Sunday, 18 January 2015

Self Assembly

I spent a lot of time over the festive holidays on domestic tasks like putting up curtain rails, hanging pictures and assembling bedroom furniture. We moved into our new-build home at the beginning of November and I never really had time to attend to these tasks between then and breaking up for the vacation, so I was glad to finally put my own feet on the floor, so to speak.

I have accumulated lots of DIY experience over many years, so none of these tasks gave me any cause for concern, other than being unable to find my tools, which were buried in the garage when we moved in and remain as yet unrecovered. So, new drill and a new battery-powered, hand-held screwdriver duly purchased, I set to. I don't need instructions or training to put up curtain poles or hang pictures, but I did need them to put together the various self-assembly chests of drawers and cabinets we had purchased from the well-known Scandinavian furniture makers, Ikea.

And what great instructions they provide! No words, just illustrations. Clear, simple, well-drawn, specific to the particular piece of furniture being assembled and pared to the absolute minimum of content. They make no assumptions about the assembler's gender or literacy, nor their expertise with a very few basic tools - in this case a hammer and a screwdriver. They even indicate with arrows which way you should be turning the screws! They also relate entirely to the contents of the box. Indeed, they rely on the contents of the box being exactly as stated - x number of screws, y number of dowels, z number of thingys you use a screwdriver to turn to catch and lock onto the end of the other thingys you screwed into the other panel earlier. There are no unnecessary explanations. There's no padding. I found the instructions easy - a pleasure, even - to follow and, in so doing, I built and furnished our bathrooms and bedroom with 3 cabinets and 5 chests of drawers. I had achieved what I set out to do and had enjoyed doing it, thanks to their well-designed performance support materials.

And I got to thinking that I'm not sure I can say the same about some of the training materials I have been exposed to - and have either overseen the creation of, or, indeed, created myself - over the years. Over-engineered, wordy, illustration-free, full of jargon and assumptions and/or time-limited, they generally failed to do the job for which they were (badly) designed. And it's still going on.

This is becoming an even more important consideration now in the age of internet-enabled, always on, 24-7-available content and people's expectations of being able to access it as and when they need it. It doesn't matter how readily available it may be if it's still badly done!

So our challenge as training providers and facilitators is to think like those clever people at Ikea; to ensure that we design for clarity, brevity and relevance, making no assumptions about prior experience or knowledge, whilst also ensuring that we critically examine and curate content created by others to the same standard. No pressure there then!

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