Sarah O’Keefe, from Scriptorium, posted a link on her blog to a fascinating online quiz from North Carolina State University. The quiz helps you assess your learning-style preference. It is simply to be taken as an indicator of your preferences.
Think about it. How do you approach learning? Do you want to read about a new topic on your own? Do you want to throw yourself into the task and try things out on your own without any prior knowledge of the task? Do you prefer to hop all over the place in a text, or do you do everything in a sequential manner? Are you always looking at the bigger picture, or are you caught up in details?
None of these methods are necessarily wrong. They are simply the way in which we instinctively go about learning. And this knowledge can be an exercise to inspire your technical communication.
For example, if you only use words to describe some task, and you have knowledge that the users prefer visual explanations, you probably have to rethink your use of words. Perhaps drop them altogether and just use pictures or diagrams? Does your means of communication match the needs of the user?
You cannot test the learning styles for all your users in most cases. That would be an impossible task if your technical documentation was aimed at all consumers around the world! However, you can be aware of the different styles and examine your work critically. You make a decision about how to communicate your message and stick with that. But don’t stick with it forever. Evaluate your work on a regular basis. Something I wrote 10 years, which I was very proud of at the time, might embarrass me today. New ideas have come along. My perceptions have changed, and audiences have changed.
Being aware of different learning styles is just one way to help you improve the way you communicate to your users.
On a personal note, I can say that my learning style seems to be rather balanced according to the analysis of my score. Despite being a bookworm, I do prefer visual methods of learning. At the same time, I am discovering that there is a large group of the customer base for the documents that I write who prefer visuals. Theoretically then, I ought to be able to focus easily on this visual concept and find areas of the content that would benefit from more diagrams, and ultimately, make a few more happy customers.
What is your learning style?