Are you confident that you’re producing the best training materials possible? Or is your training material development procedure lacking?
Training materials are one of the core pieces of your training program—if they’re not compelling and useful, your training is going to lose effectiveness.
You might think that training materials aren’t all that important. But you might be surprised. Here’s Ruth Mayhew on the importance of training manuals:
Well-constructed training manuals provide written training content, enable departmental functions in the absence of key employees, provide new employees with valuable information and codify workplace rules and guidelines. Human resources departments that develop employee training manuals also find it easier to provide workplace orientation and employee training with written materials.
How do you go about creating a “well-constructed” training manual? Or any piece of training material, for that matter?
Read on to find out.
1. Start With Your Learning Objective
What will this training manual or set of training materials teach people to do?
You might think the answer is obvious, but it’s imperative to identify your exact goals. For example, your first instinct might be to say that a training manual is about your company intranet.
But it’s better to have a set of specific learning goals outlined:
- Users are able to log in and troubleshoot login problems.
- Users know how to use chat, messaging, and social features.
- Users can find and access relevant documentation for their responsibilities.
By setting out these goals in a specific manner, you can check to see that your training material includes all the relevant information.
If you don’t have an overall objective for your training program, start with that. What’s your ultimate goal? Once you’ve identified an objective, you can use it to write specific goals for your training material development.
When possible, use the results of a learning assessment to guide the creation of training goals (you can use Continu’s assessments feature to set one up). When you’ve identified areas where your employees are weak, you’ll know where to concentrate your training materials.
When possible, your learning objectives should answer these questions:
- Who will be learning the material?
- What, specifically, will they learn?
- What will they be able to do with the information after they’ve learned it?
- How will they maintain that knowledge?
- By when will they complete the training?
Here’s an example:
The Employee Conflict slide deck will teach human resources officers how to mediate employee conflicts, both in formal and informal situations. The deck will serve as both training and reference material and can be used at any time. It’s meant to be reviewed regularly and as employee conflicts arise.
If your learning objectives answer these questions, you’re ready to move onto the next step.
2. Think About Delivery Methods
Modern technology enables countless methods for delivering training materials. Popular options include
- written training manuals;
- video series;
- live webinars;
- slide decks;
- in-person trainings; and
- blended learning approaches.
There’s no right choice—every audience is best suited by different methods. Choose the right method for your trainees. And don’t hesitate to offer multiple delivery methods. A webinar can be supported by documentation, for example, or a slide deck by a voiceover video.
And there may be other factors that influence how you deliver your trainings. For example, a small company might be able to take advantage of in-person trainings more cost efficiently, because you can train all the employees at once. A large enterprise or a distributed company might benefit from an online self-paced training that requires less coordination.
The type of training materials being developed may influence your choice, too. A complicated hands-on procedure is going to be easier to explain via video than paper manual. A multi-step computer process might work well as a slide deck, where you can capture each screen.
You might also be limited by your current technological setup. Using a dedicated learning management system means you have access to just about any training delivery method you could want. But if you’re still working with a legacy company intranet, it might be hard to distribute something like self-paced webinars.
Different delivery methods are useful for various learning strategies. For example, video is a great medium for bite-sized learning. You could format your materials as FAQs, walkthroughs, wikis, or anything else that you think learners will find useful.
When in doubt, ask learners what they would find most useful. You’ll get a lot of different answers, but you may also see some trends that suggest a type of training material to develop.
If you decide to use a written training manual, you’ll love this guide: “How to Develop a Training Manual” is a free downloadable PDF that makes writing a training manual easy. Grab it here.
3. Segment Training Information
You might be tempted to start writing your slides or scripting your videos at this point. But if you jump ahead, you’re likely to miss something. Start with a detailed outline instead. This makes the writing process easier, but also helps you organize your information in a way that best serves your trainees.
There are many ways to organize training materials, but in most cases, a job- or task-based system is best. This approach builds on the knowledge that readers already have and makes for a referenceable document that can be used later.
For example, if you’re writing documentation on a sales process, you might organize it like this:
- How to Use This Manual
- Sales Prospecting
- Making the First Call
- Follow-Up Email Schedule
- Tips for Closing Deals Over the Phone
- Handing Off Customers to Implementation Team
- Further Resources
The information is presented in the order that the events will take place in the real world. When a salesperson needs to find information on a particular part of the process, they can skim the table of contents to figure out where they need to be.
