Editorial: Training That Doesn’t Teach

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the December, 2009, issue of Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

These thoughts have been bubbling around my head for the last few months, but developed into an article as I was trying to learn Mocha from Imagineer Systems. This thinking also provided the philosophy behind my recent book for Focal Press: Adobe CS Production Premium for Final Cut Studio Editors.

As always, let me know what you think.

The folks at Imagineer Systems sent me a demo copy of Mocha, which is used for motion tracking. After installing the software, which proved very easy, I launched it only to discover an opening screen intimidating enough to scare most adults.

Hmm… time for some training myself.

It just so happened that Imagineer was holding a training workshop locally in LA, so I signed up. I spent a couple of hours at the session, did my tracking and thought: “Wow! Piece of cake.”

Then, I came home. Work intervened. Time passed. I didn’t open it again for a couple of months. But I was feeling guilty and realized I needed to write my review. So, during a recent video shoot I recorded a short clip of me moving a white card around. I decided to create a motion track of this in Mocha as a way to learn the software.

My experiences in trying to get that card tracked was the inspiration for this editorial — because Imagineer has made it really difficult for new users to figure out how to use their software.

I am not a motion graphics designer. I am in awe of the talents of folks like Mark Spencer, Damian Allen, Tom Meegan, and many other wizards who make magic happen with a couple of quirky shapes, a dark background, and two or three blend modes.

Suddenly… poof, Poof, POOF! They have the opening to Monday Night Football.

All I want to do is replace the graphic on a card my talent is holding because he grabbed the wrong prop and no one noticed it during production. Or the logo on the stupid cap worn by the stupid talent that has the wrong stupid logo on it.

You know, the stuff that drives you nuts.

So, I open the Imagineer manual and start reading. I get about six pages in and I’m feeling lost. So, I go to Imagineer’s website and watch their intro tutorial. Not only do I get lost, I start getting angry.

After reading the first chapter in the manual, and watching the entire “Learning to Use Mocha” tutorial it was impossible for me to figure out how to use the software. The narrator of the tutorial kept describing Mocha as “intuitive.” If you already understand motion tracking and have used a variety of other high-end tools, he may be correct.

But it isn’t intuitive to a new user.

NOTE: After some searching, I found a demo on Imagineer’s website of Mocha for Final Cut Pro by Ross Shain which is very good. As a suggestion, if Ross isn’t doing the tutorial, don’t bother wasting your time watching it.

After years of doing training myself, I know that the hardest person to teach is the new user. It is so easy for them to get lost and so hard to get back on track.

That’s what makes video training on the web so great. You can watch the same video over and over until you understand. Provided the person doing the training realizes the difference between a demo and training. And that is where Imagineer got lost.

A demo is what you do to show how spiffy your new product is. Demos are all speed, polish, fancy tricks and glitter. You hide the hard stuff with fancy footwork and glib patter. Demos get people excited. Apple has turned the demo into an art form. A demo is created to impress.

Training is what you do when you want people to learn a product. It explains where to click and why. It creates a solid foundation then builds from there. It takes longer and moves slower. Training creates understanding.

Imagineer’s tutorials and manuals lost sight of that.

Because my reactions were so strongly negative to what I was reading and watching I came up with some simple rules that folks that do training need to follow, most of which Imagineer forgot.

  1. Give us an overview of the steps before plunging into the process.
  2. Always explain exactly how to create a new project.
  3. Always show exactly where to click – show, not describe.
  4. Show something simple before showing something complex.
  5. Always show exactly how to save and export project data, and whether what you choose makes a difference.
  6. Always show exactly how to get your information back into the application that needs it.
  7. If the default settings don’t yield the best results be VERY clear what needs to be changed.

Here are some specifics:

Training is not easy. Yet without it, a company loses the ability to gain new users, improve its market share, or continue to grow the skills of their existing users. Inadequate training frustrates new users and creates the impression that products from that company are not worth the money they cost, as they are too hard to use.

None of us benefit from training that doesn’t teach.

I posted these thoughts to my blog (click here to read) over the weekend and Nicolas Nilsen sent me one of the best descriptions of this that I’ve read in a long time. He wrote:

The idea of a good tutorial is for us to be able to cook and eat the damn rabbit; not just see how easy it is for you to kill it!

UPDATE – Jan. 2, 2010

David Fisher writes:

Your editorial excoriating badly conceived software tutorials resounded with those of us who have endured the inadequacies of software training, documentation, and tutorials. Thing is, what attention will the offenders themselves pay to this critique?


My own experience may contribute to answering that. A few years ago, despairing of having spent thousands of dollars on technical texts over the years and found very few which actually worked reliably, I suggested to Wiley and Microsoft Press that they hire me as an editor, charged with the job of subjecting their new works to the kind of scrutiny that would potentially save readers from experiencing the frustration of following directions that could not safely be relied upon. Both companies listened, considered my proposal, and then elected to continue doing business as usual.

Larry replies: Yup. We can point out the problems, but we can’t fix them.


Since writing this, I’ve visited with some of the Imagineer folks in the UK discussing what makes mocha so intimidating to new users. Imagineer Systems has changed most of their on-line tutorials, and is coming out with a new version of the software to address many of these issues. In other words, they are doing everything they can to improve.

So, please consider this as an editorial plea to all software developers who are creating tools for the rest of us to use — and not just thoughts directed toward one company or product.


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