Does learning get in the way? (was: Teaching without seeming to teach!, which was: Lowest Common Denominator/Reading to Learn)

Subject: Does learning get in the way? (was: Teaching without seeming to teach!, which was: Lowest Common Denominator/Reading to Learn)
From: Michelle Corbin <mcorbin -at- HEALTHMATICS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 14:37:21 -0400

Hey folks! When George Hayhoe's post appeared, I sent him a reply
commenting that I thought it would generate some interesting debate. He
told me he was following along in DIGEST mode, so I copied all three of the
subject lines into the one, because sometimes you don't realize that the
thread has changed subjects when you are reading it in DIGEST mode. And, I
can stay quiet no longer, even though there is a book sitting on my desk
that has to be proofed by the end of the day!

I think George asked a fundamental question that we as technical
communicators face every time we sit down to design the information for our
product sets. I've enjoyed seeing how people responded and what they
reacted to, starting out with the Dummies series, and then bouncing through
the discussions of wizards. It is nice to see people passionate about
their own designs and their own solutions to this very interesting
question.

I am currently in the process of leading a complete re-design of the
information for my product. I call it "information architecture" because I
feel like I am building something that is going to be around for awhile.
As part of the process, we are interviewing the Implementation and Support
people in our organization to find out how our information is currently
used by our customers and by these teams.

One of the resounding comments that I am hearing is this: When they are
reading information online, they want the "straight and skinny." They do
*not* want to LEARN about the product online. When they are using the
product, they want quick, concise, and precise procedures and
reference-based information. They do *not* want the WHY at that time.
They expect to find that information in other sources, usually hardcopy
manuals, or other formats.

George seemed to focus his original question around hardcopy documentation,
but one of the first threads to get started was about online information,
including wizards. I am finding more and more that the audience that
*needs* to "read to learn" does *not* want to use online information to do
that. While wizards can teach the user things along the way, I do not
think that users want to use them to learn (I still think wizards are a way
to automate a task, not provide beaucoups of information).

So, how do I propose to address George's original question? I think I
would structure my book in such a way that I continually build upon the
information they are learning. A page or two of concepts, then a simple
procedure. A simple procedure, then a page or two of more concepts,
followed by a procedure using those concepts. I structured a User Guide
like that and it was very successful. Do I think people learned the
product using my User Guide? I think they refreshed their knowledge with
it, built their knowledge with it, and it enabled them to learn more on
their own.

TTFN,
Michelle Corbin

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=




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