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Video or Written Documents?

by Heather Laine on May 1, 2014 , 24 comments

How is it best to deliver help and instruction? I started musing on this question when I got feedback from a customer on just how much he hated video tutorials as a medium to learn programming. Really, I thought? How common is that? His argument was that it’s much faster to read text, pull out the relevant bits and absorb the information you are looking for, and sitting through a video takes longer. I wonder how true this is and in what context. 

Of course, working in support, I’m acutely aware that most people would rather put their hand in a fire than read the instructions. In a perfect world, software would just leap out of the screen, grab you round the throat and yell "Don’t do that to me! Do it this way instead!" Or putting it another way, the interface would be so self explanatory that no-one would need any kind of instructional materials at all. For a complex programming environment like LiveCode, that’s a pretty tall order. You are just going to have to learn the language, sometime, somehow. Read the dictionary, work through some lessons, join one of our summer courses or get some Academy tutorials. But which? Some people prefer to read a book in the bath (our dictionary will probably keep you clean for a year), others might prefer to follow along to a video. The academies are a nice mix, you get both. Every video has a written accompanying document you can copy and paste from. I’d love to be a fly on the wall to see how people actually use them. Do you watch the video? Do you just read the document? How much does the video contribute to your understanding of the document and vice versa? 

I’m the kind of person that likes to learn specific things, when I need them. I am unlikely to sit down and read a book on Dreamweaver from cover to cover, but if I need to know how to do a specific thing like create a rotating gif, I’ll go and look it up. Usually not in the Dreamweaver help, which sucks, but by googling it, and grabbing a nice text tutorial. Yes, I realized in thinking about this, I would not look for a video. Videos annoy me. They mean I have to turn my music off to listen to them, and you can’t copy and paste from a video. I am the Queen of Copy and Paste!

My daughter, on the other hand, will never read anything if there is a video alternative. Reading seems to be something that does not come naturally to the younger generation. 

Relevant to these musings also is the question, is it better to have short self contained tutorials on specific things, or a longer more themed book, tutorial series or video course, going through a subject in depth? Our lessons are an example of the former, they are based around the theory of answering one specific question – how do I use Google Maps in LiveCode? How do I connect to an SQLite database? For me, this is a good way to learn. I’m not overwhelmed by a tome on the theory of storing and accessing data and including it in an app, I just do what I need to do, today. Over time, as I do more and more of these specific tasks, things fall into place and I reach that "aha" moment where it all starts to make sense and I can flexibly create new items from what I have learned and understood. But other people might be happier with a soup to nuts guide before they start on their own first app. 

So where do you guys fit? What comes naturally to a programmer? How and when did you reach your "aha" moment?

This is Lily’s take on this complex issue, after considerable thought:

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Heather LaineVideo or Written Documents?

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