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Technical Writing: Are Training Manuals Extinct?

My first contract ever, I was hired as a Technical Writer with an oil company. They had an entire training curriculum that was taught by webinar and classroom on the Microsoft Office Suite. Coveted skills were broken down into 1.5 hour workshops, such as Excel Pivot Tables and PowerPoint Templates, to name a few. Each workshop had classroom instruction, as well as a training manual with all steps that learners could download for future reference. These manuals also served the purpose of helping instructors prepare for the classes with the topics, curriculum and source files.

The Last Five Years

Fast forward to the last few years, the world of training has not included long form documentation as a standard offering for quite some time. But my question is, are training manuals extinct? Or, is there still a place for long form documentation to support blended learning materials? I believe for certain types of projects, definitely!.

Even though documenting the office suite isn't a role I have seen for a decade, there are a few contracts I have had in the last five or so years where this level of documentation was necessary.

Use Case 1: Health and Safety

More recently, I worked for a company that specialized in helping their clients with outsourced services and software for safety. I created eLearning to help their clients learn the software to run those pieces of their business. However, I first created an extensive manual to support them, and this had all the documented steps of how to set up, manage, change or archive different functions in the software. It was built as a reference, since they had scenario based eLearning and video to learn the software. But let's be honest, it is easier to search a PDF and be directed to the exact procedure you need in a crisis, then it is to find a video and watch it. Having a complete learning manual written for useability and searchability was a huge service to their clients. It also gave us the flexibility to release the manual with the software, and then I could create the eLearning after release. It gave our clients the head start to copy and paste parts of the documentation to update their own Standard Operating Procedures. If your clients or learners have your product tied to policy or procedures, that is a perfect use case to have the training fully documented and searchable in an online help product, or a manual.

Use Case 2: Regulatory

I worked for an oil and gas regulator that was automating many of their manual approvals processes. This was a huge shift for their clients, to change from shipping boxes of files and sending in a form, to updating an electronic form and attaching documents into new software. In some cases, approvals, or direction for next steps were almost immediate. The prior manual process could take weeks or months. On this project, I created a lot of classroom training and video as well. I ran a lot of workshops for industry to give them some hands on practice on how to submit their data, or request an approval. However, in addition, those companies also had standard operating procedures documenting the old manual way. We provided videos on YouTube to show the new process, and also had a page full of documentation that could be used to add to their internal Standard Operating Procedures. This is another perfect use case where creating video and eLearning isn't always enough.

What do you think? If you are an instructional designer, when is the last time you wrote a training manual? For everyone else, when is the last time you wished you had a reference manual online, or a PDF to search for a solution to a problem? Leave a comment below! I would love to hear from you.


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