You know that wonderful feeling you get when you feel the crisp smell of a new book while turning the pages, all tucked in a comfortable armchair with a big cup of hot cocoa while the rain keeps pouring outside? It’s great and that’s why that particular image is used in so much of today’s advertising. Books and bookstores are indeed a hoot and a half and having a personal library can be a treat – up to the time when cleaning is in store and you see just how many dusty bunnies can hide in between those lovely pages and how hard it is to get rid of them.
In later years the e-book has become increasingly popular as the new generation is more into technology and less into the nostalgia of reading by a fireplace (not that you can’t do that on an electronic device but if you do, the fireplace is most probably digitized as well). If there were a confrontation between digital and paper at a preference level, they would both win, as this infographic video demonstrates.
Talking about corporate learning materials, however, we have a clear winner – the electronic version. Here are some reasons for that.
Learning is continuous, not collectible
While there are many reasons why one should very much want to own a hard copy of Moby Dick, The Pickwick Papers or Dune, nobody would ever enjoy holding onto the “Complete guide of products and services, additional services and company procedures”.
Regardless how loyal an employee and how important the information contained in those many pages would be, it’s best to be able to consult it online. Even a new hire only needs to go through all that information once, upon employment and if later they need to brush up on something, there were probably modifications made in the meantime so they would resort to asking somebody or printing out a new heavy manual.
But apart from this, since no instruction collection has ever been quite a page-turner, most people will probably not read all of it anyway. In my starting days as a trainer I used to give out quite extensive hand-outs and most often they were either left on the training room tables or taken home by trainees only to be forgotten on the bus to work the next day.
Moving all that to digital format has ensured that all trainees had all the information available at all times without having to remember to carry anything but their own phone around. And the new generation has no trouble holding on to that every waking hour.
Small morsels are easier swallowed
There’s an anecdote about how on a very cold winter day the only parishioner to show up for Sunday mass was a horse breeder who had come from rather far away in spite of the harsh weather conditions. The pastor greeted him and went about his normal business, preaching for about an hour and a half even if there was but one person in attendance. At the end, the horse breeder asked the pastor why he had insisted on going through with the entire sermon. “Well” the pastor said “it is my duty. If at dusk only one of your horses would return to the barn, wouldn’t you feed it?” “Yes.” He horse breeder replied “but I wouldn’t make it eat the hay I had prepared for the entire drove.”
This stands true for corporate manuals. Usually, one needs only one piece of information at a time and in this day and age, lack of a search button is a deal breaker.
Before everything went digital, the reason why encyclopedias were so popular was because they were alphabetized and one could easily find the exact piece of information they were looking for. You didn’t have to go through all thirty volumes to find out what the capital of Venezuela is.
Digitalizing work-related information allows employees to find the answers they need at their own leisure and when they are needed without having to go through a lot of stuff that is unimportant to them at that point.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Especially when we are talking about specific, technical instructions, words are not really the best means of conveying knowledge. If somebody needs to operate a piece of machinery, it’s a lot easier to show them how to do it in a video or 3D animation than describing the whole process in minute detail. Take the IKEA furniture for example. It comes with very specific printed instructions yet even the most skilled handymen around find it is a pain to put together.
Indeed a picture is worth a thousand words and you can print quite a lot of them on paper. Yet using the latest technology to allow the user to actually see how something is done, to be able to explore all angles and perhaps even take a swing at doing it himself in a controlled, safe environment will prove a lot more efficient.
Immersive learning has been gaining a lot of terrain lately and it definitely cannot be done with the use of a printed hand-out and a number two pencil.
All in all
In a time when corporate social responsibility is as important to an organization’s image as the quality of the products and services it provides, it is unwise and counter intuitive to stick to a paper-based information transfer.
Saving our forests one mobile device at a time is the green way to go.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.