Remembering steps

Brett McLauglin, in Your Brain Really is Forgetting...a Lot for O'Reilly Radar discusses a little cognitive science that's of interest to instructional designers. In brief, it's believed that when a person retrieves a memory, the memory is "re-written" with a new context.

One implication for documentation is that the common practice of repeating standard steps, such as opening a preference dialog box, might impact how these steps are recalled later. For example, if the instructions teach the user that a particular setting is in Preferences, and then later the user learns that another setting is in Preferences, are the steps for accessing the preferences dialog reinforced, or are they seen, cognitively speaking, as distinct for each context?

While there is certainly a stylistic difference between linking to common tasks and repeating common tasks throughout the document, does the cognitive difference have a meaningful impact the reader's ability to learn (as opposed to perform) the procedure? Food for thought.

Posted: May 7, 2009 link to this item, Tweet this item, respond to this item