Psychology, and its impact on Microsoft Books Online

In case you haven’t seen it, Books Online is the Microsoft online Help facility for everything that they produce. Books Online has a problem – how do they ensure that they produce fit-for-purpose material that is effective, so as many people as possible?
I’ve been giving training courses for 15 years now, in a range of topics from Artificial Intelligence, Business Intelligence, Tableau and SQL Server, for example. Training is hard work, but it can be a lot of fun if you have an engaged, interested audience. I’ve held precons for SQLBits, for example, and also for SQLDay in Poland. I’m also holding a training course in London on 30th May, on Data Visualisation and SQL Server 2012, and you can register here.
In order to be an effective trainer, I try to identify people’s learning styles. According to some psychological theory, such as Total Recall, by Joan Minninger, people have three different types of memory: Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic. Basically, people learn and remember new material in different ways.
In my experience, I broadly divide people into three groups, dependent on the way that they intake new information.
auditory – the listeners – Jimmy Carter, for example, preferred to take his information in verbally. His advisors would tell him what he needed to know
visual – Winston Churchill preferred to take his information in by reading. He would receive memos from his advisors
doers – people who like to take in information by doing things themselves. I learn like this. I will throw away any manual you might give me, and just ask you for the login and password. I’ll give myself a task, and fish around until I’ve sussed it.
Remember that I’m trying to ‘hit the mark’ for as many of my class as possible, since I’m only with them for a few days. This is just my rough analysis, and I realise, of course, that the same person will use different learning styles dependent on the material that they are learning.
I think that the Books Online team at Microsoft have a difficult job. They need to produce materials that reach the widest types of learners possible; the auditory, visual and the doers. So, a video might suit the ‘listeners’ and some of the ‘readers’, but the ‘doers’ might not want to spend time looking at a video. I think that they produce material to try and reach all audiences, and I like some of the new look sites for Power View, for example.
In order to provide positive feedback, I’ve started to give Community Content feedback back to the Books Online folks. You can also be engaged, by adding comments to the bottom of the page. I don’t expect people to agree with all my comments, but I do it in the hope that it might be useful.
I hope that this helps, and have fun reading about SQL Server!