great opportunity and we're glad to have this happen; on the other hand, resources are tight, and it's important that we do everything we can to make the two efforts work together (the word "leverage" keeps being used).>>

One very productive approach I've used in the past involves using the trainer to teach the trainees how to use the documentation and particularly the online help. You wouldn't believe how many people don't know how to use either resource. (Insert rant #17 about declining literacy and educational standards here.)

<<I'm brainstorming with myself on ways we can make this work. So far, it all seems to be coming down to information sharing -- reviewing each other's material where possible (we do peer reviews in our group), keeping everyone in the loop when source documents are passed around, sharing software when we can to make repurposing easier, having writers attend the early training sessions to make sure feedback is cycled into the docs.>>

In addition to this, enlist your trainers as indispensable sources of feedback on problems with the software and the documentation. There's nothing like trying to teach someone to reveal your own misunderstandings and problems with the product--or the docs. If you can, take the opportunity to attend the training sessions so you can watch how people actually use the software; if you understand that, then you can adapt your docs to suit that approach.

And examine the training material against the docs to see how the two can complement each other. For example, the training can be "here's the simple way to do X; see page Y of the docs for you other options", whereas the documentation can clearly refer to training material (e.g., "for practice configuring the Bafflebag 1001, try out Chapter 1 of our tutorial").

One interesting potential distinction between documentation and training is that the former is referred to by those who have already taken the latter. That highlights the difference between the two: training provides basic competencies, whereas documentation provides a refresher for those whose recall is weak, and a way to go beyond the basics for those who have already mastered the basics. Remember the old computer manuals that used to say "here's how to use Windows"? These now largely assume that you've taken the training (formal, or "school of hard knocks") to master the basic skills, and now build on those skills rather than teaching them.

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)

Integrating documentation and training: From: Stevenson, Rebecca

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