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The issue of whether screen captures are effective or not does not appear to be a simple one. I don't feel that it can be dismissed with anecdotal evidence one way or the other.
The academics studying this at the doctoral level -- not just doctoral students but established scholars -- have not been able to offer conclusive proof either way, unless I'm just missing a particular study (I've only scanned their results).
Admonitions such as "It depends" or "Know your audience" don't address the larger issue.
This is a cognitive issue, remember. I believe images and text are processed in different areas of the brain. The question becomes whether an image can enhance text-based learning at all, and if so, under what circumstances and, for screen caps, what kind of screen cap -- but you also have to establish how you're going to measure the outcome. What determines whether a screen cap is an effective aid or not? Can screen caps sometimes hinder learning, as has already been suggested? Are they neutral in some contexts?
I don't see how any of us can offer a conclusive decision based on our experience if the academics can't. To me it's just guesswork.
There's a need for more research in this area. Until that happens, to me this falls into the same category as trying to decide a style point when there is no guideline in the established style authorities (CMOS, AP, MMOS, GPO, etc.).
Also, the research that has been done is somewhat dated. How do you account for the increased sophistication of today's users in UI operation versus those of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s? It's possible that mental models are not static but evolve. I mean that in two ways. My mental model of a particular software app evolves as I use it and become familiar with it. And our collective mental model about certain kinds of UI's evolve as technology evolves. So, for example, teenagers can master the current crop of digital devices with ease, while many of us Baby Boomers long for the days when a TV had two knobs: ON-OFF/VOLUME and CHANNEL.
I think any of us are hard-pressed to say "Get rid of all screen shots" or "Use lots of screen shots" or even "Use some screen shots" with any authority. Which is a shame, because this is our field, after all.
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