With instructional design and content creation, digital templates vie as an appealing content distribution opportunity. This is even more the case when you are unsure of what foot to put forward in your L&D material design. While it’s true that templates yield many benefits, they also kill one of the most critical values in your L&D content: creativity.
In truth, templates aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. What usually attracts L&D professionals to templates, usually drives them away. With their rigidness, impersonal touches, lackluster graphics and style limitations, templates can often be more of a burden than a resource. Using Dr. Eli Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, we identified some creative constraints in using templates. The Theory of Constraints states that every system, no matter how well it performs, has at least one constraint that limits its performance. Although Dr. Goldratt’s theory is intended to improve upon lean manufacturing, we took the liberty to break down some of these digital template constraints and provided advice on how you can restructure your L&D strategies to better improve on your creative output.
Break Past Impersonal Barriers
One of the more obvious drawbacks of using a digital template is that it is inherently limited. With a template you can never truly customize its style, flow or design elements akin to your own. Ironically, L&D professionals are often first attracted to the idea of using templates for their training documents because of a template’s design, but they soon become trapped by it. A template is, as Learning Solutions Mag defines, merely the separation of content and design elements. It is this separation that can poise your content to miss its mark. A template is not exclusive, nor is it unique. Your choices are limited when it comes to fonts, colors, content format and length. Limitations on customization are often so impersonal that your learners will most likely not want to interact with it. It’s the same song and dance they’ve done before.
Withal, staring at a blank page in the instructional design process can be intimidating. To overcome this, use the perimeters of a template as your muse or starting point. Look for what works on the page of the template, but what you need to include – what’s your content’s bottomline? Capitalize on what benefits content in the template’s design, but define its limitations and how you can design past them. Always remember that a template’s boundaries will end up confining your content and stifling creativity. So establish your own.
Create Content Under a Flexible System
Ultimately, when you decide to use templates you end up paying a price on your content. If you thought importing content was a struggle, most templates aren’t smooth when it comes to exporting content. When you decide to export your content from a digital template, the software will most likely spit it back at you in an HTML format that jumbles the order of the original content. You’ll have to revisit each piece of content, disassembling the HTML and restructuring the content to its intended syntax. This becomes especially problematic when you face a tight deadline.
It’s also how people become stuck in the template cycle. Even if they know that the template structure isn’t working and it is stifling their creative outlets or even hurting learners, the challenge of transitioning the content out of its digital template is sometimes too much for busy L&D professionals. Not only will you be doing a disservice to your learners, but you’ll find that your motives for creativity will be shot. It may seem trivial, but the best way to survive a template is not to use one. If you’ve worked with templates successfully, how did you ensure that your creativity survived?
Look for Better Graphic Alternatives
Graphics are a big selling point for digital templates. If you have a lack of confidence or experience in graphic and layout design, templates can be very influential when planning your L&D strategies. After all, the idea of being able to simply drag and drop images right into your training collateral seems like an easy enough action. Yet, templates often lack high quality graphic design. Digital templates are not designed under the direction of one size fits all – instead they are designed for high use by the masses. Image optimization requires skills.
Since templates aren’t made for individual needs, they often result in poor graphic quality and usually demand strict picture parameters. Even if you learn to crop and edit your images, these same images will have to be updated repeatedly over time. If you choose to use the graphics in the template by default, you run the high risk of completely disengaging with your learners. As eLearning Industry points out, pre-made graphics and templates can cause learners to become disinterested in part by overused graphics and images. Additionally, pre-made graphics are likely irrelevant to your unique L&D content. Try to hack your way through graphic design with design sites like Canva. You can size and create images that pertain to your content. Canva also provides a platform for you to update your images as needed, downloading and saving as you go.
Don’t Lock Your Content Behind Template Building Blocks
Most digital templates are designed to keep you in the cycle of using them. While templates are marketed for their ease-of-use, L&D professionals are often left to connect the dots when it comes to template account management. It’s abundantly clear that L&D initiatives are not at the forethought of a template’s design, neglecting the necessity for automated content updates. With templates, content updates that were once simple are now complex. L&D professionals are more inhibited in creating new content if the means of implementing it is too troublesome. Without easy editing capabilities, your document will now be stale as it becomes more comprised of poor quality content as time goes on.
A template’s rigid nature results in difficult content updates, but it also sets your learners up for failure. The majority of digital templates lack annotation capabilities. This absence can result in making life more difficult for everyone involved. Without annotations, you can’t track content engagement. Without tracking, how can you render what content is effective? If you can’t measure content effectiveness, how do you know which content you should focus on creating more of? It’s this lackluster quality and cookie cutter design that works against your learners’ creativity. This sets up a learning curve not only for your learners, but also creates a blind spot in your content analytics. Choose a platform that allows you to customize as you go based on the value learners provide in their annotations.
Free L&D Toolkit: Top 10 Things to Consider When Delivering Training Digitally
Whether you’re struggling to reach more mobile learners, keep the ones in front of you engaged, or start an entire digital training program from scratch, this toolkit will help.