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Could performance support replace instruction manuals?

When you take a new tablet or smartphone out of the box for the first time, do you excitedly reach for the instruction booklet, poring over every page for a day or so until you feel proficient enough to use the device? I imagine not, but even if you are partial to opening up a good old fashioned instruction manual, you might be seeing them less and less.

Tech manufacturers such as LG, Apple and Samsung have all been known in recent years to skip out the instruction guide, leaving our learning in the hands of good user experience design, prior understanding and curiosity. I’m a firm believer that breaking things and working out how to fix them is all part of the fun of learning to use pretty much anything, but what about those who feel a little happier with an instruction booklet on standby?

person uses a performance support

Start-up wizards were once seen as a bit of a catch-all solution, but they often only help users discover the very basics. They aren’t built with learner progression in mind, so once you have grasped the fundamentals, you’ll either be sent off to FAQ pages or you can have a go at upskilling yourself.

What about those who know the basics and are happy to get stuck in, but might need a little bit of support along the way? Surely it’s a bit unfair to have them forking out a further £20 for a copy of ‘[insert device here] for Dummies’?

My grandparents can FaceTime, shop, take pictures and do everything else their iPad will let them, but sit them down in front of a desktop computer and it’s a different story. Interestingly, no instruction or guidance was needed when they got their hands on an iPad. This could be a sign of super-intuitive user experience coming to the rescue, usurping the instruction manual and giving them less room for error and loads of room to comfortably explore.

Services like Apple’s new Tips website could be the middle ground that appeases all user competency levels. It takes you through popular features and processes, picking up from where printed booklets end. There’s no mention of the basics, safety notices or any of the other really simple stuff that is so common with operating instructions. Just practical how-to guides on the latest features of the evolving iOS.

In terms of e-learning, Apple’s Tips is an example of performance support – short, sharp interventions that users can refer to in order to upskill themselves. On the other hand, the instruction manual is more like an onboarding guide, which works best when all users are at the same skill level to help everyone in an unfamiliar situation get up to speed simultaneously.

Whether you are a lover of the Hayne’s guide or, like me, will happily tackle a flat-pack IKEA wardrobe without a sniff of help, technology is changing things, with digital performance support filling the gaps left by traditional instruction guides. Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @leolearning" href="http://www.twitter.com/leolearning" target="_blank">@leolearning.