Re: Help as Training

Subject: Re: Help as Training
From: Bill Burns <BillDB -at- ILE -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998 09:10:40 -0600

Tim Altom writes:

> At our STC meeting last night the subject (once again) came up of using
> help
> files to train, rather than assist, users. My own personal feeling is that
> "man who chases two rabbits catches neither and must settle for a
> tortoise".
> But one of the attendees, a non-member, claimed that her help files are
> excellent for training. I'm frankly skeptical based on my broad experience
> with hypertext as help.
I'll use your proverb to, er...cut right to the chase. :-)

The help medium (that is, WinHelp, HTMLHelp, JavaHelp, Apple Guide) is not
at issue, which is what might be causing some cognitive dissonance here. The
design and focus of the information is. You can build an excellent training
application using standard help tools. However, trying to design information
that is both task-based help and training is, as you note, trying to chase
two rabbits at once. I've studied some approaches to one-stop documentation,
but in practice, I prefer to have interrelated systems--pieces that train
separated from pieces that provide task-based information.

The difference is in context. A tutorial has to provide a context (that is,
has to be designed to accomplish specific learning objectives). These
objectives might be arranged in such a way to teach many individual tasks or
to link up and help accomplish a high-level goal. Task-based help has to be
generic enough to work in any feasible application context. Context-specific
information might be irritating to someone who needed to perform a
real-world task. Likewise, someone using task-based help can eventually
teach themselves how to use an application, but that doesn't constitute
"training" in the formal sense of directed instruction (whether by a WinHelp
project or CBT).

Sounds like the visitor has confused the message with the medium. The two
can certainly affect each other, but they aren't one and the same.

Bill Burns
Senior Technical Writer/Technology Consultant
ILE Communications
billdb -at- ile -dot- com

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