Reconsidering minimalist documentation: developing and testing a visual for experiential learning



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Texas Tech University


This dissertation uses the work of John Carroll and his model of minimalist documentation to establish if a visual can effectively perform as a minimalist instruction and activate the experiential learning that Carroll identified as critical to the success of his model. In the study, best practices from information design and visual theory were used to revisit and redesign the screen capture. The redesigned screen capture, as a minimalist model of instruction, was tested in a study.

In the study, twenty-five participants were randomly assigned to the visual instruction or verbal instruction and given two psychometric inventories: one for experiential learning style and the other for learning styles. Next, participants were asked to replicate a simple picture using a drawing program available via the internet. Participants were observed and timed as they completed the drawing task. Comments from the talk aloud protocol were noted and the final drawing artifacts were collected for further analysis.

The study revealed that in a college population, 80% of the participants were visual learners and half were not strong experiential learners. The hypothesis a visual instruction would result in the drawing task being completed in less time was refuted; participants in the visual condition took longer to complete the task. Artifact analysis revealed that participants used more tools and completed the sample drawing with more accuracy when assigned to the visual group—they were more engaged in the task. Styles that were less experiential created a better artifact in the visual group and, for the five verbal learners in the study, the visual demonstrated some promise at acting as an instructional device.

In conclusion, this study asserts that a need exists to create materials that address what may be an increasing population of visual learners. For the artifact designed here, there is a link indicating that experiential learning is fostered by a visual. This visual focuses its design on elements key to the task, positions them centrally for the viewer and addresses major areas of functionality. Such a visual serves to engage the user more.