Early Language Learning is a Good Model for Studying Early User Interface Learning
To date, the self-revealing interface has been the elusive holy grail of the user interface community. This research advocates the use of early language learning as a model for early user interface learning. This model can be used to reason about how users learn through exploration, and gain ideas as to how to design the implicit, online help needed to make a user interface self-revealing. The idea for this model came from a strong analogy between user interfaces and language. This analogy is based on fundamental similarities, and strengthened both by observations in a case study, and the general user interface literature. A case study of early exploratory user interface learning was done in the hopes of finding similarities between the learning of languages and interfaces. Although the study did reveal many similarities, which support the model, what was most interesting was their differences. Most notably, motherese, an important form of supportive feedback that is universally present in language learning, was missing in the user interface learning. Motherese is a distinct speech variant that is used by experienced language users in conversing with children. It helps to guide children towards an understanding of correct behaviours through acknowledgment, repetition, and correction of their utterances. An experiment was devised to evaluate an analogous type of instruction in the bootstrap learning of a novel user interface technique. The experiment validated the instruction's ability to shorten the initial learning period and ingrain new techniques better than un-aided exploratory learning. Motherese-style instruction meets the requirements for instruction that is self-revealing, and is firmly grounded by the strong analogy between language and user interfaces. The application of it to user interface learning is online and integrated within the actual context of the application. It is also demonstrative and non-verbal, giving users implicit instruction, and therefore does not suffer from the terminology or contextual switching issues that written instruction does. <br /><br /> Although a number of questions remain to be answered about the general applicability of motherese-inspired user interface instruction, the model presented has yielded the first empirically-based idea for designing self-revealing instruction. It is anticipated that future research using this model will help researchers to reason about both self-revealing instruction and new user behaviour.