Sunday, February 28, 2010
Progression, Proficiency and the Expert
This week I was introduced to the beta version of an elearning application I thought I was familiar with and that I’d been using for the past 6 months. I’ve seen one minor upgrade in that time.
Beta is one of the stages of development in software release cycles when the application is made freely available to users, well before the general release date. This practice allows software developers to gather general feedback on design layout and functionality. It also assists with the detection and monitoring of otherwise unknown faults.
I prided myself on my competence in using the generally available interface (not the beta). I thought I was at least as capable using it as I am in using many other applications on my PC. But I felt like a newbie when I attempted to use the beta release, even when I appreciated that there were evident improvements compared to the accustomed version.
This scenario is not uncommon. I often find that my apparent expertise on a computer disappears. And it’s not failing memory either. It can happen overnight when a new application version is installed or a so-called upgrade is made.
Give and take
I concede there has to be a balance between the need for a more attractive interface to impress new users who may otherwise be put off with what may appear to be a less attractive interface, and the necessity for regular users, familiar with features and layout of an application, to be able to utilise the new environment with relative ease.
But experienced users have the knowledge of functionality and feature. Though they may not know where to find these on the latest version of an interface, they will know to look for them. I feel grateful when I have this knowledge.
When I go looking for a feature or function, the prior knowledge that such a feature or function exists in the old version spurs me on to keep looking for it. I always hope that it hasn’t been listed with other, perhaps unrelated options or features to do with a different functionality.
Take the introduction of Word 2007, for instance. My expertise with a word processing application literally became virtual when I began working with Word 2007. It took me several weeks of use before I felt reasonably comfortable using the menus on the new release.
Even now, there are some functions I know must exist in that application that I can’t find – even using the help menus. How do I know they exist? From my knowledge of feature and functionality my experienced use of past Word versions has given me, of course.
What’s more, I had to find out that the Word 2007 default .docx files that could then be created on my PC were unlikely to be readable by others when I sent them as attachments. So a whole functionality, new to me and many of my colleagues, had to be sidestepped in order to achieve necessary connectivity, despite that functionality being given in the default file type.
It’s one of the vagaries of change. Despite the best intentions, things will evolve that aren’t necessarily helpful or useful.
In future, the watchword is concept not know-how. The future expert is one who can take forward the conceptual framework of ideas, features and functionality and look for their equivalents in new circumstances.
The successful future machine, application or interface is one that can mirror these ideas, features and functionality in a way that permits them to be found intuitively by the expert.