DCL/When it Comes to Training Materials, Does Format Matter?

When It Comes To Training Materials, Does Format Matter?

A recent survey finds that the demand for training content is rising, but the pace of updating the format for that content in order to best drive business is lagging behind.

By Tom C. Smith, Director of Marketing, DCL, appearing in training


A colleague and I recently were discussing football. But it was not in the context of wins, losses, rushes, touchdowns, or any other stats gridiron geeks might litigate. No, we were talking about an ESPN blog article from some time ago that explained how NFL teams have moved away from paper or bound playbooks and over to tablets. Teams deliver their playbooks to their players on tablets now, and according to the article, when a player is cut, the phrase, “Turn in your playbooks,” is being replaced by “Turn in your iPads.”

This all leads me to a new Training & Learning Survey that my company, DCL, and our partner, DITA Strategies, recently fielded. The 20-question survey polled Training and Learning professionals to uncork interesting trends happening across this sector. Some of the results were surprising, including the idea that training and learning materials are still being created and delivered in traditional, unstructured formats such as PDF, MS-PowerPoint, and MS-Word. For instance, according to the survey results, 66.14 percent said they create their training materials in MS PowerPoint, with 50.39 percent using PDF and 48.82 percent using MS Word. The top delivery methods indicated are:

Slide presentations: 68.50 percent

Printed materials: 63.78 percent

Online courses: 62.99 percent

PDF: 53.54 percent

Even further, when asked, “On what devices is your training delivered?” 92.13 percent said Desktop.

This continued use of formats with low discoverability and limited platforms paints a picture of an industry struggling when it comes to the format and delivery of content. The impact: Training professionals are not prepared to take advantage of the technologies that serve today’s expanding needs. Print-based or unstructured content in, say, MS-Word or PowerPoint does not easily transfer in this age of mobile and emerging delivery methods.

Other responses show a cognitive disconnect within the industry, most notably in recognition of higher demand paired with a lack of the updates needed to best meet that demand. For instance, the question “How would you rate the demand for training content in your organization in the past year?” showed that almost half (49.61 percent) of respondents said demand has gone up. Meeting that demand is challenging, as seen in the responses to “What are your greatest challenges in developing and delivering training content today?” Some top challenges cited were:

Out-of-date information: 51.01 percent

Maintenance: 49.66 percent

Reduced budgets: 41.61 percent

Lack of analytics for measuring the effectiveness of training: 41.61 percent

This all could mean the demand for training content is rising, but the pace of updating the format for that content in order to best drive business is lagging behind. The survey showed that training material requirements are growing more complex. The following factors should influence the decision to create better training materials:

  • Increased product complexity
  • Translation for a global economy
  • The desire to reduce involvement for customer service personnel
  • Mobile, artificial intelligence
  • 24/7 access
  • Accessibility for the disabled

Training materials should be suitable for multiple uses and capable of rapid update.

Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” What he meant by this, in the simplest of terms, is that the medium (or means) in which a message (or content) is delivered plays a significant role in how people perceive the information. The medium influences the message. Using this theory, what then is the message being sent to trainees when their materials are still being delivered in older, traditional formats rather than digital ones?


About the Author

Tom C. Smith, Director of Marketing, DCL Tom C. Smith, director of Marketing, DCL (www.dclab.com), is a senior marketing professional with expert working knowledge of traditional and emerging digital marketing tactics. He’s held leadership roles in both large and small organizations, including Yahoo! and technology start-ups. Smith holds an MA in Media Studies from The New School, NY, and a BA in English/Communications from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA.



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