eLearning experienced significant and steady growth over the past decade—growth that exploded exponentially during the pandemic. Although many organizations have gone back to in-person training, virtual learning will continue to be important. Which begs the question… do printed training materials still serve a purpose? According to several sources, the answer is yes. But organizations should take a fresh look at their printed content to meet the needs of today’s learners.
Courses Return to the Classroom, But in Smaller Numbers
According to this eLearning market share report, the global eLearning market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of over 20% through 2030. Because it offers greater flexibility and accessibility, many organizations are increasing their virtual training programs. But virtual training is not completely replacing classroom instruction.
Meanwhile, data provided in the 2022 Training Industry Report reveals that only 8% of respondents plan to return to classroom training as usual in the next year. A majority—47%–will return to some classroom training while maintaining some of the remote learning instituted during the pandemic.
Classroom-based education is traditionally where we see the greatest usage of course books, workbooks, and training manuals. But even with more instruction going online, there is a growing push to include printed training materials as part of a multi-dimensional learning strategy.
Studies Show Printed Training Materials Still Deliver Better Learning Outcomes
Since the rise of the internet and mobile technology, researchers have been studying the differences in learning comprehension when content is presented in a digital versus print format.
In 2017, the American Educational Research Association published findings from their research on the impact of reading print material versus digital and found that while there was little-to-no difference in how well the participant understood the main idea of the selected text, comprehension of more specific details and concepts was better with print.
A 2019 meta-analysis of several studies found that reading on screens had a negative effect on comprehension compared with reading text on a printed page, and those who read online thought that they had understood the text better than they actually did.
Mobile-Centric Young Professionals Are Embracing the Value of Print
There is no doubt that Gen Z—the newest generation to enter the workforce—lives a mobile-first life. They are the first true digital natives who thoroughly enjoy short, visual content for both entertainment and instruction. And they expect this content to be available anywhere, anytime. But this doesn’t mean they have completely written off print.
Research shows that when it comes to deep learning, Gen Z prefers printed training materials to help them focus. A study from American University looked at over 300 college students in four countries and found that 92% would rather do their coursework in print, as opposed to on tablets or computers.
Print is Still Important, But the Role of Printed Training Materials is Changing
It wasn’t that long ago that print was the only way to deliver educational content. Today, print does not have to live on its own. And instructional designers don’t have to choose between print or digital content. Regardless of course format, both print and digital content can (and should) work together to increase learning retention and application.
According to the Principles of Adult Learning & Instructional Design, we tend to retain only 10% of what we see, but 90% of what we see, hear, and do. Using more regions of the brain to store data increases the likelihood of learning and application, rather than just straight memorization. Blending a printed course book with digital resources will result in better learning outcomes.
In this new learning model, the printed manual can now be used to provide a higher-level introduction to a subject or concept. The learner is then directed to other digital resources like videos, renderings, and interactive tools to illustrate these concepts further and demonstrate real-world applications. A simple QR code printed within the book helps learners make the jump from analog to digital seamlessly.
Pairing printed content with online tools and resources also provides a much-needed opportunity to update the design of course materials to better match how we prefer to consume information today.
Online and Mobile Reading Preferences are Driving Textbook Design
Not only is the role of printed training materials changing, but our reading preferences are changing too. When you think of a “standard” course book, what comes to mind? Do you picture a long, dense, and text-heavy book?
While it’s true that printed materials remain an important component of training programs, we need to re-visit the traditional design and layout of our course materials to ensure they are effective.
In our mobile-first world, such a dense piece of content goes against today’s online user expectations. Most of us—whether you’re in your 20’s or 60’s – have grown accustomed to information that can be consumed quickly. Short and visual content that uses more direct and common language is easier to comprehend and remember.
Although eLearning will continue to grow substantially, print remains an important part of course content delivery. Paired successfully with digital content, printed training materials can help increase learning outcomes for both in-person and virtual training programs—but only if we reimagine their role, form, and function to meet the expectations of today’s learners.
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