How to Refresh Your Training Manuals for Today’s Learners (And Why You Should!)

When was the last time you updated your training materials? Not just the content, but the layout and design?

As you think about the future of your professional development programs and how to adapt to a new generation of learners, your course books, manuals, and workbooks play a significant role. If they haven’t been updated in a few years, here’s why you should consider doing it soon, and what changes to consider.

Gen Z Has Arrived, And They Are Changing the Conventions of Learning Design

Generation (Gen) Z is the newest generation to enter the workforce. Born between 1997 and 2012, they are the second biggest demographic group in the U.S. behind Millennials. By 2030, they are projected to make up at least 30 percent of the workforce.

Early observations of this group indicate they value ongoing learning and development. Which makes them important to the growth and success of your training programs. But they also have very specific needs and expectations for these learning opportunities.

Shorter, more visual content

As a mobile-first generation who has never known the world without the internet, social media, and texting, they consume content differently than their older peers.  In response, organizations have changed how they serve up that content, which has caused a ripple effect across all generations. Most of us—whether you’re in your 20’s or 50’s—have grown accustomed to (and even prefer) information that can be consumed quickly. Short and visual content is becoming the new standard.

Flexibility and choice

Members of Gen Z are used to seeing brands and organizations serve personalized content—from recommended series on platforms like Netflix, to the “For You” page on TikTok.  They are also more likely to have spent time in classrooms that allowed them to choose how they learn best. This means educational content needs to be multi-dimensional, serving up the same information multiple ways within a single chapter or section.

Hands-on exploration

A report from Barnes & Noble College notes that Gen Z learns best by doing. Having grown up with the internet, they know how to conduct their own research and find answers. Educational materials such as course books, workbooks, and manuals will be the most effective if they not only introduce learning concepts, but also provide self-directed exercises and tasks that help dig deeper, find real-world examples, and apply this knowledge.

Three Ways to Update Your Training Manuals for Young Professionals

Adapting to new learning preferences doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your training content. Just how you present it.

1.     Break up text into smaller pieces

Today’s writing conventions favor content that’s clear and concise. Text that is short, to the point, and uses more common language is easier (and faster) to read and remember. You don’t have to “dumb down” or pare back your training content. But you should avoid fluff and filler words, language that is too formal, inflated phrases and redundancies.

There are several free or low-cost online tools you can use to tighten your text. One of our favorites is Hemingway Editor. It scans and scores your writing, looking for issues like overly-complex words and sentences, unnecessary adverbs, and frequent use of the passive voice—all things that negatively affect comprehension and retention.

Example of how the Hemingway Editor tool works
Hemingway Editor sample

2.     Make your training manual more visual

Visual elements like photos, icons, and other graphics help to make your content more vibrant and exciting. Using them is a natural way to break up long sections of text into smaller pieces that are more manageable for the reader. And several studies demonstrate that we process visual information faster and retain it longer.

Icons, photos, illustrations, graphs, and other graphics can be combined with well-used typography to better organize the information being presented or to reinforce it.  Here are just two of our favorite examples:

Sample training manual using visual elements to support the text
Sample training manual with visual elements

3.     Turn the printed page into an interactive piece

Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to blend your printed materials with other online, interactive tools. Introduce key concepts in your training materials and use QR codes and AI tools to seamlessly link to other tools and resources that enhance the learning experience. Some examples include:

  • Short videos that provide deeper storytelling, practical examples, and simulations
  • Mini quizzes and assessments on game-based platforms like Cahoots
  • Online collaboration and discussion tools like Slack or dedicated social media pages
Example of using QR codes in a training manual to provide supplemental training videos
Example of using QR codes in a training manual

You can also include instructions for self-directed assignments, like an internet scavenger hunt, that are completed outside of the textbook.

Combining your printed materials with online experiences not only gives your learners the flexibility, choice, and freedom to shape their own learning process, it makes it easier to keep your on-page content more manageable. You won’t have to rely solely on your on-page text to deliver all the information necessary.

If it’s been several years or more since you’ve made updates to your training materials, now is the time to make it a priority. Today, it’s about more than just keeping your manuals looking fresh and contemporary. Take this opportunity to make design and layout changes that address how young professionals prefer to learn and help improve learning outcomes.

Looking for more ideas? Check out this article: Combining AI with Printed Course Materials to Enhance In-Person Training.