Are Documents Still Relevant for Training?

The worst training experience of my career was as an apprentice in a print shop. I was given a set of woefully outdated pamphlets. Except as sleep aids, they were useless. Fast forward to 2016. Training manuals are no longer printed documents, but they can be just as bad. In the age of video training, are documents still relevant?

OK. Full disclosure. I’m a certified document geek—whether it’s about print, PDFs, Web pages, or eBooks. I’ve wandered for many, many hours in the Gutenberg and Plantin-Moreus museums. I talk and write ad nauseum about digital publishing technology. To me, documents are cool.

They’re also potentially problematic for training organizations. Manuals and reference sheets are outdated almost the moment they’re published. Finding what you need in a sea of documents is really hard. Converting from printed to electronic documents hasn’t helped much; some say it’s made the problem worse.

The answer is NOT to dispense with documents altogether. Instead, we need to understand what they really are in the world of skills training—and how to incorporate documents wisely in our learning strategies.

Documents: Just-In-Time Information

First, let’s get rid of the notion that a document is “only” a piece of paper, or a web page, or a PDF, or an app screen. Those are just the use-specific channels for a collection of ideas, represented by symbols we’ve agreed on—more or less. We share these ideas in many ways, from cave paintings to Apple Watch reminders, in order to pass on critical information. Hopefully, this happens at just the right time to facilitate a positive outcome—from a successful Mammoth hunt to a deal-closing sales call. (Yes, I know. These examples are the same thing.)

For training programs, the need is the same. Documents—in any form—are the means of delivering “just-in-time” information, to reinforce a new skill or procedure. Online video is rapidly becoming the primary means of showing a trainee the thing to be learned, but documents will always be a means of support in telling trainees what they need to know.

The Training World is not Flat

Documents should never be limited to a “linear” information flow. There’s a place for long-form, text-only material, but trainees benefit greatly from a variety of document types—including those with illustrations, links to related material, animations, and (yes) video. Documents can capture important information, but they should allow for new, updated information as well.

That said, however, no matter how evolved documents become, the real challenge is whether they deliver the right information at the right time. For trainers, this means making documents findable (the “pull” model) and targeted to learners and specific lessons (the “push” model).

Fortunately, there are ways to do this from a video-based learning portal like the Viddler Training Suite. Informational documents—in the form of online web pages, forms, or PDFs—can be included as links at specific moments in video timeline. They can also be associated with an entire video or group. As with any agile document type, these can be updated and enhanced by the instructor, ensuring that trainees have “just in time” access to supporting information essential to the training program.

Far from being outdated vestiges of a bygone era, modern documents can be the glue that holds a good training program together, video-based or otherwise.