Update: Links to all session slides and recordings are grouped here.
I’ve been a technical communicator for nigh on 20 years. I teach technical communications. I theorize about technical communications. And for all this time, I have steadfastly held to the great rule that you do not mix concepts with tasks.
DITA has three major topic types. Two of them are Concept and Task. Why? To keep them separate, of course – everyone knows that!
And yet – and yet – and yet – here I am, telling you that “everything we know is wrong.”
Why am I saying this? Because in today’s information environment, in today’s world of intelligent, adaptive, responsive, mobile applications, you need more than procedures to know how to use software. You need to know:
- Is it really interesting for me to do this – i.e., will it help me solve my problem, or get my work done, NOW?
- Once I learn this procedure, can I do other procedures without having to learn them, too?
In other words, we need to learn to use and understand our applications on a very different level from even a few years ago. We need to embed concepts in our procedures so that once you learn one, you can generalize to others.
It turns out, that cognitive theoreticians, including John Carroll, the father of minimalism, knew this. Our colleagues in training know it. Why don’t we? Why aren’t we leveraging what cognitive scientists have learned about learning as part of our user assistance?
Update: Some of these questions were treated in my webinar series, sponsored by Adobe, A Cognitive Design for User Assistance.
- The first session, on January 15, covered how users have become learners and showed some real world attempts to deal with that. You can watch the recording here.
- The second session, on January 29, covered user assistance as a learning experience meant to empower users through the acquisition of basic concepts, with examples of how to use DITA topics to do this. Watch the recording here
- The third session, February 4, dealt with how results of collective know-how from crowd sourcing, social media and related techniques can be used to create learning materials that are, themselves, circulated to widen the community. Watch the recording here