Tuesday, September 20

The Lowly Binder

It is a symbol of "old school" training. It is a joke, a dinosaur, a deep sea anchor. It wastes billions of dollars of office space in filing cabinets and cubicle shelving. It is THE TRAINING BINDER.

We, the Learning Cognoscenti, "prove" our own credentials to the world by openly disdaining them. '"What to do about the classroom binder?' you ask. 'How about dig a deep hole and throw them all in!'" Then we chuckle and drink our cognac and tighten our smoking jacket.

And yet...

And yet there are still a lot of them being produced. Almost every classroom experience, and there are a lot of them, support the activity with binders. Conferences do as well, I need hardly mention. I, as dutifully as the next speaker, turn in my PowerPoint stack for inclusion in whatever event I am part. I also helped build a workbook to support rolling out next-gen-sim Virtual Leader, which significantly increased usage.

So it might be worth a few moments to, with appropriate humility and pragmastism, reflect upon what are some of the tools available that can make for a good binder.

  • Removable overviews, often in the front sleeve, that provide context and a map to what comes next, or a tip/cheat sheet to an application
  • PDFs of the entire thing, available for download and storage; perhaps zipped files as well
  • Copies of slides, for people to take notes in real time
  • Color paper and/or tabs, to distinguish between sections and aid navigation ("Go to the yellow section...")
  • Biographies, with face shots and contact information, of speakers and ideally participants, at the back
  • Appendixes, with articles and links
  • CD-ROMS, with editable versions of slides and spreadsheets
  • Clear cover and spine, with subject and dates
  • Three-ring rather than bound, so that users can dynamically and deliberately add or subtract what they want or don't want.

What are your thoughts? What should or should not be part of a well constructed binder?


Anonymous said...

"What should be part of any well-constructed binder?" I think the answer comes from those who'll use it, with both the predictable and the fed-back uses helping to inform the person putting a binder together in the first place.

Think of all the debates over whether to distribute handouts in a workshop or at a presentation -- do you the presenter want or need to control the experience so much that you don't want people flipping through copies of your slides? (Whatever you're displaying -- PowerPoint or real-time sites -- in some sense it's all 'slides.') What if I the participant prefer to have the handout to guide or anchor my notetaking?

I think your thoughts for what someone could include in a binder are on target. The specific choice depends on the context in which someone receives or eventually uses the binder.

Principles of good editing and good graphic design apply -- e.g., don't rely solely on color as a cue ("Go to the "Financial Factors" section [that's what the header says]; it's on yellow paper.") Take advantage of Robin Williams' CRAP acronym as you design pages (from her Non-Designer's Design Book: contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity.)

Binders are an easy target for mockery -- I think it was a Dilbert cartoon that traced the life cycle: you come back from a conference and store the new binder on the right-hand side of your shelf. Over time, the oldest binders move further left till they fall off the edge and into the conveniently-placed trash can.

With the rapid changes in technology, there isn't enough shared memory over a long enough period of time to similarly mock print (or electronic) programmed text, the LP-sized laser disks that used to be as common as business cards at learning conferences, smug phrases like "repurposing legacy content" (which I always read as "reusing old stuff"), the mindless use of "e-" as a prefix (somewhere, I'm sure, you could find "e-everything").

And, of course, blogs.

Anonymous said...

The "workbook" link seems to be broken.