Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
James Paul Gee, writing in Wired's High Score Education, proposes that video games excel at teaching kids how to learn (as opposed to teaching kids how to memorize) because the games slowly upgrade the players skills by ramping up the game mechanics over time. By keeping the next achievable level just at the edge of the player's ability, they hit the "sweet spot" of cognitive development. And, by making the next level even more challenging, they reinforce existing skills while teaching new ones.
While no one would want documentation that challenged their reflexes or required "jumping through hoops," the concept of tutorials that ramp according to the user's ability is quite enticing. It's often true that novice users are discouraged by instructions that are over their head, just as advanced users are put off by Help that is too simplistic. Walking that line for every reader, pushing them just enough to learn but so much that frustration overcomes the experience, might be the key to truly helpful and engaging tutorials.