While Autodesk researchers explore geometry, artificial intelligence, robotics, and more, there’s another research team at the company focusing on the future of learning and human growth. The Human Computer Interaction and Visualization research program takes a human-centered approach to improving software experiences and making careers in manufacturing, engineering, and design more accessible for all.
As a Research Fellow and the head of this team, my role is to learn how you learn and invent new learning systems. In professional research at the intersection of human behavior and technology, it’s valuable to deeply observe human behavior and customize solutions to meet individual needs.
Understanding how people interact with the software helps researchers develop educational innovations with a shorter learning curve, leaving more time for the actual work and innovation. It isn’t enough to give users a sophisticated toolbox and walk away. It should also be easy to learn the tools, empowering you to create, achieve goals, and help make this world a better place. Two recent projects—the Command Map and MicroMentor—offer new approaches to intuitive learning, helping developers understand where customers struggle in their learning journey and how to overcome these obstacles.
Command Map: How Visualizing Software Usage Promotes Learning
When it comes to software development, there’s an important balance between integrating sophisticated features and ensuring the software remains intuitive and easy to learn. As a research exploration, we prototyped the Command Map to make the learning process more visible and visceral. After researching data-driven learning for many years, we wanted to make it easy for people to see what they know, don’t know, and need to know to thrive.
When customers agree to share their software usage patterns, the trove of resulting data reveals important information, including which features and tools you understand well and use frequently—or don’t. We can process, summarize and visualize the data and give it back to you with added value to improve your work and learning. These insights often correspond to a specific professional skillset and your use (or non-use) of technologies can reveal strengths or weaknesses in your professional profile and help you plan your career.
Autodesk tested the Command Map as an in-product dashboard that recommends commands you may want to learn next, based on usage patterns and benchmarked with industry peers. The prototype offers personalized recommendations for the best learning resources to help you expand understanding of the features. It also shares a timeline to see how your skills have improved over time. With this personalized learning pathway, you can become proficient in specific software features and in other skills relevant to your industry. The result is a generative approach to learning, where the user and the software collaborate in a symbiotic way. The more you use the software, the more insight the Command Map offers. That means the more you use it, the more easily you can cultivate your strengths and target new skills.
MicroMentor: Optimizing Peer-To-Peer Mentorship
Another recently developed project is MicroMentor, a software dialogue that launches a peer-to-peer help session, leveraging your team’s expertise and answering your question in less than three minutes. Researchers prototyped MicroMentor to optimize software learning by matching less experienced users with skilled experts to tackle specific questions in brief, online meetings. Our research strongly suggests that most questions about software can be resolved in under three minutes.
With MicroMentor, you submit a short audio and screen recording with a particular question about the software. Maybe a software feature is responding in an unexpected way, or you lack experience with a specific command. Once submitted, MicroMentor uses contextual information like recent usage history to match you with an expert who has the most relevant experience. The system launches an online meeting and your expert colleague helps answer the question.
MicroMentor is an example of how software providers like Autodesk can weave lifelong learning into the fabric of a product, helping people spend less time learning the ropes of the software and more time channeling that energy into creativity and innovation.
Impacting Lifelong Learners
Technology evolves quickly. Students, educators, and all lifelong learners have to adapt just as quickly. This also means that technology providers must embrace newer, more effective methods of education.
At Autodesk, preparing our customers for the future is key, helping them quickly learn applicable, transferable skills. Our customers are intelligent, sophisticated professionals and innovators who deserve intelligent, sophisticated software tools that are intuitive and easy to learn. Making our software as accessible as possible helps people of all skill levels spend less time learning software and more time creating the best design, engineering, and manufacturing solutions.
Dr. George Fitzmaurice is a Research Fellow and runs the Human Computer Interaction and Visualization Research Group for Autodesk. The group researches and evaluates emerging technologies and designs interactions and experiences that enhance human performance. For over 10 years, he and his team have focused on data-driven Human Learning and the Future of Work.