I think we’re all adjusting to a new way of learning thanks to the copious amounts of information available. You don’t have to take a class, you just have to do it. And to “do it” often times you need to find a detailed-enough hands-on project to do, or else you won’t learn.
Here’s a case-in-point. Have you fiddled with the knots you’re supposed to tie for your son’s Boy Scout badge, or tried to secure a rock-climbing harness? You won’t learn it unless you try the knot, again and again. I believe that hands-on learning applies to computer and technology tasks, even if they are abstract. When I started with a new version control system, the commands were fumbly to me, and I constantly used “crutches” to get through the task. At first, I had to repeatedly read a wiki page and follow the steps to the letter. Eventually, though, the commands become second nature as I tried, and tried again.
With this in mind, how can you take “learning” content and turn it into a more animated walk-through which will then lead someone to do the example? Let’s take a look at the Animated Knots iPhone App. There’s a great article on the Statesman about an Austin family who have taken web content and turned it into an iPhone app. Austin is a hot bed of mobile development, I think, and this is a great example of a successful mobile app.
Here are some of my observations about their success.
First, they sound like they use persona-based design. They had four ideal audiences in mind – climbers, fishers, Scouts, and boaters. A surprising additional group they discovered later and were proud to serve were fire fighters or rescue workers.
Labor of love
Also, they gave their content time – the original site was a labor of love for ten years. With four million website visitors a year, I’m sure they used both hard data like web analytics along with soft data like the incoming success stories from their main audience members to improve the content in that time.
They also use a lot of photos – which they shoot themselves. From the Statesman article:
All of our animations are based on individual still photos linked to form a sequence that shows a knot tying itself; the more complex the knot, the more photos and time required to illustrate it properly. Some knots may require only a few images, others as many as 25.
If you’ve worked with images in your technical writing endeavors, you know that this type of training is a lot of work. Knowing exactly how to break a task into steps, knowing what angle to shoot from, and knowing whether you can insert a substep, these are all difficult but if you’re good at it, it’ll show in the training product.
Their app was featured in the iTunes store during the U.S. summer months, which was just the right content at just the right time for people enjoying the outdoors with their iPhones in tow.
Existing in an ecosystem with lots of adoption
The reporter, Omar Gallaga, asked Martin Grogono, one of the family members maintaining the site and app, about the platforms they had released on. Martin explained that the iTunes store and high installed base of iPhone users was a boon to their app. They’re considering the Android platform but haven’t pursued the Windows phone quite yet.