Paper based manuals are one of the oldest forms of training materials. On the job training has actually been around since the beginning of time when the first caveman showed the second caveman the direction to run away from the tiger. But as far as training materials go, paper based manuals have been around for a while. The new form is an electronic copy of a paper based manual. And neither of them have ever been good for training. Having an experienced person walk you through a manual is fine, but that is a blended approach.
Allow me to illustrate my point with an example.
You have a new neighbour from Hong Kong who moves into the house next door. One day, as you are mowing the lawn, she approaches you and asks if you can help her. She has only ever lived in apartments and has no idea how to use a lawn mower but she has been to Bunnings and purchased one. Could you show her how to use it?
You agree and help her take it out of the box and assemble it. It is possible that you might look at the manual to help you assemble it (or you could just wing it) and you might look at it to find out the location of the main buttons. Then, you take the new machine out to the lawn and show her how to start it, adjust the height, move it around and empty it. Then you let her do it to make sure that she has understood. If you are a lawn enthusiast, you might go into more detail about the optimal height and mowing schedule in different seasons as well as some tips on fertilising.
But, at no point do you hand her the manual and walk away, leaving her to read it. Why? Because it’s totally pointless.
So we all know this when it comes to a relatively simple task such as mowing the lawn but yet, we continue to give people paper manuals to read to teach them how to operate far more complex equipment or perform more complex tasks. It’s totally fine to keep an operators manual with a machine in case the operator needs to find a button or perform a task that they don’t do regularly, but that is really the extent of the effectiveness of a paper manual.
If you need to teach someone how to do something, show them. Putting them into a room with a manual (paper based or an electronic copy) is just lazy and totally ineffective. Use it for reference, not for training.