There is so much attention given to elearning design, video publishing best-practices, and training program development these days that it can be easy to forget about the supporting documents – specifically: how to optimally format them for your training effort.  With any training program, be it elearning or live seminars, there are supporting documents.  The topic of these documents can be about as varied as the training itself, but some of the common ones include:

  • Glossary: A list of all the key terms and acronyms used in the training
  • Key Contacts: A list of important individuals and departments relating to the training
  • Quick Reference Guides: One-page documentation for reference on an important topic
  • Job Aids: Detailed instructions on how to perform certain tasks (usually job/role related)

Most documents fall into these four categories, but each situation is certainly unique.  In general, support documents are often the last items addressed during training design and development.  As a result, they tend to lack the same attention to detail and well-thought design as the actual training content.  This is where many instructional designers make their biggest mistake, and why many training programs fall short.  After training has taken place, most people are more likely to use these support items for reference. If they are poorly formatted or not well documented, then you are missing out on an effective way to drive home the key learning points.

For the most part, these documents follow the same design principles as the primary training display.  White space is key, don’t use too much text or cram images, ensure that images are crisp, use appropriate font, guide the users’ eye, and present a cohesive visual experience.  I can recall one project I was on where our team was tasked with redoing the job aids from a previous unsuccessful training team.  The elearning modules weren’t all that bad, but the job aids were terrible.  About 800 words to a page with no variation or headers (only two paragraphs), no logos or images, zero call-outs, nor instructions on how to use it.  The entire document was close to 18 pages long and it didn’t even have a table-of-contents.

Now, if you just got done watching three hours worth of elearning content, and then downloaded this job aid – how useful would you you find it?  The answer is not at all, and the employees’ behavior at this company reflected it. Post training analysis showed that they were not performing the new tasks effectively for their jobs as it was detailed in the initial training.

If you are creating a training program, or overseeing one, make sure that you give support documents their due diligence. Quite often, the quality of these work-products are the determining factor in the success of the entire project.

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About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter


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There isn’t much to agree or disagree on, I would ‘agree’ in general to your observation. It remains on the theoretical level. I personally feel your message would gain by showing examples and non-examples. To distinguish between good / poor support document requires a creteria checklist – what creteria has a handout document to meet to qualify as ‘good’. My experience is that here hot discussions start – people don’t agree on criteria to be used and don’t agree whether or not a document meets the criteria. In a training where participants were to produce a summary handout on a topic the products were praised into heaven by some expert facilitators, others expert facilitators produced a long list of short comings of the same product.
In many trainings I noted – the theoretical general background / philosophy is generally met with “Amen” – comes putting it in practices and roads part far and wide. What is a good / acceptable / effective / fit for purpose learning support document to you might not be accepted by many a person in your audience. Hence – show creteria / examples / non-example; the good, the ugly and the bad.

Avatar J Deurwaarder

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