Participant guides can be valuable tools for maintaining learner engagement and reinforcing on-the-job performance when developed as part of instructor-led training. Unfortunately, many times the participant guide is created quickly, if at all, at the end of a project and only includes images of the slides from the presentation. You expect your facilitators to engage the learners, not just to read bullet points on slides. Support your learners' performance by providing high-quality participant guides that are developed concurrently with the facilitator's guides and that provide unique content to the learner.
Before going further, keep in mind that a participant guide doesn't only belong with "traditional" instructor-led learning programs. Learners need encouragement to maintain engagement, and always appreciate a useful takeaway. Use participant guides (or workbooks, or learning journals) with virtual instructor-led training (VILT), with blended learning programs that include both instructor-led moments or coaching sessions and eLearning, or with on-the-job training such as observations and job shadowing. Be creative and include a participant guide in your strategy from the very beginning.
A helpful way to approach a participant guide is to think of it as a space for recording thoughts, asking and answering questions, and locating key takeaway information learners will use on the job. Learners should be paying attention to the facilitator, the activities (hopefully there are many), and the key information summarized visually on slides during the class, and not reading along in their book (participant guide). Let's identify a few key components you can put in your participant guides that can optimize this tool.
Naturally, you want learners to have a space to record their notes and thoughts. Provide open space regularly throughout each topic or lesson for learners to free-form write their notes. If there are opportunities for learners to reflect on a concept or answer a rhetorical question, put that question ahead of a blank in the participant guide so learners can think on paper. Better yet, have the facilitator pose the question and then refer the learners to the space in their guide to answer it, and pause. Learners benefit from regular silent thinking moments during a long training session. At the end of each lesson or topic, provide a large space for learners to record final thoughts or summarize their main takeaways from that segment.
It's quite common in eLearning to place knowledge checks along the way to gauge learner understanding. You can use a similar concept in your participant guide. You can place mini-checks of one or two questions along the way in each topic or lesson, and have the facilitator direct the learner to complete them in the guide. These can be formal, where the learners discuss their answers in class, or informal, where the learners check their own answers and no discussion is needed. Either way, these can be an opportunity for learners to gauge understanding along the way, and to refer back to trouble spots after training when they need to find more information or answers.
Similarly, learners often have questions during training and don't get the opportunity to ask them until the end of a lesson. Provide space(s) for the learners to record their questions to ask for the parking lot or for end-of-lesson reviews. Have the facilitator prompt the learners to return to that space sporadically so all questions can be posed before the end of the training day. Writing questions also gives the learners the opportunity to anticipate topics that may arise later in the training, and to think critically about the training experience, so allow the learners to capture that and fully engage with the course.
The last element you should add to your participant guide is reference material. This can be a blend of key objectives, points, definitions, or models spaced throughout the lesson to reinforce what's on a slide and give learners something to reflect upon after training. But it also should be a glossary, job aids, quick reference guides, process diagrams, and case studies, as these apply to the training. Any content that might be too dense or hard to read on a slide can be placed in the participant guide for reference and use both during class and when the learner is back on the job. That makes the participant guide a more valuable tool for reinforcement than a simple slide deck which makes little sense out of context.
After spending time and creativity building a useful and engaging participant guide that the learner will use throughout class, be certain the facilitator knows how to use it in class by referring the learner to knowledge checks, notes space, and reference materials. By improving the quality of your participant guide, you are enabling the learner to truly participate and engage with the training, and not just follow along with slides.
Brian Ziemba is a senior instructional designer with Caveo Learning. Based in Pittsburgh, Ziemba has over 10 years' experience designing and developing eLearning, instructor-led training, and performance support tools. Prior to joining Caveo, Ziemba worked as a performance consultant with IT firm Five Star Development. He holds an education degree from the University of Pittsburgh.