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Does Anyone Go Handout-free?


It is my experience that many training courses involve the duplication and distribution of handouts in folders.

These often sit on shelves, acquiring dust, whilst rarely being opened.

Is it possible, or desirable to dispense with handouts and ensure that learning is achieved through involvement and application?

Whilst people often like to have copies in front of them (and flick through when bored), have we created an expectation of handouts from our past that needs review?

Your thoughts and comments on this would be most welcome.

Emma Sutton

11 Responses

  1. Limit the Handouts
    Hi Emma
    I agree with your comment about folders gathering dust, I have liken them to trophies in people’s cabinets! When I was designing new folders for my materials I went for one which only allows a total of 10 pages in it, this helps hold back the paper production.
    I tend to put instructions onto slides or flipcharts and send more detailed information handouts as a follow up to the course. The handouts on the course are just the ones I can really justify, this is often a key summary of some of the tools we are using and a programme for the day- so I hope to have no more than 4 pages of handouts.
    Sometimes I lose my courage and produce handouts I don’t really need because I think my clients expect it, so I have still not perfected the art of handout freedom!

  2. handout diets
    Hi Emma

    Following on from the previous post any handouts for exercises are either on slide (instructions) or laminated and reused (case studies).

    Try to use non A4 “handouts”; I use an A5 single fold format that gives a compact four pages of critical information to one page of double sided printing, or a two fold (menu style) A4 which gives you six columns.
    One of my trainers uses a process map printed on A4; she gets a lot more on one sheet than you can on pages. It has lots of www links.
    I have also used business card software to create mini aid memoire cards.
    Another colleague gave delegates mini notebooks that were blank and said “You will note what matters to you…”

    I have had clients question the lack of a “manual” (where they are used to buying training by the page!), in some instances I provide a downloadable manual on my website; “Download and use on screen or download and print, your choice!”

    I hope this helps

  3. go electronic
    Long hand outs during a classroom session are generally a distraction.

    All that printing is a waste if all it does is sit on shelves.

    Limit hand outs to material you will actually use in your sessions interactively. Or single page checklists that might get pinned up and looked at regularly.

    Put the rest of your material on the intranet or network where people can refer to it and print off if they need it.

    Even better, you could use blog or wiki type software that can engage your customers in the material by being able to share comments and ideas around it.

  4. Make the handouts part of the interaction
    Hi Emma

    I agree with you that involvement and application are needed to achieve learning, and so I make sure the handouts are part of this.

    From an accelerated learning point of view, the Linguistic, Visual, and Intrapersonal intelligences benefit from and enjoy the stimulation of using a workbook. For example, as I move from section to section of the course, I will refer people to page x in the workbook, and when I’ve come to the end of that section an exercise may be to write a summary in the book, or fill in the missing letters of a pre-written paragraph, or draw an image that represents to them key learning points.

    Using the workbook this way makes it a useful tool for embedding learning.

  5. perceived value
    I think we agree that handouts are a sort of “comfort blanket” for delegates. Just sitting gathering dust (how many people don’t realise that you actually have to read stuff – it doesn’t permeate into your head if you surround yourself with it…

    The issue is probably one of perceived value. Why not answer this by giving out laminated “crib sheets” with the essential “how too’s” on to each delegate?

    Value with no expense?

    Jonathan Senior
    Sharp End Training

  6. Balance
    Hi Emma

    This is a particularly interesting question. Like everything else, going extreme on any side is not really that helpful. Giving lots of handouts can be a waste of time, but also not giving anything at all is not a good idea either.

    As mentioned by others, perceived value is quite important. Even if the content you give them is going to sit in the bookshelves taking dust, at least they know they have it and can refer to it any time they want. Many people like to collect. This is why they end up with so many books. Just because they already have many books, papers and stuff that they haven’t read, doesn’t mean they don’t want to collect more. It’s just human nature. One day they may need it. That’s why going to a library is exciting. Because there is all these books there waiting to be read. Who knows what you may find!

    There is also another side to this. Delegates who receive something from you may think of the course as more professional and well planned (at least from their own point of view based on their previous experience). As a result they may be more receptive to your content and learn better.

    On the other hand, if they feel they are short changed, then they may simply shut off and feel lost.

    It seems a balanced approach is the best. Give them handouts when it is appropriate or of a reference nature. Give them workbooks so they don’t have to focus on writing all the time. Give them interactive exercise, so they can move around, get creative and don’t feel a need for handouts.

    Soft Skills Training Resources

  7. Variations on a theme

    I have to say that I agree with the comments made by other users so far on this, in particular the ‘added value’ points, the fact that it shows planning, and the fact that some delegates learn better for having things in front of them (and to reflect on later).

    One of the consultancies I work for produces a single page mind map of the workshop, which is great as a memory jogger of key points covered, and is quite visual.

    One of my clients is looking at the possibility of offering delegates the chance to download key models etc from their intranet after attending the course, so people only take what they actually want/need.

    I understand the allure of going handout free, but I do think that SOMETHING is necessary, if only to aid retention, and so help delegates to transfer their learning to the workplace.

    Great question!

  8. Workbooks
    Hi Emma

    I also agree with a lot of the previous comments. I find that instead of using handouts in training, I provide them with a workbook. This way it is used throughout the course and can be used as a reference tool at a later date. If the subject of the course is detailed and complex then I think that the trainees will need key points on handouts to ensure that the learning can be refreshed. Like any training the follow up activity will be crucial to ensuring that these handouts are used and do not simply ‘gather dust’.


  9. Maybe its how you use them
    Maybe the question is not whether we have handouts but how we use them?

    I am not convinced dishing out reams of paper at the end of a course is much use. However I tend to dish them out at strategic points during the workshop so people can take in information in a different way (reading in addition to discussiong with others which is in addition to listening to me).

    Sometimes I put handouts on tables at break/lunchtime for people to look at when they come back to their seat – alternatively I give one out and allow people time to read it.

    I think in communicating information to people variety of methods is key, and using handouts is one way to get more variety – but to distribute loads isn’t variety at all.

    (I like idea of using workbooks and asking people to note their key learning points – I may use that – thanks!)

  10. No handouts

    I’ve been moving away from handouts for sometime now and have moved almost exclusively to giving course participants a CD at the end of the course.

    This includes the main presentation, or an ebook any sample documents, resource sheets with additional information and links to other resource rich websites, supporting materials etc.

    This is proving to be really popular – and you can actually provide “reams” of information for people at a very low cost, in a greener and more user friendly format.

    I’m hoping to add podcasts in the near future.

    I’ve also started to experiment with slideshare – where you can put your presentations online very easlity – you can have a look at my first attempt at



  11. Handouts, but not printed

    It’s been very interesting reading everyone’s comments.

    I still write handouts, although I stopped on the ‘manuals’ many years ago.
    Having been a victim of the cancelled courses problem, when I used to print out the handouts ready for the course – I changed my tack.

    Now I try to have all of the available handouts on the intranet. Each learner gets an appointment for the booking which includes a reminder where the handout is. It’s up to them if they want to print out the handout, either before or after.

    This way the information is available to them, I don’t have to worry about building up a stack of handouts (that I would normally forget to check before I started printing more!) and if people don’t want to attend the course, but want the info, it’s available to them as well.

    I tried the workbook option once – my timetable got shrunk so I didn’t have the time to follow through on the plan – with a new application which will bring major changes to the business processes, I’m thinking about trying again.

    For the contents, I now only write task based notes, covering what people actually need to know – so far so good, no major complaints.

    Michelle Kaye
    IT Trainer
    Boodle Hatfield


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