RE: Using learning theory to build learning documents

Subject: RE: Using learning theory to build learning documents
From: "Rowena Hart" <RHart -at- ACDSystems -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2006 09:00:44 -0800

Replies to several folks below:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Brasel, Russell
> What learning theory forms the basis of your system? It's
> been a few years since I've taken any pedagogy courses (which
> didn't really help when I began teaching Freshman-level
> English courses) and looked over the different theories
> (Communities of Practice, etc.).

In the article I will explore two or three learning theories (e.g.
cognitive information processing, situated learning, constructivism) and
provide examples of how they could influence the kind of "documentation"
that we provide for our customers. Funny that you should mention
communities of practice. A knowledgebase is typically implemented as a
searchable database of questions and answers to encourage self-serve
customer support. However, if the knowledgebase is opened up so that
customers can post questions AND answers, it becomes a community of
practice. How many technical communicators on the list have created,
managed, or actively contributed to a knowledgebase for their
product/service? Did you see the knowledgebase as another
"documentation" product that you produced? Or something completely

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Ned Bedinger
> > I just spent 3 years studying how people learn and,
> specifically, how
> > people learn best online.
> This sounds exciting. Did you go through a degree program?
> Interdisciplinary or ...?

MA in distributed learning from Royal Roads University. It was a very
exciting experience, primarily because I learned about learning online
WHILE I was learning online. If that makes sense. ;-) The university
calls it "living your learning", which I think is very apt.

> I could get onboard with the hope for more productive ways to
> transfer knowledge, but I have a touch of ambivalence about
> casting this as growing beyond reference documents. A quest
> to go beyond reference docs makes me feel like all the work
> will inevitably be about teaching computers to understand
> natural language. Human Learning Theory, applied to Natural
> Language Processing --> Documents with smarter tags, and
> smarter computers that can comprehend them. Is that, by any
> chance, where you think this quest might lead?

It seems, from the responses so far, that many technical communicators
are quite reluctant to conceptualize their work as teaching. Perhaps
I've misinterpreted the posts, though. For example, you mention your
ambivalence about moving technical documentation beyond reference
documentation because you see it as a gnarly matter of technology,
rather than communication.

I do see some need to improve technology to improve
communication/learning. For example, why not use metadata tags to
identify the type of information in a topic? Then, create a smarter
search system where the user can select the type of information they
need, such as concept/definition, procedure, reference, troubleshooting?
Yes, it would require some changes to the help interface but we have the
technology to do that quite easily. It would mean a bit of work to set
up the metadata tags and maintain them, but can you imagine the
improvement in search accuracy? I can. I'd LOVE to use that kind of help

However, I am thinking low tech for the article. I'm really trying to
focus on ways that we, as technical communicators, can create or adapt
information products (aka technical documents) that help customers learn
more efficiently and effectively. This means providing different kinds
of information products (not just words on a page), using a wider range
of media to transmit those information products, and perhaps building
social learning opportunities for customers.

> > Think of the "Was this information helpful?" scales that companies
> > like Microsoft use to evaluate the effectiveness of
> knowledgebase articles.
> > If we know that our customers preferred seeing a procedure why not
> > provide a "Want to see this procedure in action?" option at
> the bottom
> > of a written help file?
> >
> This is a big leap for me. I'll just say maybe, because I
> think it depends more on the users's level of technical
> knowledge than on learning styles. Maybe you're onto a
> concept where visual learning styles represent users with
> less depth of knowledge in the area under discussion? I've
> never thought of learning styles in this way before, and I
> tend to think of learning styles as something that a person
> has for life, but this concept makes me wonder if someone who
> wants to see a procedure in action would eventually 'graduate'?

I don't think there's any connection between a preference for visual
learning and less knowledgeable customers. It's simply a different way
of "knowing" the subject matter. For example, there's nothing stopping
us from creating global (broad), tiered (deep), or contextual (detailed)
visual information products that appeal to visual learners who have
different learning needs. Think of complex systems diagrams - they
definitely appeal to more knowledgeable customers. On the other hand,
concept maps definitely appeal to less knowledgeable customers. The
information product is different, but the medium is the same.

It's true that learning styles/preferences are deeply ingrained.
However, people often have to adapt to non-preferred learning styles
simply because there's no other option. If we only provide written
information products then our customers will have to adapt to that,
regardless of whether they prefer to learn through seeing, hearing, or

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Pro TechWriter
> Do you explain learning theory to your students, ever? I used to do
that, and got all kinds of valuable insight from them to add to the
"theory" part of it.

Well, I don't talk about the learning theories themselves, but I do talk
about different ways of "knowing". I also encourage them to expand their
"learning repertoire" through concept mapping, creating matrices,
learning in groups, etc. And, because I teach adults, I talk a lot about
how stress affects their ability to absorb, process, and apply
knowledge, i.e. it stops your learning cold.

> If you apply my very simple "learning theory": read it, say it, do it,
share it, well then, you would have text, sound, exercises, and maybe,
what, mentoring of some kind, or an interactive area where the "learner"
could add their own information to the text?

EXACTLY! I'd love to have a "Read this procedure to me" option so that I
can follow along in the application. I'd also love to have some means of
tagging particularly useful help topics so that I can find them easily
later. Or, adding information to a help file - i.e. "Step 4 is wrong, do
this instead". Not only that, but how about building some learning
"logic" into help systems, similar to concept maps, so that customers
have the option of directing their own learning but with some guidance?
The Visual Thesaurus is a perfect example of that. And why not have a
"Want to talk to others about this?" link that takes customers to an
appropriate asynchronous/live forum?

These are just ideas (or maybe dreams) at the moment, of course, but why
not think differently about our roles and products?



WebWorks ePublisher Pro for Word features support for every major Help
format plus PDF, HTML and more. Flexible, precise, and efficient content
delivery. Try it today!

Easily create HTML or Microsoft Word content and convert to any popular Help file format or printed documentation. Learn more at

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- infoinfocus -dot- com -dot-

To unsubscribe send a blank email to
techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Previous by Author: RE: Using learning theory to build learning documents
Next by Author: RE: Writing documentation for developers
Previous by Thread: Re: Using learning theory to build learning documents
Next by Thread: RE: Using learning theory to build learning documents

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads