Digitization is inevitable, as we all know. Nonetheless, printed manuals offer specific advantages over digital texts that businesses use for their staff training. Virtually all specialized surveys find that print-documentation properties such as portability, readability (legibility), and quickness, with which one can absorb large portions of information, make print manuals a preferred choice for most readers.
Reading a print manual also increases engagement, which in turn results in a better outcome from training. We can compare a training manual to an ad that aims at attracting and retaining your target audience’s attention. In this case, the audience consists of your employees, who are supposed to stay focused during training sessions and gain as much long-lasting knowledge as possible.
How the Brain Processes Print and Digital Formats
Take a look at the table below that is from a survey conducted by Temple University for the U.S. Post Office and compares the performance of print and digital materials. The researchers have studied the effects of ads on the audience, but the very same principles and outcomes apply to print and digital documents in general.
How Paper Content Affects Our Brains
If you want your employees to process the information you present to them more quickly, then digital documents are a better choice, the survey finds. But you want much more from corporate or professional training. Looking at the survey results, we see that print documents, including print manuals, engage viewers for more time. Furthermore, respondents are reporting they recall many more details about the subject they have learned through print media a week after they saw the information. Bearing in mind that respondents have about the same preference for print and digital media and have absorbed about the same amount of information, then you definitely should opt for the format that creates longer-lasting memories about the subject you train. And this format happens to be print manuals.
For many reasons, our brains process print documentation better than digital formats and produce longer-lasting memories when print manuals are involved. Sure, digital still has advantages when interactive info or animated screens are involved, but we all tend to remember more information and for a longer time after we view it in print media.
Attributes of Print Manuals and Digital Counterparts
Let’s now look at some major attributes of printed and online documentation and then try to determine which properties of each provide benefits when better employee training is required.
A major advantage of print manuals is their portability. Despite the widespread digitization and internet availability, you still have plenty of scenarios where online or digital documents are inaccessible or too slow to be useful. Digital is fine when you run a training session in a New York-based headquarters, but it is barely useful if you are educating your employees in the field or in remote areas.
Then you have readers’ preferences concerning reading a hard copy versus electronic documents. A survey by the Wall Street Journal reveals the majority of U.S. internet users simply prefer print books compared to e-books and other electronic documents.
Percentage of People Who Prefer Print over E-books
As you can see, a total of 79 percent of U.S. online users are reading more or the same number of print books as compared to e-books. A good number of users will still print out and then read an online or digital document if they have a choice.
This is specifically true for extended documentation that contains more than a few paragraphs or, say, 800 to 1,000 words. One may argue that younger users are more comfortable with digital documents and online manuals, but one should still explain why all people create longer-lasting memories when using print manuals. It is not the time to dig deeper into advanced aspects of neuroscience, but we have a lot of research and survey data that confirms printed manuals produce better results when you need your employees to focus on the subject of your training and also remember numerous specific details.
Scientific research also finds that reading paper is about 30 percent faster compared to reading off the screen. This means print manuals are clearer, compared to their digital counterparts, especially when reading on a small display such as the screens of mobile devices.
Manuals are for continuous use and they are not one-time training materials. Most of your employees will need to refer to these manuals from time to time and there are many scenarios where reading the info on a screen is not advisable.
We are not even speaking about emergencies here. Obviously, you will not have your online manual available in case of a power outage, for instance, but you can have your printed manual on hand at any time, once you have completed the training course in question. Yes, you can lose or damage your print manual, but it is definitely more “available” compared to digital documents that depend on power sources, networks, and/ or connections to other devices.
You should not take for granted that printed manuals produce better results when training employees. For instance, if you need to update a manual on a weekly basis, a digital format may be the better choice.
Thankfully, automated inspection options exist, so as to prevent the need to continually have to correct errors, on a wide variety of formats, including both digital and hard-copy documents before they get published/ printed. Errors run the gamut from common misspellings to text discrepancies between revisions that are easily detected by specialized software. Regardless of the format, accessibility in addition to content is king. In many ways, print manuals are just more accessible than digital ones.
Print manuals help your employees remember required information for more time and also keep their attention on the subject you are teaching. As most corporate and professional training courses involve a large volume of information and very specific details, it would be a good choice to opt for print manuals to produce better outcomes.
About the Author
Ryan Stevens is a print expert who enjoys sharing industry knowledge with print enthusiasts all over the web. As CEO of Replica Printing Inc., Ryan is involved with all major printing styles and options on a daily basis.