Going Green: The Un-Handout and Handout Alternatives

Last week Nicole Engard posted about going green for conferences by not printing slides and handouts. I can’t agree more with everything she said and I’m glad to see that the comments were mostly in agreement with her ideas. Lately I’ve been tossing around the idea of the “un-handout” but for different reasons.

For years staff at my library has made elaborate handouts for each and every technology class we offer. We provide step-by-step instructions on basic functions in Windows, Word, Excel, and so on. It takes hours upon hours to create these handouts. The handouts can be up to 20 pages long for a 2-hour class, and we go through thousands of these handouts in a year.

For the most part the handouts are great. Especially for basic Office products or basic computer skills. But now that we are doing more and more training on Web 2.0 tools such as blogging, Flickr, wikis, and so on the handouts seem to be overkill. First of all by the time we complete the handout the interface is probably going to change. Second I am beginning to see that having such detailed instruction laid out for people prohibits them from exploring and using intuition to navigate new products. Our we doing a disservice to our staff and public by not giving them the opportunity to learn and explore on their own?

I’m working on a needs assessment for staff training on the social networking sites MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I’ve been wanting to offer this for the past six months but have not had time to create a handout. Without a handbook I could probably put this together in a week or less. A handout would take at least an extra month. I think I might just try it and see what happens.

In defense of handouts

Anyone who has ever taken a class with me can tell you about the assortment of highlighters and pens I use to color code my notes and handouts. I always thought I was a visual learner and needed to have the colors to make associations. Recently through a more in-depth assessment I learned that I am actually a kinesthetic learner. If I am not actively participating I’m not learning. So my technique of coloring and highlighting every word in a book is actually my way of processing the information by keeping my hands busy. I’ve gone to training or presentations and actually been distracted by not having a handout to write on.

Alternatives to handouts

A great alternative to reach out to your kinesthetic learners like me is to have toys available. Anything that keeps their hands occupied. Play-dough, simple puzzles, pipe cleaners, stress balls all make great learning toys. Check out the dollar store for some inexpensive ideas or Trainers Warehouse. If you are on a very tight budget, who isn’t these days, don’t be afraid to have a box at the back of the room and ask the participants to drop the toys off on the way out. If you’re not into toys just put out some paper and markers. This small step will go a long way to reaching your kinesthetic learners.

Fiddle Diddles Set

About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.


  1. Hi there, great post! I have been reading a lot recently about more companies/presentations/etc going the paperless route in an effort to appear more green and decrease paper waste. While I applaud their efforts I kinda agree with you, when full on listening it’s harder for me to retain information because my attention span tends to be that of a goldfish at times and my mind starts to wander. So I think while eliminating handouts could be a good idea, personally I would prefer to be more hands on with my learning, etc.

    I think going green is something that everyone can agree is a step in the right direction toward building a better community, and laying down the foundations for which future generations can successfully thrive in a healthier environment. Plus, I think many businesses will benefit from going green, not only building a more acceptable public persona, but in the long run it really helps companies save money and be a positive contributor to the world we live in.

    Another thing I want to talk about is bioheat, it’s just one small measure that people can take in order to start living a greener lifestyle.

    Has anyone ever heard of it, or has switched to it? I want to start taking initiative in turning my home into a greener household, one way I have started is by switching out all my lightbulbs in my home to energy efficient lightbulbs. And I am also seriously considering switching over to bioheat as an alternative to regular oilheat. The thing that I love the most about it is that it’s completely clean burning, and is comprised of a b5 blend of oils which are derived from natural plant and vegetable sustainable resources such as corn, hemp, and avocados just to name a few. If you all want more information on how bioheat works, just go on to http://oilheatamerica.com/index.mv?screen=bioheat I work with NORA to bring this info to you all!

  2. Jamison thanks for your comment. I have not heard of bioheat this is great information. Living in the South our big expense is AC during the summer. I’ve looked at geothermal heatpumps but they are not within our budget. Whatever we switch to when we get a new unit it will need to be a comparable price at the beginning to buying a new heat pump. Even if it saves money in the long run we still have to have the money for the up front investment. Money is scarce on the salary of two librarians with two children in daycare 🙂

    I am going to check out your site though. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Kjersti says:

    I like the toy idea, but one thing I always wonder when I read these posts about not creating handouts I think “why can’t people bring their own notepads or fidget devices?”

  4. Well Lori, the amazing thing about bioheat is that you don’t have to buy any new equipment to make the switch, and the price is relatively the same if you are running on regular oil heat.


  1. […] people argue they need handouts to follow and understand the presentation, that it is better for their learning style. What to do? Someone commented on Nicole’s blog about shredding wasted handouts and using […]

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