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.