You’ll Save More Than Trees, Part I: Meetings, Seminars, & Workshops

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I will always have books, but I will soon be rid of most of my training binders, workbooks, and meeting notes from 25 years of corporate training and consulting.  I can’t read many of them; they were photocopied from photocopies of typed Courier 10 pitch, resulting in blurred masses of black ink on stark white paper.  I have held onto these binders because I was sure that one day I’d need to look something up.

The truth is, I look things up online first and in books second.  I rarely (never) turn to my old training binders for information.  They did not undergo the same scrutiny as that of a published book.  Frankly, they aren’t very good.  Even the training binders I created, which I thought were really good when I wrote them, aren’t anything special by today’s standards.  Their online counterparts are a whole lot better.  I will keep a few of these for sentimental reasons.  But that’s it.  I will not create any more, print any more, or suggest to others that they print any.

Ideas to make your training friendlier to both the environment and your students.

Let’s forget the three inch thick binders, the impossible to read printed slide presentations, and the tons of paper handouts that have become a part of business training.

Let’s put our resources (including money and space) to better use, while giving our students something they can use long after they leave our workshops.

Here are some ideas to “save trees” and make your students happy:

  1. Thumb Drives. Purchase them in bulk, with or without your logo.  Load each one with your presentation, useful links, drawings, tip sheets, etc.  The students won’t have to lug a big binder or piles of paper home in their luggage (or take the time to ship them) and they’ll have your information at their fingertips – literally. sells wooden thumb drives to reduce the use of plastic. offers them in custom shapes.  Really inexpensive USB drives are available at any office supply store.
  2. Online Documents. Some large corporations and government agencies do not allow the use of thumb drives for security reasons.  If this affects your participants, place your documents online with a service such as Google Docs or
  3. Commission Flexigroup to produce a slide chart or wheel.  These use far fewer materials than a training binder; people are likely to “play” with them, learning in the process! For proof of how fun they are, check out mine on Training Footprints.
  4. Instead of handing out your entire presentation, which has limited value without your delivery, create some “tip sheets” with the salient points of your workshop.
    • Hand out a small card like this one made from fruit tree pulp – or use one of the ideas below – to provide the web address and login information to attendees.
    • Or, you can limit access to these documents to those students who subscribe to your newsletter or other mailings, like I did on this site with my eBook.  Simply provide the login information in the final welcome email.
    • You can hand them out instead of the entire workbook.
    • You can laminate them or bind them up as quick reference guides. A service like Kinko’s can do this for you.
    • Vistaprint offers photo books for very reasonable rates for low quantities.
    • How about making a deck of playing cards from them, such as these Night Sky playing cards (for a course in astronomy).

Some topics that would make great quick references in any of the above formats, with or without illustrations:

  • 10 Steps to Financial Freedom
  • The 5 S of Lean
  • Quick Reference Guide to XYZ Software
  • Safely Jump Starting a Car Battery
  • 7 Stretches to Do at Your Desk
  • Checklist for a Successful Sales Call
  • 10 Ideas That Save More Than Paper
  • Survival Tips for Hikers and Hunters
  • Identifying counterfeit money

Additional Reading


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Moodle Content Creation: Copy, Paste, Could It Be That Easy?

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No! It’s not that simple!

One of the most common “rookie mistakes” in building Moodle course content is copying from a document or web page and pasting directly into the HTML editor (WYSIWYG) window. Behind every formatted document is a set of code that tells the browser or other application how to display the content. These instructions range from font size and color to line spacing and bullet shapes.  This code is not visible to you unless you go elsewhere to see it.  In an HTML editor, such as those found in Moodle or WordPress, you can switch views. 

This view can be a scary place for beginners, so most people (myself included when I was new at this) immediately switch back to a more familiar place; one with icons for Bold, Italic, Underline, bullets, and hyperlinks. 

What does it matter?  Well, the appearance of websites is controlled by cascading style sheets (CSS).  Those files set the font characteristics (color, size, and family), bullet styles, background colors, border colors, and many other aesthetic features of a site. These settings are the defaults so that the user doesn’t have to do so much work and the theme can be changed without affecting the content.   (For an explanation of themes and content, read this post.) 

You can override the settings in a style sheet through the HTML editor.  For instance, if I want to make this text Bold and Bee Gold, I manually change the font by clicking on the bold and the text color icons.  Just as you set the default fonts in your desktop applications, you can do that for your Moodle site; this is accomplished through the theme’s CSS.  You should keep your overrides to a minimum, though.  If you copy/paste directly from other applications, you may be overriding your CSS without knowing it.

An example of how ignorance can be bliss:

I have copied a paragraph from Word into the WYSIWYG window on and it looks fine, right?

Moodle 1.9 HTML editor window, WYSIWYG side

Appearances can be deceiving!  Here’s what it looks like in the HTML code view.  Notice all the extra stuff and this isn’t nearly as bad as some of the pages I’ve seen!

Moodle 1.9 HTML editor window, code side, messy from Word paste

What I have essentially done is to override all of the settings of my CSS.  I’ve told Moodle that I want that font to look exactly as it does in my Word document.  I should be using the default fonts and colors that my CSS sets.  If I change my theme (the CSS is part of the theme), my content won’t adjust.  My Bold and Bee Gold text will remain that way.  The font will stay as Trebuchet, even if I try to make it Georgia.  Quotation marks and ampersands might show up as boxes instead of punctuation.  Some browsers may not recognize the commands, so they’ll substitute other stuff; stuff I did not want.  The code view should look like this:

Moodle 1.9 HTML editor, code side, with clean code

If and when I change the theme, which might have a dark green background, white font, and white bullets, the content will change with it.  The only thing that won’t change is the Bold or Bee Gold that I added manually. Whether I change the theme or not, I can be sure that my content will display nicely on most browsers; something that is not likely with all that crazy formatting behind the scenes. 

What should you do if your courses are built in Word, PowerPoint, or some other desktop application? 

  1. Copy/paste from any document (MS Office, PDF, etc.) into Notepad or some other text editor.  Some formatting will carry through (like line and page breaks), but most will be scrubbed.  Then copy/paste that text into your HTML editor (WYSIWYG).  You will have to reformat the bold, italic, etc.
  2. Copy/paste from your document into the HTML view (the code side).  You’ll have to do a lot of formatting, but you won’t have any rogue code.  Switch back to the WYSIWYG window to do the formatting.
  3. In Moodle 1.9, after pasting from Word, click on the Clean Word icon in the WYSIWIG window. In Moodle 2.0, click the paste from Word or paste plain text icons which will bring up a smaller window; paste into that. Your formatting will be “scrubbed” of the bad formatting. 
  4. Copying from another web page is a really bad idea.  First and foremost, unless that web page is yours, you do not have the right to copy it!  Content is copyrighted by default; there is no need to have a copyright notice.  If it specifically states that you may copy it or if it is your page, you still don’t want to copy/paste it.  The code is very messy and the appearance very much out of your control.  Do not do this!  

This might sound like a lot of work (and it is) but you’ll learn tricks and if you’re like me, you’ll get into a rhythym…select all, copy, paste, click, copy, paste, siss boom, bah!

If you’re thinking it would be easier to just link your existing desktop files in your Moodle course and avoid all this hassle, read What eLearning is NOT.  Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing well.  Creating a clean, robust Moodle course is definitely worth the effort!

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