Training Handouts are a Natural Extension of Instructional Design

Recently I was asked to facilitate a webinar on how to create better handouts. I hesitated initially because I’m not a graphic designer. Then a thought struck me: graphic design may lead to prettier handouts and training manuals, but instructional design leads to more effective and engaging handouts and training manuals.

If you have 45 minutes and would like to see a recording of the webinar in its entirety, here is the link. During the session, I discussed the following five mistakes that many people make when distributing handouts to training participants: 

1. Thinking PowerPoint slides are the same as (effective) handouts

PowerPoint was never invented to be a document creation tool, yet this is one of the most common “resources” I see distributed in both conference sessions and training presentations:

PPT Slides

How often do you go back and refer to someone’s slides after a presentation? So why do we kill so many trees each year to distribute our PowerPoint slides in hard copy form?

PowerPoint is a visual tool whose format doesn’t naturally allow for detailed information to be splashed across the screen. Yes, you can reduce your font size and put a lot of information onto one slide, but then it’s no longer a very good visual aid to be projected.

One solution could be to print your slides with notes so that instead of this:

Slides as handouts

you have this:

Slides with Notes

In this way, you can keep your slides free of text that would otherwise clutter your visual presentation in the training room and people who have your handouts can walk away with information that you may not have been able to fit on your slides.

Another way to address it is to develop a set of handouts that aligns with your slides, but that makes your learners earn the information you’re presenting by making sure they’re taking notes if they want to walk away from your presentation with complete ideas.

Instead of this:

PPT Slide Example

they get this:


2. Thinking handouts are a one-way form of communication

If your handouts are only delivering content from the presenter to the participants, then you’re missing a golden opportunity for adding both engagement and structure to that engagement.

Beyond just a channel to deliver content, handouts can be used to structure peer-to-peer interactions (here is an example of a feedback form that helps give structure to a peer-to-peer feedback activity):

Feedback form

and here is an example of how a handout can turn into an accountability tool for next steps following your session:

3-ply NCR

Above is an image of an action plan printed on 3-ply NCR paper, which allows learners to write their action steps on the top sheet, and carbon(less) copies of their action plan on the next two plies of paper can be given to their supervisor and mailed to participants 60 days after your session as a reminder of what they committed to do.

3. Thinking it’s ok to distribute a loose set of handouts

This is a pretty simple, yet common mistake and is simply about the environment you’re seeking to create as your participants enter your room. Do you want them to find a table that looks like this:

Handouts on desk

or this:

Handouts in a folder

Taking care of small details such as how to keep handouts all together and impressing your participants by making it look like you’ve put in the effort to ensure a professional environment can make a difference.

4. Printing all of your information on the handout

As I mentioned in the first point above, it’s not a bad idea to make your participants “earn” your content. Providing handouts with all of the information allows your participants to multitask or daydream.

Using handouts with some missing information that needs to be filled in can help keep participants engaged and active in the learning.

Following are three examples of handouts that offer some structure to your participants while also allowing them plenty of space to make note of key discussion points and content.


Venn Diagram

Handout 3

5. Creating handouts like they’ve always been created

This final point is something that can truly make your presentation stand out from conventional training programs. Many handouts are perfectly adequate… but who wants people to walk away saying: “That session was… adequate”?

Here is an example of a peer observation form that is perfectly useful and adequate:

Observation Form - Conventional

This is also an example of my earlier point that handout design is a natural extension of instructional design. While it’s a conventional training technique to simply introduce people to an observation form and then have participants use it during the session. One fun alternative to a conventional observation form that we’ve used is to turn the observation form into a BINGO card:

Observation Form - Unique

In addition to adding an element of fun, this slight variation on the observation form helped us keep participants engaged in each observation.

There are many ways to re-imagine conventional handouts to create a memorable experience for your learners, and when they can remember what you’ve taught, they have a better chance of using it when they return to their jobs.

What’s missing from this list? How have you put your handouts to use as an engagement tool for your participants?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.