Yeah, but WHY?


SolidWorks is very proud (and defensive) of their documentation process which they call “task-based”. To be fair, it has worked well enough for them for the training materials which generally are well rated. Task-based training means that you train people by givingben them steps to perform in the course of a “task” of some sort.

There is a discussion on the SolidWorks forums on which fellow SolidWorks whipping-boy Ben Eadie’s comments have been removed by the moderator. I read Ben’s comments before they were removed, and I don’t think they were worthy of that kind of treatment. They were a little self-promoting maybe, but certainly not removable. Having been in the same boat on multiple occasions with shenanigans on the forums, I can certainly sympathize.

The discussion is about SolidWorks documentation, and there are comments on both sides, for and against the quality and usefulness of it.

This is an argument I was reminded of recently, when I came across a section of the Help documentation that told you exactly how to create Groups and Machines in the Administrative Image Option Editor interface, but it didn’t tell you what Groups and Machines are, or how to use them or god forbid WHY they were wasting their breath telling you how to create them in the first place.

If you try to find these topics in the Help when not running the Administrative Image Option Editor, well, here were my results:

Looking in the SolidWorks 2009 Help index:

install – no results

admin – no results

option – “options” had about 30 results, but none of them was connected with the Option Editor.

group – “group annotations” was the only result

machine – “machine design tools”

Are you serious??!!?? No results for words like “install” or “admin”, which should also include installation and administration??!!?? None at all.

What’s the message SW is sending here? If you’re reading this Help, you’ve already got the software installed, so don’t worry about it?  Don’t use Index? Don’t have questions until you are actually in trouble doing something? Curiosity is a bad thing and will be punished? See, you really DO need your reseller after all? One thing that comes through loud and clear is that you cannot access all of the help from the SolidWorks 2009 Help. How am I learning this? You guessed it. This is task based training. In this case, I have been assigned an impossible task (finding help from the SolidWorks Help), and the lesson could not be more clear.

The only way to get back to that part of the Help is to run the Administrative Image Option Editor again. Ok, so lets do that. Ok, done. Now I’m back in that section of the Help. So I go again to the Index tab, and type in groups. Nothing. Machines. Same thing. You could go to the Search tab and get 300 irrelevant entries which you have to read in their entirety to make sure they do not have the information you are looking for, but I’ve taken that task based training long ago, and that lesson has also stuck with me.

How do I find this information? Somehow I stumble on a link that has the words “groups” and “machines”, and I follow that link. Ok, I’m back where I was yesterday. Here’s what I see:

To add a group:

  1. right click global settings
  2. click add group
  3. enter the group name

Task based. Straight forward. Clear cut. Objective achieved. Right? Wrong. No, I did not come here to find out how to add a group, I came here to find out what a group IS. WHY is it there? SolidWorks does not have a problem with task-based training, they have a problem with existentialist questions, with definitions of underlying importance. They are so obsessed with the “how” question that they forgot there are other questions that people might have. “Why” for example.

To be honest, the “why” question is what I have written my books to answer. The “why” question is why beginner users and people mainly concerned with learning how to model a box (generally products of the institutional educational process) all hate my books so much – there’s too much information. After they watch some vapid video that shows you how to model a box, they need another one to show them how to model a cylinder. The SolidWorks tools are simple enough that the “how” question for a given task usually answers itself, but if you don’t even know that task is necessary, how to do it is no help at all.

scan0001So while the SolidWorks Help and Training materials go a long way to tell you how to mechanically do this or that, they do not in fact help you understand why you are doing it or why you might choose to do that in some situation in the future. The task-based documentation and training style does not help you make decisions, it simply gives you a fish. You have no idea how to get another fish, or what to do with the fish they have given you for that matter. It’s like the idiot in the picture is saying “Uh, thanks, but what do I do with this??” The documentation style helps the lowest level user with their second level of questions. It never addresses everyone’s most fundamental question that we never stop asking from age 3 on up. “Why?”

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