Mar 04, 2011

Hello everybody, I work developing on line training courses for the real estate market.  Each of our courses has a workbook attached based on the 'fill in the blanks' concept.  Some or our customer have not welcome this kind of workbooks and suggested us to look into other options.  Any of you offer workbooks to download and print together with your courses and if yes, do you have any suggestion for me? steps to follow, visual examples, suggested websites, etc.  I have not succeed in my research, yet.  Thank you very much!

5 Replies
Steve Flowers

Hi Milagros,

We've actually done several rounds of user study over the past year surrounding print based companions (workbooks and magazine style attachments). We use them to convey concepts and information that are efficiently received through reading and reference mechanisms. In theory, this is great. In practice, there are some hitches. Here's what we found:

  1. Some users really like this mechanism. I'm in the user group that hates to be read to or have slides spoonfed my way. An external reading assignment allows me to acquire at my own speed and make annotations.

  2. Some users really hate this mechanism and would rather just have the slides spoonfed their way. I believe over half of our users were in this group. I'm guessing more than half of these users can have expectations reconditioned but that still leaves a non-trivial slice of our user population that will hate being asked to acquire by reading. We haven't given up on reading assignments and progressive disclosure (deeper investigation through read case studies, etc..) but we do reallize that it might be resisted by a significant portion of our user base.

  3. One mode needs to be dominant. A 50%/50% share between the workbook and the online media confuses people. Either make the workbook the core / dominant navigation driver or make the online media the dominant navigation driver.

  4. The printables are better received if they have utility. We found that checklists and helpful tools were great core elements to the offline printables and were more likely to be printed, appreciated, and used.

  5. Users were very likely to read the first article prescribed by the learning sequence within the external document. They were less likely to read the second and even less likely to read the third. Lesson here, anything that's important for acquisition by reading, make sure it's in the first article (or only have one brief primary article).

  6. For offline tracked elements, we had some success prescribing users to print a self-certification checklist to track their own progress through the activities. Especially if it looked official.

I think if the workbook is focused around the best methods for acquisition, engagement, and self-service tracking most users will appreciate the tool. If the workbook fights with the online materials for dominance or users are required to bounce back and forth frequently, it'll lose it's luster really quickly.

That's my experience. I love the concept of a workbook. But the formula will change depending on the problem and audience composition.

James Brown


I'm in an industry very similar to your except the training program that I am redesigning focuses on the collection industry and in the past we use to give learners copy of the slides along with notes sheets. Granted this is a nice way of allowing the person to follow along in the training, but the the training program in general was nothing more than an information overload. WIth that in miind I came up with instruction that is instructor led and self-paced learning. The self paced learning places the learner into a learning scenario and at the end of the scenario the learner is given a short quiz to first see if they comprehend what they have just been told and to see if they have reached the goal I wanted them to reach with the block of instruction.

So back to the basics. You need to first come up with a goal. What do you wish to achieve with the training. Next figure out what you need to obtain that goal. Does a workbook help you reach the goal or does it hinder the goal? Is the workbook necessary? Would cheat sheets be a better option in place of workbooks? You need to design your course with 80% of your clients in mind and don't worry so much about the 20%. No matter what you do, you will always have one person who does not like the training methods where as the rest of your trainees will love it.

Good luck.

Milagros Marchetti

Thank you very much.

The courses we make are very interactive and we do use quizzes, exam, games, etc but we still want to provide them with a workbook and we are not necessarily satisfy with the amount of "blanks" our 'filling the blanks" form has. We have tried different people but we are still not satisfy with the product.  

Is there a website or any other resource where we could see examples or references of how to build one from scratch or suggested criteria to apply to not leave to many or too little 'blanks'?

Heather Wolfe-Hall

An interesting question, and one our company struggles with as well.  As a former English teacher, I am old school and love the idea of a companion workbook.  I'm the type that likes to jot down notes; and I love to have print materials to go back to.  That being said, I can look at my shelf of workbooks, both for live and virtual courses, and see nothing but dust covering them. 

So the first thing you need to determine is - is a workbook necessary?  Do your learners need to fill in those blanks in order to be successful in the course, to retain the knowledge or to develop the skill(s) you're teaching?  If the answer is not a resounding YES, then definitely rethink the workbook concept.  Especially for self-paced learning courses, you should make the learning the focus, not the mechanics of filling in a workbook. 

As we all know, each learner is different.  What I have elected to do with most of my courses is to provide a companion workbook (which in effect becomes a job aid or cheat sheet collection after the course), but have set it as "Not Required."  It is available in the LMS, and there are a few instructions relative to the workbook available in the course if they hover over the workbook icon, but it is not scored - learners can use it if they like...or not. 

As to sites that provide templates or other ideas for workbooks, there are a ga-zillion!  The best ones (believe it or not) are typically educator sites (grades 6-12 primarily).  Most of the corporate site templates seem to be really glorified outlines with too much text.  Follow the KISS rule, and remember that less is more.  Capture only the really important concepts - the need to know - and save the nice to know for non-interactive "reference" style pages if you feel you have to have them.

Bottom line:  The more you can make your learning customizable by the learner, the more successful you (and they) will be. 

~ H.

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