Training that Doesn't Teach

Posted on by Larry

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. They were also 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 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 really 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.

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

Here are some specifics:

  1. Most Macintosh applications create a new project when they are first opened. But not Mocha. It displays a work screen, which isn’t the same as a project. You need to select File > New Project before you can do anything.
  2. The Learning Mocha tutorial runs about 12 minutes. Never ONCE did the narrator say “Click here” and show us where to click. Instead his mouse would fly so quickly across the screen the compression software would lose sight of it. He referred to the location of where to click in the jargon of the application; for example, “Click in the View tab.” However, the only thing displayed on the screen was the View menu – which is not the same thing.
  3. Yes, Mocha is a sophisticated program. Yes, it does a lot. But we need to be successful doing something simple before we can move on to the complex. If I can’t successfully do the easy stuff, there’s no incentive for me to waste my time figuring out the hard stuff.
  4. In training you are not trying to convince me how wonderful the software is. You need to convince me that I’m smart enough to be able to use it. Start simply. Build slowly. Lead me by the hand to the complex stuff. If at the end I lean back and say, “Wow, that trainer is smart,” you’ve failed. If, on the other hand, I lean back and say, “Wow! I never knew I could do that!”, you’ve succeeded.
  5. Like Soundtrack Pro or Final Cut Pro, saving a Mocha project saves the instructions on how to motion track, it doesn’t actually save the track data in a form that Final Cut can use. Exporting does. Exporting is essential as it is the only way you can get motion data into Final Cut. However, there are two types of exports Mocha provides for Final Cut – the default setting, which doesn’t handle perspective changes (which is why you bought Mocha in the first place), and a second export option which should be the default, but isn’t. It would be nice if they made that clear.
  6. If the default settings don’t yield the best results, and there are two instances where the default settings lead you severely astray, take extra time to show what needs to be changed and why.
  7. Once you learn a piece of software, creating new files, importing media, exporting data and saving your work is easy. UNTIL you learn that software, not knowing one of those four steps makes it completely impossible to use. The on-line tutorial forgot this point.
  8. Getting motion tracking data back into Final Cut Pro is not simple. It takes a minimum of four steps, two of which are not obvious. The manual discussed this, the on-line tutorial did not. (This was remedied in the Ross Shane tutorial, but that is not the featured tutorial on their website.)

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.

9 Responses to Training that Doesn't Teach

  1. nicolas says:

    Glad you went mad on this first day of the year Larry 🙂 I agree totally. Each tutorial should have – at the end – not only a chapter dedicated to troubleshooting but also, in some chapters – some sort of warning going like this : “here you might be tempted to proceed like this, because it seems obvious – well don’t, because (showing the mistake) this is what you would get…”. I mean that sometimes, showing the mistakes is as useful as showing the right way. Anyway, you’re right Larry : 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 ! With all my best wishes for 2010 🙂

    – – –

    “To cook and eat the damn rabbit…” is about the best line I’ve read in a long time.


  2. Mark Spencer says:


    Read this article in your newsletter, then tried to get to your blog to comment. Your link in the newsletter has a typo so doesn’t work – found the blog manually (not easy, it’s buried, and managed to find how to make a comment only by clicking on the list of other comments – there isn’t any comment field at the end of your blog entries.

    Anyway, great article. I’ve been working with Mocha for FCP as well and have to agree with many of your comments. There’s an interesting workflow that extends on what you did by then sending a clip from FCP to Motion with the tracking data for further refinement which I’m planning to explore in a future tutorial.

    Anyway, I think Mocha is a very good product with an obtuse UI and poor documentation but a lot of promise, and they are lucky to have Ross to help make it easier to understand.

    Great points also about the distinction between a demo and a tutorial.


    – – –

    Mark, sorry about the typo – that’s been fixed. Thanks, also, for your comments!


  3. Great points in regards to tutorials. Marketing departments at the major software manufacturers should get their hands off of tutorials. There’s a place for what they do — on the sales pages. But, too often (in their urge to “brand” themselves and their products) the marketing departments are given license to create or, at least, vet the tutorials. This is a recipe for disaster.

