Most complex equipment is not intuitive, so instructions detailing how to operate it are certainly essential. But just because the subject matter is complex doesn’t mean the directions need to be. Which begs the question, why are technical manuals so . . . technical? And is there an alternative to deciphering these frustrating pamphlets?
The first question is one for the ages, but to the second, we say – YES! And we’ll share that alternative with you in a moment. But first, let’s consider how many businesses ended up tied to these cumbersome user guides and manuals.
As we know, at some point in history, passing information from person to person was no longer efficient. That resulted in books and newspaper – and manuals. The mass-produced Industrial Age left a need for access to detailed product guides.
Cast in THAT light, the correspondingly dry definition one finds on the web makes sense (mostly): “Document containing instructions for installation, operation, use, maintenance, parts list, support, and training requirements for the effective deployment of an equipment, machine, process, or system”.
Manuals of yesterday had to have lots of detail or they weren’t useful – and how that detail was presented was apparently a secondary concern (if actually a concern at all). These documents became a mass-produced, necessary evil. How else could businesses (back then) hope to transmit such information at scale? There weren’t any options.
Today, There Are Options
Today is different. Options abound – and taking advantage of them makes sense not only from a retention standpoint, but from an ROI standpoint as well.
Manuals have gotten better, of course – much better in some instances, consisting of few words and mostly visuals so it’s easier to follow along and jump ahead (or back) to relevant sections, as needed. But even with these advances, there are obvious deficiencies:
1. They focus on learning by seeing, not ‘learning by doing’.
2. While the information exists, these guides do not promote knowledge retention and in no way compare to a live one-on-one training session (and yes, there are options that can).
3. There is NO practice. After reading the manual, one has to practice on the actual equipment – and risk damage to it.
When we are learning to operate something, we like two things to happen. First, we want to SEE what it is we are going to be doing, so we know what success (and failure) look like. Second, we want to actually DO that action ourselves to gain confidence in the task and understand the consequences or various actions.
Can text-based manuals ever replicate either scenario? Unfortunately, no matter how well they’re written, they cannot. And that’s why it’s time to move beyond them.
Moving Beyond Manuals
Technical Manuals can be more visual and interactive though – while retaining all of the required technical information. They key is being able to SEE & PRACTICE the manual in action, not just read about it. See the video below capturing how a user walks through the steps:
Before this, the experience to learn the steps was quite static and not intuitive, see it here. Manipulating the controls and seeing the results of your actions happen in front of you greatly enhances learning and retention – and it saves your expensive equipment from costly beginner errors.
Another example for assembly and installation:
Once you see the difference in efficacy, we’re positive you’ll want to learn more about moving YOUR training environment beyond manuals. Reach out and we are happy to tell you how to make the business case for it, as well as answer any questions you may have!