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Linear Vs. Nonlinear Modes of Learning

Posted: Fri Mar 17, 2006 10:12 am
by Polygnotus
There are two commonly used methods of learning: goal seeking and curriculum. Goal seeking is superior in many respects. It is more efficient to achieving a task and the increased desire and focus elevate comprehension. But curriculum based learning is essential to mastering complex task and subjects. It is the latter I will discuss and which applies to the construction of a useful manual.

First, on goal seeking. This is the most common method of learning in software use and development. We have a task or problem and we seek a solution. There are specific steps to facilitate goal seeking in a software environment.

First is to attempt to create or use an already existing hub to aggregate information. This is obvious. We all prefer a large community forum over a small. But as important as an aggregate hub is to goal seeking, equally important is a sophisticated search engine. This is where most support/development forums fail.

Aggregate information is only as useful as your ability to find it. It must become a top priority to maximize functionality of searching. Boolean operators are not a luxury. I often, when possible, find myself using a Google search. Perhaps intermediate integration of Google is a solution.

Steps toward a more useful manual.

In creating a useful manual, one must consider the two modes of curriculum based learning: linear and nonlinear. Everyone is familiar with linear curricula. They usually involve a walk through, as the current administrator guide for Joomla does. "This is here and it does this." This is often an attempt to combine goal seeking with curriculum. Unless one is teaching chronological events such as history, walk-throughs almost always set arbitrary start and end points leaving the new user without a compass. And as we all know, scanning a TOC is often lacking specific enough information to goal seek. So we search.

And yet, core concepts are critical to goal seeking. This is where nonlinear learning is essential. And this is where most software manuals fail.

When a new user is first introduced to an application, they require, first and foremost, a comprehensive understanding of the application's core concepts. What are the main components and how do they relate to one another. The challenge of the first chapter in any manual is to provide a usable overview.

When we first grasp an architectural outline, core concepts and a bird's eye view of how those concepts inter-relate, comprehension is dramatically increased and goal seeking accelerates. A holistic understanding provides a framework within which all succeeding learning falls into place. It gives sub-concepts a place in a larger schema as opposed to mere knowledge fragments. This larger schema creates the infrastructure for neural pathways to connect. Thus the accelerated curve.

In practice, a nonlinear curriculum will somewhat resemble fractal geometry. You begin with macro concepts. Details follow in later chapters. Hypertext facilitates fractal layering quite nicely and in ways largely prohibited by printed text.

Much of the holistic framework portrayed in the manual will be based on the hierarchical structure of the application itself. But not always. Some applications are poorly conceived and others, by their nature, are not suitable to nonlinear demonstrations.

But Joomla is both well conceived and quite hierarchical. So conveying its core concepts and holistic overview should be quite easy.

What is the big picture of Joomla's core concepts and components and how do they relate? Specifically in terms of user experience. Break it down: What can you do, and what are the main architectural components for achieving those task? What are the hierarchical relationships between those core components? What is the big picture the user needs to allow subsequent learning and goal seeking to fall into a comprehensive framework?

Answer those questions in the first chapter and you will go a long way towards vastly accelerating the learning curve of your users and accelerating the growth of Joomla as the preferred CMS amongst the masses.

Re: Linear Vs. Nonlinear Modes of Learning

Posted: Fri Mar 24, 2006 2:55 am
by Michelle Bisson

Thank you for your comments!  Have you considered to join the doc team?

Re: Linear Vs. Nonlinear Modes of Learning

Posted: Fri Mar 24, 2006 7:13 am
by Polygnotus
Thanks! I would love to make any contribution I can. Unfortunately, I've been using Joomla for about a week. This is
not an entirely unvaluable perspective when composing docs. We often forget what we don't know. But it largely
prohibits me from writing copy.

Part of the reason I contributed the post above is I am extremely impressed with Joomla. I've used many CMS type
scripts and this IMO is superior. But it is essential to minimize the learning curve with a manual that focuses on
the new user. 

To the extent that everyone wants Joomla to become the standard, everyone must try to make the introduction
to Joomla as easy as possible. This is challenging because while Joomla is very intuitive in some respects, it is quite
unintuitive in others (as new paradigms often are).

Some of this is addressed in Anna's Joomla Tips. In fact, I stumbled on to AJTs after I wrote this and immediately thought her work would be a good starting point for a Chapter 1.

Regardless, I'm afraid until I am more acquainted with Joomla's finer points, the best I can offer is the basic concepts
outlaid above. I have spent years developing ways to apply these concepts to textbooks and the difference is
quite negligible. But perhaps the greatest progress would derive from an enhanced appreciation by developers for
the new user and a recognition that it is in the interest of those who want Joomla to thrive to do so.

Or to put it more frankly, replace sink or swim with a red carpet.


Re: Linear Vs. Nonlinear Modes of Learning

Posted: Fri Mar 31, 2006 4:35 am
by Michelle Bisson

Maybe sometime in the future. Poly,

Maybe sometime in the future.  You might like to consider supporting Joomla this way.