    In regards to the form for a tutorial, a pretty good rule for any sort of teaching is to do the following three things:

    1 – tell people what they are going to learn,
    2- teach people,
    3 – tell them what they’ve just learned.

    This helps the “student” to situate themselves within the teaching. And most people, especially the creative types who you are working with, work better when they can see the overall picture of their learning.

  4. David K says:

    Thanks, Larry. I totally agree.

    I personally spent hours trying to get Mocha to work, very frustrated by all of their tutorials and documentation. It’s a great tool, but they really need to get their act together when it comes to teaching people how to use it.

    – David

  5. Jim says:

    Very well put Larry. No doubt these chaps are very clever but engineers with no teaching experience who have been “elected” to present a demo rather than a tutorial are doing no one any favours. I have tried on a number of occasions to follow their tutorials and was either frustrated or bored to death. Also, for a relatively busy UI they should present their tutorials at a higher resolution and or have an option to enlarge the viewer. I’m struggling to make out what is going on. Very annoying.

  6. Stace says:

    Larry, I’d agree with you that Mocha isn’t incredibly intuitive – I also found that as a new Mocha for FCP user I realized early on that without a fairly comprehensive understanding of FCP many users would be completely lost. That being said, what this app helps you accomplish is not simple stuff – generally relegated to the higher-end of effects and finishing. Planar tracking, for those who’ve had to roto frame by frame, is just like magic 😉 The fact that I can track HD footage on my laptop and finish the comp in FCP, in just a few steps, is even more magical.

    SO… while I can’t completely disagree with you about the out-of-the-box simplicity of the instructions, I feel you’re overlooking the amazing support that’s available from this great company. I posted a few early questions to the Imagineer support forum and received quick, thoughtful and helpful replies from Martin Brennand – the kind of assistance one would never expect from a software company these days.

    Like yourself, I also work as a trainer and understand that teaching (or more importantly, helping folks learn) involves a unique approach and skill set, not just knowledge of the topic. With that in mind, I can’t justify holding the Imagineers feet to the fire for not having better tutorials – they are obviously a small, nimble and talented company and focus on what they do best. At worst, I think their emphasis on product design – and customer service – simply leaves an opportunity for folks like you and me to teach more seminars and classes.

    PS – In re-reading this post I sound like I work for these guys – I have no dog in this fight, I was just really impressed with the level of service I received from Martin and feel you’ve overlooked an important aspect of the company and product, the great customer service.

    – – –


    Thanks for the feedback and your point of view. I think Mocha has great potential, but is hampered by things that are totally fixable.

    I also appreciate that you’ve had great experiences with both the company and product. This all bodes well for the future.

    Thanks for writing.


  7. Jim says:

    Don’t know if your recent rant has done the trick Larry but just checked Imagineer’s latest tutorial for Mocha (you can get to it from their home page) and it’s not bad at all. In fact part 2 of the tutorial not only shows how to apply the data gathered in part 1 and create a nice little sequence within Final Cut but it also includes a couple of neat tips on how to make the final composite fly. Again all within Final Cut.

    – – –



  8. Don B says:

    I’m glad to hear of a trainer being flummoxed. I hesitate to attend conferences these days because a lot of the sessions are really software demos, with the guru up front going so fast you can’t even keep up with your brain, much less a pen on paper. Learning, not demonstrating, is why people attend, right?

    Which is why I’ve always enjoyed your seminars. Not only do you purposefully teach practical, useful methods, but (and I still don’t know how you have the endurance for this) you stay until every single question is answered. Besides the training, getting specific questions answered is the biggest benefit of attending live events. Otherwise online training would suffice.

  9. Simon Walker says:

    Well said Larry. Features are neutral, and only become a benefit when you know how to use them.

    It’s such a familiar experience to me to open up a new product and wonder where to start. Especially when I have to then work out how best to train others in the same software.

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