You can certainly use other methods of organization. It could be split into “Team Communication,” “Sales Techniques,” “Calling / Emailing,” and “Prospecting,” for example. This is a more topical approach. You could even organize it alphabetically.
But keep in mind that you should segment the information in your training materials in the way that will be most useful to your employees. Maybe you’re not documenting something as sequential as a sales process. In that case, a topical approach or even a hierarchical one might be more fitting.
Using a learning management system can also help with this issue, as you can tag and organize your content in any way you want. This means you can organize it however you want, and still make each piece of information as easy to find as possible.
4. Write for Quick Reading, Listening, and Watching
Now that you have a goal for your training materials, a plan for delivery, and a detailed outline, you can start writing.
In the beginning, it’s fine to write down all the information you think is relevant. But when you get to the editing stage, it’s worth taking extra time to ensure that your trainees can easily read, listen, watch, and learn from your materials.
It’s easy to overlook this step of training material development. There are so many other things to think about. But if employees can’t quickly learn from your training materials, they’re not going to use them. And that defeats the purpose. Employees are busy, and they need access to information quickly.
How you make your information most useful depends on the delivery method. Slide decks are written using short bullet points that aren’t always full sentences. That’s a great way to keep things easy to read. Videos can be more conversational because you can present a lot of information quickly.
It’s probably easiest to fall into the trap of being too wordy when you’re creating a written training manual. It’s easy to include too much information, write in a rambling manner, or create poorly written documents that take a long time to understand.
There are tools for various types of writing (I prefer Hemingway for text-based content), but the best way to learn if your training materials are easy to read is to ask other people. Set up a review process to ensure that you get feedback from a handful of people that will tell you whether your materials can be improved.
It’s also worth noting that visuals improve the readability of your training materials significantly. You can incorporate them into anything, from live webinars to text-based microlearning. People learn better from visuals. Be sure to take advantage of that.
5. Plan for Assessment
How will you know if your training materials are effectively educating your trainees? The only way to know for sure is to use assessments. You might not think of assessments as a core part of training material development. Assessments are given after the training. But knowing what your assessment will look like can give you a huge advantage when you’re designing training manuals and other materials.
To start this step, ask yourself what a successful assessment looks like. Would an employee physically demonstrate their knowledge of a process? Answer multiple-choice questions? Teach something to a class? Show their applied knowledge on the job?
Once you know how you’re going to assess learners, ensure that your training sets them up to succeed. For example, you might decide that you’re going to use an interview to assess learning on customer service processes.
In that case, you may want to include a learning module about how to communicate processes to others. This will help your learners not only learn the material, but also to sufficiently explain it to pass the assessment.
The relationship won’t always be that straightforward. But planning assessment earlier rather than later is a big help when you’re developing training manuals and materials.
Remember that your job as a training material developer isn’t just to present information. It’s to help people learn and retain knowledge that helps them do their jobs. Set them up for success. Make sure that you understand the assessment process so you can help learners pass those assessments and retain information beyond the training course.
(You may want to read up on contextual learning during this step. It’s a great way to boost retention and show employees how they might apply training materials to their jobs. And that’s going to help them pass tests.)
6. Get Feedback
You should be bouncing ideas off of other people throughout this entire process. But when you think you’ve completed your training materials, it’s worth sitting down with someone to go through everything you’ve done and get feedback on where you can improve.
It’s a good idea to incorporate feedback even after you’ve created and published your training materials, too. Sessions and resources should have dedicated feedback mechanisms so learners can let you know what they found useful or distracting.
Use this information to continuously improve your training materials. Just because you’ve published your training doesn’t mean that development is done. You can always create better materials.
This is another area where digital delivery is a big help. You don’t want to reprint hundreds of paper training manuals. But making an update and uploading it to your learning management system only takes seconds.
Remember That Training Material Development Isn’t a One-Time Activity
Developing training materials is an ongoing process. Yes, it’s important when you’re getting ready to start your training program. But you can always make updates and improvements.
Take a few minutes today to go over one set of training materials and see where you can make a small improvement. Is a sentence awkwardly worded? Could a screenshot be updated? Might you link to a useful resource?
Get in the habit of constantly improving your training materials. That way, when you sit down to develop an entirely new resource, you’ll know where you often trip up and how you can improve your development process from the beginning.