When Learning Gets Personal: For Bob Cook
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Offline Manuals Really Don't Cut it For Me Anymore

User_manual I'm in the middle of putting together a teacher manual on how to conduct informational interviews and job shadows and I don't mind saying it's seriously annoying. The client wants a paper-based version because she says that people like to "hold something in their hands." While this may be true, that manual they're holding  won't be nearly as dynamic and helpful as it would have been if I could do an online version. Some of what will be missing:

  • Videos and slideshows I could have embedded that would actually show what the jobs involve so that kids would know even before they did a job shadow whether or not a job seemed interesting.
  • Active links to career assessments that they could just click through to, rather than having to type in the URL from the lesson plan. I could also have created some linkages between assessment results and career information on a website, but that won't be possible in a printed version of the manual.
  • Links to blog posts like this one on virtual volunteering. I can include the links in the manual, but the odds that anyone will actually go looking for the information are probably pretty limited.
  • Documents and other resources that could be downloaded onto student computers--and that students would be able to access outside of the classroom.

The biggest issue, of course, is that the offline manual just sits there, while an online version asks for you to interact with it. I can put many of the same resources and links into a print version as an online version, but they just don't hold the same appeal to folks. Who wants to type in a link like this:


I also think that there's an issue with accessibility--at least with a website, it's there, easily found and available 24/7. That paper version I suspect will land on someone's desk somewhere and I'll be lucky if it lands in anyone's hands.

This experience is making me realize how much I've come to rely on using the web as my primary means of delivering information and training. I'm OK with trying to find online tools that you can print out if you need to hold something, but having to build something offline is increasingly uninteresting and limiting to me. It feels like I'm not providing the level of resources and supports that I could because I'm unable to make use of the interactivity and range of media that's available on the web. I also can't make it accessible to a broader audience.

Am I the only one who's feeling this? Is it harder for other people to have to create off-line resources once you've been working online for awhile?

Photo via buffcorephil


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I don't know much about much, but the picture of the C64 manual made me very nostalgic, which might prove the point your client is making, or at least give their argument a little weight.

Hmm---Maybe. I'm trying to be understanding--I'm a huge reader and love books, but for certain kinds of projects, print just seems inadequate to me. But maybe that's just me.


Hang in there. Perhaps you can have it both ways. Have you considered creating a manual that can be used electronically AND printed on -demand? I'm not real familiar with Lulu, but it (or something like it) might be an option.
See: http://tinyurl.com/ys6qdl

Perhaps this will trigger better options from others.

Well you could always have both? Create the manual online using a wiki than use htm2pf to create pdfs from the wiki pages. You can get it to include your flash movies and links. That way they can have a paper based copy, interactive pdf documents and a website that can be updated or accessed 24/7. The pdf documents can be located on the website for those that want to download or be emailed to everyone. :)

Interesting comment though - for some reason Google Reader has stripped out your photo?

Thanks for the idea, Bud--Not sure it will work for this one, though, because with Lulu, I'd still have to format it like a document, so the electronic version would just be a PDF.

Sue, your idea looked cool and I thought might solve my issue. I'd actually started a version of the manual in a Wikispaces wiki so I tried to get the converter to change one of the pages to a PDF, but it kept saying my URL was invalid. Have you tried it before with a wiki? It occurred to me that if it's wiki markup language, then the converter might not work.

I just tried it with my wiki and managed to get it to work. Here is a PDF of my front page. Do you want to test it again? It definitely works with a blog so you could always set up a blog but use it more like a website.

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