Documentation the way it ought to be.
Thinking outside the bottle
And the cork self-seals with Argon in the bottle instead of air
I got to thinking the other day. It happens. As the saying goes, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, sometimes I just sits.” Well, I sat and thought.
When one is creating educational materials, one is trying to communicate information to someone by first creating a mental model and then hanging information on that mental model in such detail and with such accuracy that the person can use that mental model to predict outcomes.
For example, if I were to try and tell you about a program that I had written, I would need to describe in general terms what the program was trying to do so that you had a generalized mental model of the program. Then I could hang more and more detailed information on that model, telling you what the program took as its input data, what processes it performed on that data, and what output that program would produce.
At some point during my, presumably brilliant and flawless exposition, you’d have one or more “Aha!” moments as things slotted into place. In fact, if I did my job well enough, at some point it could be said that you “understand” what my program does.
If I kept banging on about the program for long enough, even walking you through in exquisite detail what every nuance of the program actually did (and presumably you didn’t rush from the room screaming “Sarah Palin for President”) then you might even have Total Understanding of this program.
This same set of ideas could also be applied to mechanical objects, physical or even abstract phenomena.
For example, how would you react if I told you that I can pour a glass of wine from a bottle without pulling the cork and that the wine in the bottle would remain unspoiled for several years?
Ponder that for a minute. Drink wine. Do not open bottle.
Unless you already know how this is done, what you are probably experiencing is lack of understanding. Depending your disposition you might be thinking “How is that possible?” or “That cannot be done!” or “What a tosser!”
So let me explain and, as I do so, see if you can catch yourself building the mental model, then adding information to it, and then having the “Aha! OK. Sure. Now I get it” moment.
Here we go.
So, do you now understand how it works? If not, read the write-up and watch the videos. Believe me, it does work and it works very well.
But I digress. The whole point of that little exercise was to confront you with something that, hopefully, you started out not understanding, but, by the end of the description you had had your “Aha!” moment. Was it good for you?
[Time out for psychologist's joke, courtesy of my brother, Phil, who is apparently a legend in cognitive psychology academia: After two behaviorists have sex, one says to the other, "That was great for you, but how was it for me?"]
Now the real challenge is for an educator, any educator, is to create the mental model first and only then hang the detailed information on the appropriately constructed mental model. If you give folks information that has no place to hang, you'll be met with blank stares, huhs?, and general frustration.
Alternatively, if you create a mental model and then do not provide the information for all the places that need information, then your educational component is incomplete.
So, in my understanding the mental model and the information you hang on to it has to be a finely matched. Malformed mental model, not good. Don't know where to put the information. Too much information, not good. No place to hang it. To little information, not good. Incomplete understanding.
At least that's my understanding...
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