The Lesson of Zork – Successful Training is in the Details

The problem with training material is that usually the people creating these documents know their subject matter inside and out. Now, I realize that most people probably wouldn't really think that's problem. After all, if we are new to a subject and looking for a teacher, we would most certainly seek out a "master" of the task or material. So why in the world would anyone think of full and complete knowledge of a particular subject as a liability for a teacher?

The reason I say this is that when we have mastered something, such as CAD or GIS or any other task we do every day, we end up going through the motions or steps without really thinking about it. So when we decide to teach someone else, it really takes an effort to stop and think of each and every step we need to explain. I came to this realization when I tried to write some guidance to show someone how to use a certain piece of software. I found out you really need to figure out and write down every single thing you do. If you skip one step, particularly a critical one, you risk losing your student. They end up stuck, not able to proceed because they are missing that one key ingredient. And the teacher preparing such a guide might not catch that one omission because while testing it out, it's easy to go on auto-pilot and fill in any missing steps without really thinking about it or noticing the key step is missing.

But had I remembered my earlier experiences playing the text-based game Zork, I would have more quickly understood just what is needed to create a successful training manual. Because just like playing Zork, good training is all in the details. If you've ever played Zork, you will remember how important it was to type out each command in logical order. If you see a bottle of water on the table, you can't just say "drink water." First, you need to pick up the bottle. Then you can issue the "drink water" command. And because it's all text-based, you need to provide your own visualizations of what you have done, where you are, and what you are planning to do. Yes, in a world of video and animation, text can seem boring. But  playing through these old games can help us better identify the basic tools and steps that must be incorporated into training in order for it to be successful. Throwing together a flashy video might engage, but will it teach? If we've left out necessary details, probably not. 

If you are interested in trying out Zork for yourself, you can find it here at this link: