THE WRITTEN WORD -- THE NEGLECTED MEDIA
OF INTERNATIONAL TRAINING
Margaret L. Hively
Frank A. Fender
For several years we have been involved in the design,
development and presentation of specialized training courses
and workshops for international participants. These
participants come from the agriculture/rural development sector
of Third World countries. Most hold mid- to senior level
positions within government organizations and many have
previously received degrees from U.S. universities.
These courses and workshops cover a wide range of subject
matter areas--small farmer credit, agricultural marketing,
policy formulation and analysis, various aspects of project,
program and organizational management, technical agriculture,
extension and training of trainers. They range from 3-8 weeks
in length and focus on issues affecting Third World countries.
The training is highly interactive so participants can share
ideas with each other as well as with the trainers. Courses
are designed and conducted with a mix of practical experience,
field work, classroom activity and back-home application so
trainees can gain not only new cognitive knowledge but also
practical skills for putting the concepts into practice within
the realities of their own work environment. Courses emphasize
a problem-solving approach in order to provide participants
with the knowledge and skills most relevant to their
situations. This training is conducted both in the U.S. and
overseas. Overseas courses are focused on specific country
needs and can also be conducted in the native language.
Our experience has brought us into contact with many
different professors, consultants and contractors and just as
many different philosophies and theologies of how it "ought to
Generally the training presented has been good. However,
experience has led us to conclude that the art and science of
developing and using effective written materials to support
these training presentations has been sorely neglected. This
is one of those areas where rhetoric greatly outdistances the
tangible product. We find this especially amazing since
everyone talks at length about the importance of having such
materials for use with the course--and then don't. All too
often course participants are presented with masses of
independently xeroxed articles from a wide variety of sources
with no continuity and sometimes little apparent relevance to
the course topic. And the trainer then does not use them
directly or indirectly to support the presentation. Thus, much
of the training appears out-of-context and confusing to the
participants. They find it difficult to find, follow and
understand the common theme of conceptual content running
throughout -the various training activities and may fail to see
how these activities apply to their own situation.
This is especially true for participants who are
attempting to use English as a second or even third language.
Written materials can assist them in understanding the concepts
presented and activities conducted in the classroom. They
permit the participants to review at their own pace and
reinforce when understanding of the spoken word is not totally
Training materials should meet the information needs of
the audience. This audience includes both the trainers and the
participants. Well-prepared materials provide the basic text
and reference materials throughout the course, serve as
guidelines in preparing the course design, can be used as a
reference after completion of the training and provide a
resource for training co-workers.
A well-organized set of training materials with a variety
of activities can:
A. Assist in meeting the different learning styles of
the participants. Research has shown that different
people learn in different ways. Some excel at
assimilating facts into a coherent theory while
others are best at deductive reasoning. Some are
best at logical and rational perspectives while
others prefer to do things and involve themselves in
new experiences. Reactions to learning situations
are determined by the individual's learning style.
In order to provide activities which give an
opportunity for all in a group with differing
learning styles to learn, a variety of methodologies
must be used to present any given concept.
B. Give discipline, order and structure to a training
program. Many foreign participants have stressed
that the orderliness of training is very valuable to
them. Again, this is especially true for those
struggling with the language. Materials designed
with a beginning, a middle and an end can provide
discipline, order and structure to the course
design. This organization establishes a framework
which increases a trainer's ability to train and the
participant's ability to learn.
C. Provide guidelines for the trainer and quality
control for the sponsor. Well-organized training
materials with a diversity of training experiences
can be used by a variety of trainers for various and
diverse audiences. As pointed out in a trainer's
report, "a manual tying the training materials
together into a course, with instructions and
suggestions for group activities and other
techniques to cover the subject matter would be
extremely helpful and time-saving for the
trainers." Or, as another trainer noted, "the
absence of discreet modules of material on specific
subject topics, training designs and directions on
how to use the written materials can have a serious
impact on the quality of the course. While
modifications of previously prepared materials and
associated designs will and should occur to
accommodate the participant's needs, adequate
materials and designs are the course foundation and
must be developed beforehand."
D. Provide for efficient and effective presentation of
the core conceptual content. This is especially
important for training of participants from the
Third World. Very few training materials exist which
are appropriate for this audience and relevant to
.the "real-life" situations they encounter in their
daily lives. The limited availability and access to
good libraries in these countries make it extremely
difficult to obtain reference materials.
E. Provide essential support for the use of more
participatory training methods. With the emergence
of applied behavioral sciences there is a continuing
shift in the mix of training methods being used.
They are becoming more experiential. Indigenous
training materials are, however, a prerequisite for
the most effective use of these methods.
Unfortunately, these materials simply do not exist.
F. Serve as a reference after course is completed.
Many former participants keep their course manuals,
books and other training materials in a position
where they can be easily retrieved during their wo-rk
day. One particular participant in a management
course indicated that he had read and reread the
entire course manual, book and handouts three times
within five months since the course in an attempt to
find ways to improve his job performance. Since no
management books were available in his area, these
course materials were not only his best, but sole
G. The shorter the training, or for training scheduled
intermittently over time, the more important are
good materials. Especially for senior-level people
with lots of demands on their time, there is a
tendency to schedule a series of short
interventions. Well-prepared training materials
allow the trainers to cover the major topics most
relevant to the participant's needs during the
sessions. The participants can then expand their
understanding by studying the materials in greater
depth between interventions. The materials can
provide a linkage and continuity between
Reasons for Neglect
One can postulate various reasons or excuses for the
discrepancy that exists between the amount of talk and action
regarding the development and use of training materials. It is
unfortunate, but true that few understand what good training
materials are. A case in point; ;when requested by contract to
prepare materials for a particular training course, one group
of well-qualified subject-matter specialists responded with
three 3-inch notebooks filled with computer sheets, copies of
overheads, independent exercises and no explanation of how one
thing related to another or even what it was. And this was
after they had been given a specific example of what was
needed. Unfortunately, far too often this is the rule rather
than the exception!
Developing good training materials is not synonomyus with
gathering up, xeroxing and assembling a collection of
readings. Rather, materials development involves a thoughtful
process of literature search and review, writing, rewriting,
synthesizing and organizing a variety of activities in such a
way that they improve understanding and help the participants
apply the concepts to their own situation.
Various activities included in good training materials
are (1) learning objectives which point out what one is
expected to learn, (2) readings which present the core
concepts, (3) review and discussion questions that provide
greater understanding of the concepts, (4) short exercises to
practice concept application, (5) case studies, role plays,
simulations which allow looking at applications in a more
complex, real-life situation, (6) field work to view the
concepts in the real world and (7) self-evaluation to determine
if the learning objectives have been met.
There also appears to be a somewhat widespread inability
to write in a simple, straightforward, explanatory manner
understandable to foreign nationals. Therefore, there is an
apparent lack of resources to turn to that have the capability
to create the kind of product desired and needed.
There is often a shortsightedness about the value of the
materials development process. The development of good
training materials is a time-consuming and labor-intensive
process. Good materials are never really completed. Rather,
they are prepared, used, reviewed, evaluated and revised. Out
of course presentations, new examples, exercises and case
studies are always being discovered that can be incorporated
into existing materials. It is an interactive process of
Many people, especially those in government
bureaucracies, tend by nature to be action-oriented. This is
reinforced by daily on-the-job pressures to move the paper,
move the dollars, and get things done--soon. In general, they
do not, or perhaps cannot, place a high value on
time-consuming, labor-intensive activities such as the develop-
ment of good materials.
For many organizations this is shortsighted since such an
orientation and working environment can often result in the
neglect of "organizational overhead" which provides financial
support and recognition to those involved in product
development and improvement. In the long run, failure to
support this creative process and focus attention only on
marketing--course presentations--will cause the activity, and
consequently the organization, to suffer since adequate
resources are not given to maintaining product quality. An
example from industry is appropriate. If a chemical company
does not recognize and pay its research chemists, it will not
continue to have a quality product to sell. Just because the
research scientists do not bring in revenue by selling the
products does not mean their work is not important to the
company. Similarly, if a training organization does not
support and recognize training design and materials development
as an important aspect of its work, its product line will
become outdated and it will lose its competitive edge in the
If a training institution devotes its time to conducting
more and more courses while failing to develop and accumulate
appropriate case studies, readings, etc., it quickly falls into
a rut of conducting the same course over and over again. This
leads to training based on expedience rather than need. One
senses the influence of expedience when one hears the statement
"Country X and Y are both developing countries. They can't be
that different. We'll use the same case studies--besides, we
already have 100 copies!" Such behavior quickly negates the
ability to tailor, modify and adapt materials to meet
participants where they are and relate the content to specific
region, country or organizational situations. This obviates
the very essence of what good training is all about and
adversely affects the viability of the organization.
Another reason for the paucity of good materials is the
lack of understanding by many of the difference between
training and teaching. Many in the academic world who do have
time to write, prepare textbooks which can be used to teach but
do not provide an adequate resource for training. These
textbooks relate only concepts, they do not present a body of
interrelated activities. They are usually written in a
technical manner, using the jargon of the subject matter area,
and are difficult to understand--especially by those for whom
English is a second or third language. No attempt is made to
relate the content to professional responsibilities of the
target audience and consequently they, by themselves, lack the
flexibility necessary to meet the needs of the target
audience. These texts can often be quite useful as supple-
mentary references in the training course but not as the
primary training materials.
Currently, there is a strong emphasis on the "process" in
training. While this is generally beneficial, it sometimes
leads to a neglect of content. Written materials are wrongly
perceived as providing only the content--when, in fact, good
training materials can help provide an appropriate blending of
the process and the content. Content and process should be
mutually supportive and integrated. Content supports the
process and process supports the content. The written
materials should be prepared in such a way as to provide entry
points for the process skills and organize the activities so
their relationship to the content is clear.
Associated with this emphasis on processs" is the growing
use of video as a training tool. While video technology can be
extremely useful in the presentation of training programs, it
still has serious limitations for use in much of the Third
World. According to a 1982 United Nations study only 3.6
percent of indoor assembly places worldwide had an electric
outlet within fifty feet. (They failed to estimate how many of
these worked!) Under any circumstances, the use of video does
not in any way preclude the need for written materials.
Written materials and video technology are not media
substitutes ;' rather they are complementary. For best results
from both, they should be designed together and used as an
Criteria for Determining Type of Materials Needed
Many factors need to be considered when developing,
adapting and modifying written training materials. Working
through the following set of criteria is most useful in
deciding what are the most appropriate characteristics of the
materials needed for a specific training program.
A. Training Objectives. Are the objectives of the
training to impart new knowledge, influence
attitudes or develop skills? What level of
knowledge, attitudes and skills? The types of
materials developed need to be consistent with the
training objectives. For example, if the objective
is to help the participants develop skills in
problem solving, then the materials need to provide
some activities in which they can practice solving
problems. Only readings on problem-solving
techniques are not sufficient to meet this objective.
B. Nature of Content. Is the content of the training
technical, behavioral, scientific, administrative?
'Again, the materials must be specific for the type
of content being presented. If the content is the
calculation of a benefit-cost ratio, then there must
be reading materials which present the formula, the
necessary calculations, and examples as well as
exercises where participants, with paper and pencil,
can practice using the formula and working through
the calculations. If, however, the content focuses
on the collection of data to determine the benefits
and costs, then the materials need to include more
interactive activities so the participants can
practice their interviewing skills with each other
and in the field.
C. Characteristics of Participants. The materials must
be developed so they are appropriate for the
participants' age, educational level, work
experience, reading ability and cultural
background. This is essential for the participants
to understand the materials and be able to relate
the content to their own situation.
D. Trainers. How many trainers will be involved with
the presentation? What is their training experience
and subject matter knowledge? The availability and
competence of trainers is an important consideration
in materials development. If trainers with limited
experience or different trainers are used for each
presentation, then the trainer's materials need to
be more extensive. They need to provide more
detailed instructions for each activity and
suggestions for teaching the specific topic. A
wider array of suggested course designs for a
variety of audiences, course lengths and trainer
styles may be necessary.
E. Space and equipment. The materials must match the
space and equipment available. If the materials
include activities for small group discussion, then
space is needed for the small groups to meet. If
materials are developed to be used with a
computer-assisted simulation, then the required
computer equipment is needed, in working condition
and with an energy source. If the materials are to
be used in a variety of settings, then activities
which can be used in a variety of ways may be most
F. Time. How much time is available to prepare the
materials? How long is the training? During what
-time of day will the training be conducted? If time
is short for preparing the materials, it may be more
realistic to modify and adapt already existing
materials. The amount of materials and the
activities which can be effectively used will vary
with the length of the training. If the materials
are to be used with varying course lengths, then
flexibility to add or subtract from the materials
G. Costs. Both the costs of developing the materials
and preparing copies for each presentation need to
be considered. Not only the writing and editing
costs, but also the typing, proofing, duplicating
and assembling costs must be included.
Both content and resource factors are important in
designing training materials. If content-oriented criteria are
ignored--the materials will be ineffective. If resource-
oriented criteria (time, space, cost) are not considered--the
materials will be impractical. Determining the best approach,
based on the above criteria for the specific training program,
will greatly assist in developing materials which will meet the
needs as well as be readily available and useable.
Characteristics of Good Training Materials
One of the main characteristics of good training
materials is that they are understandable by the participants.
They certainly must be technically accurate but, just as
important, the participants must be able to clearly understand
what is being presented. The idea is to have the participants
struggle with the relationships and relevance of what is being
taught--not with trying to understand and decipher the written
Developing materials which are easily understood by
international participants requires using a vocabulary and
writing style which is easily (1) understood by people who are
using English as a second or third language and (2) translated
into other languages without losing the original meaning. This
1. Use simple language ; e.g., "do" rather than
"acc omp lish", "use" rather than "utilize", "try"
rather than "attempt".
2. Use consistent terminology: e.g., do not use
objective, goal and target to express the same
concept. Pick one and use it throughout so the
participants are not spending their time trying to
figure out the difference between objective, goal
and target if t-here is none.
3. Do not use contractions.
4. Use active verbs ; e.g. "The project officer should
interview all farmers" ; not, "All farmers should be
interviewed by the project officer."
5. Although variety is important to avoid monotony,
sentences and paragraphs should be relatively short
and use simple construction.
6.Avoid using jargon and idioms. The marginal revenue
is "in the ballpark" leaves the participants
wondering what the relationship of income and
expenses has to do with playing ball. In addition,
its meaning is practically impossible to translate.
7. Explain any terminology which may be unfamiliar to
the participants but is essential to the content.
In many cases, a glossary at the end of the unit can
be most useful as a reference for the participants.
Other characteristics of training materials which we have
found useful when dealing in the international arena are:
1. Ease of handling and carrying (otherwise, the
materials will not be used)
2. Able to withstand rigors of mailing/shipping.
3. Flexibility for different course lengths and content.
4. Actively involve participants.
5. Address varying ability and background of
participants and trainers.
6. Variety to hold interest.
7. Organized so new trainers and trainers with
different training styles can use.
8. Standard format for similar course.
Materials which will meet the -above criteria need to be
presented in a cohesive package yet with maximum flexibility.
This way the materials can be added to and subtracted from with
ease, yet look like they were developed especially for each
particular presentation. This can be accomplished by preparing
discreet units or modules each of which will provide a variety
of training activities to cover one concise topic. Each unit
stands alone--even to the point of being separately page
numbered. Then the most appropriate units to best meet the
specific needs of a specific group of participants can be
selected and packaged into a cohesive package for each course
To form a cohesive package, each module should be
developed using the same format. Then, as various modules are
combined, they still appear to have been specifically developed
to form this particular package. The format for each module
which we have found most useful and flexible includes:
A. Rationale and objectives to explain what the
participants will learn and why.
B. Key points which indicate briefly the major content
items of the unit--what the participants need to
know to understand and perform the skills presented
in the module.
C. Core material which presents the major content to
support the achievement of the objectives.
D. Discussion questions, case studies, role plays,
problem-solving exercises and other activities to
help develop the participants' skills.
E. Self evaluations for the participants to evaluate
their own knowledge and skills.
To company the participant's module, there needs to be
materials for the trainer. These provide guidelines for using
the module and help to design and organize the session. These
might consist of:
A. Suggested designs of varying lengths which use the
materials and activities in the participant's module.
B. Guidelines for conducting the various activities.
C. Reference to appropriate audio-visual materials
related to the topic.
D. Reference to other articles and activities which
could be used to expand on the topic when
E. Answer keys to the problems and exercises.
Such materials can greatly aid the trainer, knowledgeable in
the subject matter, to quickly and easily design a session
which will include the materials and activities most
appropriate for the specific audience.
"Tricks of the Trade"
The development of good training materials should not
neglect the importance of the typing and reproduction process.
The appearance of the typed material on a page can impact on
the impression given about the content. Sloppy pages give the
impression of sloppy content. Good quality typing, formating
and clean pages are more easily read and give the impression of
high quality content.
The typed format can have a major impact on making the
materials more readable and understandable. The amount and
location of the white space on the page determines the
attractiveness of the format. By increasing the white space
and spreading out the typing, complicated concepts can look
less complex. Thus, the participants are less likely to get
the impression that the material is too difficult for them and
give up before they try to read through it.
Providing variations in the format can increase the ease
of reading and give emphasis to the important points. Some
types of variations which can be used are:
A. Frequent and multi-level headings.
B. Lists of items.
C. Tables and graphs.
F. Setting off equations, important phrases, etc., from
the main text.
It is important that the format be consistent'with the
content and the purpose of the materials. For training
materials, it is important to avoid being "cute" for the sake
of variety. This can be distracting and the participants can
become more engrossed in the format than in the content.
How the materials will be duplicated and assembled needs
to be determined before finalizing the format and typing. If
different colors can be used, then this needs to be taken into
consideration when designing the format. If materials will be
assembled in three-ring notebooks, then appropriate margins
must be provided for the punching.
By giving attention to these many considerations when
designing the materials, many unforeseen "hang-ups" can be
avoided once the materials are ready for final typing and
reproduction. This can increase the speed of accomplishing
these more mechanical parts of the process and more likely
result in the materials being available on time for the
Resources for Materials Development
The development of guood training materials requires
people who have an interest in, understanding of and skills for
the designing, writing, editing, typing and reproduction
process. As noted earlier, one of the reasons for the neglect
of good materials is the seeming paucity of people with these
talents. This may be somewhat due to the attempt to find all
the required skills in one person.
Development of training materials requires subject matter
expertise, knowledge of training design and methodology, and
writing ability. The best possible product can be created by
having people with the various types of expertise interact and
work together under the direction of someone who understands
what constitutes good training materials.
One approach which we have used quite successfully is to
have a group of subject matter experts, trainer and materials
developer interact together about the (1) target audience, (2)
training objectives, (3) necessary content to meet these
objectives, and (4) most appropriate training methodologies.
Using this information, the subject matter experts) drafts the
content material. The training materials developer then edits
the content into- an appropriate style, develops the activities
and trainer materials, prepares the format, and supervises the
typing and reproduction process. During this whole process the
subject matter expert and materials developer work closely
together to assure that the materials are technically accurate
as well as easily read and used by the participants and
As the materials are used they are evaluated, by both the
trainees and trainers. These evaluations are used to revise
the content, training activities and trainer materials to keep
the materials up-to-date and relevant to the needs of the
participants. Good training materials will only remain good if
this continual evaluation and revision process is maintained.
We have written this article to (1) stress the importance
of well-prepared written materials to the conduct of successful
training programs, and (2) to put forth our belief that the
professional development and effective use of such materials
have been greatly neglected. These things we do believe! We
A. The need for good training materials
B. Reasons for neglect
C. Criteria for determining type of materials needed
D. Characteristics of good training materials
E. "Tricks of the Trade"
F. Resources for materials development
While we have suggested that infatuation with other media
forms has possibly contributed to the neglect of written
materials, we do not want to leave the impression that we are
against other types of media, We are not. The appropriate use
of various media enriches the training experience and enhances
learning. Rather, the point we seek to make is that the
availability of good written materials increases the
effectiveness of other media forms. For best results, training
programs should be designed, developed and presented using all
appropriate media as an integrated system. At present, the
written word represents the weakest link in this media system.
Putting renewed emphasis and effort on the development and use
of written materials will result in a more comprehensive and
stronger media system and in more effective training.