Classroom Training Books

So, this post has very little to do with eLearning, but it’s something I’m struggling with at work right now. What goes into the ideal classroom training book?

Right now I’m wrestling with a 350+ page book for a 3-day instructor-led class. It’s packed with a lot of really good, useful information that mostly supports the objectives. But 75% of the content is straight out of the documentation. There’s also a bunch of PowerPoint files that go along with the book. (Note: I inherited this course, I did not develop it.) The cynic in me says that nobody reads the book, they just use the pages with the exercises, and when necessary refer to relevant sections. I don’t think my assumption is too far off, based on what the instructors tell me. Between the book, PowerPoint, and other media files, this course is a huge burden to maintain.

There’s one theory that basically says “Give ’em a print out of the PPT file and any exercises. That’s all the need. If students need to refer to something from the documentation, well then they should just use the documentation. Documentation is not training, and should not be used as such. Classroom materials shouldn’t regurgitate the docs, they should leverage the docs.” I’m leaning this direction because I think it will force students to think more about the content. If the book is small and doesn’t include every detail, students will likely take notes on what is relevant to them. That means they are processing important information instead of passively listening. It also trains them to use the documentation instead of calling tech support. It also reduces our cost while speeding up development time. Do you know how long it takes to proofread 350 pages? Too long. Instead of spending my time formatting 350 pages, I could be developing better learning interactions or exercises.

There’s another theory that says “Students are all dumb. Assume they need to be spoon fed and need everything in one place. They will be annoyed if they have to switch between electronic docs and the course book.” I like to think people are smart, until they prove otherwise. Unfortunately, too many people prove otherwise. Still, if students have to do a little more cognitive processing while in class, is that a bad thing? If they can’t manage multiple windows on a computer while referring to a printed course book, is that my concern? They must have to do that on the job, why not in class? If people struggle a little, but don’t cross the line and become annoyed, doesn’t that struggle help them learn? I tend to learn things that I have to fight with a little, and I know I’ve seen research that backs me up. Anyone with a reference, please email me. I’m too busy proofreading to do research.

I think with the next iteration of the course I’m going to completely start over – toss the entire course and rebuild it from the ground up. The course book will list objectives for each section, references to the documentation, and a high level overview of what the chapter covers with a couple of pretty graphics to illustrate a few key points. Maybe a couple of pages of content followed by exercises. No PowerPoint slides, no documentation. Just the basics. The exercises are already well written and include everything students need to accomplish the given objective. Students will get a thin book, a CD with documentation, and a pen to take notes. And many hours of hands-on practice.

Thoughts? Have you done this before? Please share your experience. If I get a trainer mutiny, I’ll let you know. Management should like the reduced cost and improved efficiency, and I’ll get to spend more time on eLearning. Everyone wins, right?

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2 Responses to Classroom Training Books

  1. B.J. Schone says:

    We’ve had good luck with providing learners with a quick reference guide, in addition to the lengthier documentation. This way, they can quickly figure out how to complete basic tasks, and then they can dive in for more information if necessary.

    And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to switch between print materials and digital materials. Like you said, if they have to do it on-the-job, they should be able to handle it. Plus, it helps if they are carefully guided throughout the learning, in case anybody gets lost. (This is just from personal experience; unfortunately, I can’t point to any reference materials.)

    Good luck…

  2. I have also been struggling with this issue. How much to put into a student manual. I have taught courses for the Red Cross, FEMA, etc. for several years now. But, in my current job I am creating courses from scratch.

    I can offer you what I am doing for the student manuals. Hopefully, it will help. The approach I use is the manual should be a companion to the media presentation. Allowing the student to use the final manual as a reference book.

    I use powerpoint for my presentations. So I took the presentation, inserted the key points as notes, then published my slides and notes to Microsoft Word. I went back and added some features to make it look good (cover page, table on contents, page numbers, etc.). Then I looked at which sections needed more explanation or links to external resources and added them in. This way the students can easily follow along with my presentation and have access to expanded information and resources.

    Hopefully, this gives you some ideas.

    Have a great day,
    Bruce C Ziebarth
    Planning Analyst
    SafePlans LLC

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