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The Key to Great Instructions

Season's Greetings All,
Last weekend being the last before Christmas I am sure it was busy for all with last minute shopping and holiday nights out. Personally, I had my son's nursery school Christmas event to attend with my family - watching young children meet Santa Claus filled everyone with festive cheer and took our minds off the freezing weather!

Before setting out to the Christmas event I took the invite out from my pocket. The colorful Christmas decorated invite had a helpful map displayed on the back to show attendees the way to the festivities. This helped as I am always keen to know where I am going in order to avoid the classic car journey punctuated with cries from the backseat of  "are we there yet" or "this is taking too long” versus the car navigation system repeatedly telling me to "make a U-turn" having directed me to a cliff edge. 

Armed with the old-school map and a good idea of where I was going we arrived at the destination on time and without stress. "That was easy" I said to my wife - who, being a gadget fan promptly rolled her eyes at me. It was then that my septuagenarian mum, who had seen me looking at the map earlier, then quoted the proverb "According to English Idiom, a picture is worth a 1000 words".  I replied “As the Chinese say, 1001 words are better than a picture" according to John McCarthy. 

This set off a debate on the importance of prior knowledge of the context of a picture in order to make meaning of it. The map was easy for me to understand as the destination was local and so landmarks pictured on it were familiar; however, if this was not the case then surely this map would be less helpful and words in the form of directions or a verbal description of my route would have been better.

This scenario and the above idioms reminded  me in my role as a trainer of the contrasting abilities when following pictorial instructions. For those delegates who have met course prerequisites and those who have not - the former (usually) complete tasks using the directions with relative ease and the latter struggling. Is it not the case that context is everything?

A picture may be meaningful when you know the background and have the ability to process the information as you are directed but, where you are learning something new, it always helps to be told in details!

Posted by Solomon Uwagbole , Sr. Trainer, Epicor University


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