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Helping Readers Understand

A post over on Seth Godin’s Blog that I ran across today has left me thinking. In it, Seth talks about how technology now allows us to help our readers:

Just recently (a decade or so) we opened two doors that change the way we communicate: we can link now, which means that any time you’re worried you’ve hit something too complex, you can easily link to more data and more explanation, and second, you can keep writing. Length (given appropriate organization) is no longer an issue.

I’ve been thinking about this when it comes to training, because I think we might actually have this backwards. We spend a lot of time putting together printed training manuals, and of course, the all important “hand-out”, because we are expected to leave our students with something they can walk out of the room with and take back to their offices. That’s all well and good, but we are seriously limiting what we give them when we take our information and “dumb it down” into less usable formats, like the printed book or printed cheat sheet.

By their very nature, we are limited in what we can put in a book, or on a cheat sheet. We can’t link to more information for those readers who might not understand a particular concept, we have to keep it short, and try to use static screenshots in our manuals instead of how-to videos. (And god help us if a new update changes the screen slightly before we can update the manual!) That’s a lot of work that could be done more easily, and be more useful to our clients, if we could utilize web technologies.

Of course, there are copyright, and commercial, concerns in many cases. Materials provided online are much harder to “limit” to just those who have paid for them. We all know that, but I do believe that is a challenge we’re all going to have to face at some point. The added advantages are simply too great to continue ignoring online based materials, and our more digital workers are only becoming less likely to keep printed books and cheat sheets around.

What do you think? Do you like leaving training with something to hold, or would you rather be able to grab the parts you want electronically?

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  1. The one good thing about printouts is that I can write my notes on them as I go through the training course,make corrections and add the information that is relevant to me. However, like you said, the notes do get relegated to a drawer or bookshelf somewhere and it’s very hard to find that particular page that I wrote something *really* important on. If I can, I prefer to take my laptop to training courses or conferences and will make all my notes in onenote – that way I also have searchable content.
    What would be really smart would be a giveaway of the slidedeck in OneNote form so everyone has the data in one place rather than in a powerpoint file (electronically or paper) and onenote.
    Having said all that – nowadays its getting harder to find courses that I can go to for work, either for the content or just getting the time off work. We’re expected to work it out ourselves or attend online conferences, and at that point – you don’t get the paperwork files anyway – instead you get a powerpoint emailed to you (if you’re lucky)

    1. Andy, you raise an interesting sub-plot to all of this, budgets. The lack of funds available for training is changing the landscape completely. It’s forcing things online more, and that may not always be a good thing. I haven’t been doing this very long, but I can say that online training isn’t always the panacea to money woes that many HR departments want it to be. How many times to you get interrupted in your office while trying to pay attention? How many people simply struggle with distractions that they don’t have sitting in a class room?

      On the other hand, sending printed manuals and handouts now becomes a bit more of a logistical headache for the trainer, and makes online materials a bit more attractive.

      Bottom line, it’s changing, and I think the best way to go is to make training available in many different ways.

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