They say you learn something new every day.

Posts tagged ‘learning’

Learning Surprising Things (02/02/2012)

I came across a great thing to day in Thinking, Fast and Slow. “Our mind,” writes Kahneman, “is strongly biased toward causal explanations.”

Subjects’ unwillingness to deduce the particular from the general was matched only by their willingness to infer the general from the particular. This is a profoundly important conclusion. People who are taught surprising statistical facts about human behavior may be impressed to the point of telling their friends about what they have heard, but this does not mean that their understanding of the world has really changed. The test of learning psychology is whether your understanding of situations you encounter has changed, not whether you have learned a new fact.

It’s a really interesting observation and turns on its head the way you teach people things. Humans seem to generalise from the particular.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “teaching” people recently. Partly because of how to manage the software team I look after. And partly because I’ve been building a web application at work.

I’m really trying so hard to make it as easy to use as possible – big buttons (and not many of them), smart defaults, drop downs, feedback etc. One thing I have realised is that it doesn’t matter how simple you make it. Someone will always get confused. Not because they’re stupid, but because their mind is on other things. Until it consists of one button that says “Click”, someone will struggle.

One of the things I’ve realised, actually as I type this, is that I need to put fewer words on the site. I’ve had a tendency to explain things, and I think those explanations, if they stay, need to be hidden more.

I’m not entirely sure if this discovery that you need to teach from particulars will help in teaching web or computer skills, but it was definitely a fascinating read. 

Apples and Pears (21/01/2012)

I’m a Windows user. Yes, you can stop booing now. But I don’t get Macs. I don’t get why they’re all white. I don’t get why there’s only one mouse button. I don’t get why everyone gets so excited about them being “pretty”. My fridge isn’t pretty (it is white though), but I still like that. Unfortunately, I’ve been required to use a mac at work to run our internal iApp store using xCode.

The process of using it has been a bit of an eye opener as well as a much needed slap in the face. I tend to think I’m good at computers, but using a Mac I feel so left handed. Even the simplest of tasks, like navigating to a downloaded file, is incredibly difficult. This must be how my Mum feels when using a computer. Given this, there are probably some things to learn about teaching people how to use computers.

However, while I’ve been trying to be balanced, there are some elements of the mac user interface that I think are objectively wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some bits that are great. This, for example, is brilliant:

This is brilliant

You can’t tell just how great it is here, because it’s a picture, but in the real one, the fingers move. This is a great way of  explaining a quite complex task.

Of course, like all great things, it looks like this has been shamelessly copied:

Shamless copy

It’s clearly been “inspired” by the Apple feature. But the CGI fingers aren’t nearly as nice as the real ones. Not to mention the fact that there are more tick boxes and closer together in the Windows version.

However, I’m not ready to switch to macs just because they have a nice animation.

One of the big problems with the Apple interface is that too much stuff is hidden and not obvious unless you know it. Take the iPhone. How was I supposed to know that double tapping the click button loads up the “task manager”? I didn’t even realise double clicking the click button was a valid action.

There’s so much of this. To right click, you hold control and click. How is that obvious? I’m reminded a comment a friend of mine made once that good games, and applications, allow you to see the state of play and work out valid moves just by looking at the board or screen. Apple applications hide valid moves away. It creates a clique. Which, to be honest, is probably what they’re trying to do.

Also, I’m with Tog, the Apple dock is rubbish. It’s huge and takes up way too much of my screen estate. I had a Windows dock app once. And you know what, I turned it off. I like the quick start bar in Windows. It’s small. I like the start menu. It’s hidden.

I also find it strange how related items are physically distant from each other. Which is made more apparent in applications that load windows all over the screen. Of course, this is part of the maximizing button behaviour. Maybe I should just accept this as a tom-are-to/tom-ay-to thing (although, let’s be clear: the former is English, the later is American. It’s not a free choice which one to use, it’s an accent!).

But I like my windows maximized to my screen, so I can see what’s going on. Having floating windows encourages me to waste my time organising windows. And dragging and dropping windows is not work.

I think really, there are two things for me to learn here. Firstly, be humbled by my computer abilities. As I’ve said when I started this. I’m stupid. We’re all stupid. And I’m never be anything but stupid. However, if I learn something new every day, I might end up a bit less stupid than I started.

Secondly, UI design is tough. And teaching computers is tough as well. You can never make the design too simple, the text too easy to read or too short. It’s something I continue to work on with my software management application at work. For this to be successful it needs to be really easy to use and the text I send out needs to be so simple people grasp it almost immediately.

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