Using Job Aids

Have you ever assembled a piece of furniture from IKEA? Or perhaps you put together a toy at Christmas? Or maybe you had to clear a paper jam in the printer, but forgot how to do it? Whether it was one of these situations or something else, you probably have used a job aid. It is a document or tutorial designed to give you just enough information to get a specific task accomplished, at the moment it needs to be done. Once you start looking, you’ll see them everywhere.

What you may not have known is that Instructional Designers are experts at creating job aids. It’s another learning deliverable, just like creating a training course. Sometimes they are used along with a training course as supplemental material. Sometimes they stand on their own.

Types of Job Aids

There are several types of job aids including:

  • Step-by-Step: These job aids give step-by-step instructions on how to perform a task.
  • Worksheets: These work well when there are calculations involved. Responses are recorded, and information to complete a task is generated based on formulas.
  • Checklists: Checklists are great if items can be completed in any order. They are also helpful in maintaining consistency.
  • Decision Tree: When there are limited options with each decision, a decision tree can guide an employee in making the correct choice based upon their input.
  • Flow Chart: Flow charts work well as troubleshooting guides.
  • Reference List: This type of job aid is good when a task requires data, as opposed to a set of steps.

When to Use Job Aids

Job aids are best used when trying to remember how to do something you’ve already learned how to do, or doing a task you know in a new or unique situation. They also work well when troubleshooting, or solving a problem. Also, they are helpful in situations where you’ve been trained on a process, but one aspect of the routine has been changed.

Job aids speed up work by reducing hesitancy, and the opportunity for making errors. They essentially coach the user along the way, increasing consistency of performance. They allow employees to focus on one step at a time, making the task seem less complex than it is.

When NOT to Use Job Aids

Job aids are not a good fit if you’re trying to learn something brand new for the first time, especially on an unfamiliar topic. They also aren’t that great at teaching conceptual knowledge, or taking learning to a deeper level. Finally, they should not be used to replace an entire training course. They should be viewed as supplemental material, not the main event.

Do You Really Need a Needs Assessment?

The goal of any training intervention is not merely to deliver a training class or eLearning module. The true goal is to give learners the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that they need to become more effective on the job. That usually means a change in behavior that results in enhanced performance.

The only way to truly ensure the delivery of training content that will bring about the desired changes in KSAs and behavior is to first do a needs assessment. The instructional designer(s) consider not only the goals of the organization, but also the nature of the target audience, as well as the logistics involved to deliver training. It is a well-established process, and doesn’t need to take all that much time.

Three Questions

There are three basic questions that must be addressed during any needs analysis. They are:

  1. What needs to be changed? This question looks at who needs training, the current skill levels of employees, and what kind of training content needs to be delivered. In short, what do we want to target with the training?
  2. What is the desired end state? This question examines what “ideal” job performance looks like. It identifies all the KSAs required to do a good job. It also identifies the gaps between current and desired job performance.
  3. How can we bring about the change? This final question determines the best way to deliver the KSAs to the target audience. It might be training, but it might also be some other job performance improvement measure, or both. You won’t know unless the needs assessment is performed.

Data Gathering

Data can be collected many different ways. The instructional designer might conduct focus groups or interviews. Alternatively, company records can be examined and analyzed. Surveys are another way to collect the needed information. Regardless of which process is used, the data gathered will need to be analyzed in order to write a plan of action.

Did it Work?

An important part of the needs assessment process is to go back and evaluate the results of the training (or other intervention) at the end, and compare it against the plan that was developed. Perhaps an important skill gap was overlooked, or not enough emphasis was placed on a given topic. Conducting an evaluation is an important final link that ensures continuous improvement, and the best value for your training budget.

Software Tools for eLearning

Using eLearning to train employees on soft skills, policy updates, or even highly technical content has become a routine practice in business training today. Some topics will be generic in nature, making the use of “off the shelf” third-party courses easy and affordable. Other content will need to be customized to the specific requirements of your organization. In that case, you will either need to hire a professional to create the courseware, or do it yourself by learning and using an eLearning authoring tool.

Given that there are so many eLearning authoring tools to choose from, it may be difficult to even know where to begin. You will want a program that has the features you need, that is reasonably priced and easy to use. You’ll also need to determine whether your software will be installed and run locally, or if it will be a cloud-based service that can be accessed through a web browser. Let’s take a look at two of the top tools available today, to better understand the pros and cons involved.

Articulate Storyline 2

Articulate Storyline 2 is a locally run tool, which means that you don’t need internet access to log into your account. You simply download the program and run it from your desktop. It has a reasonably rich multimedia functionality, comes with a vast image library, and is easy to use. Current pricing is around $1,400 for a one user license. That may seem expensive, until you consider what you are getting for that price. It is designed with Microsoft PowerPoint in mind, making course design easy to pick up for someone who already knows PowerPoint (don’t we all?). You can also import existing PowerPoint content into Storyline. One other important feature is the ability to record video directly from a webcam and insert it into your course.

TechSmith Camtasia Studio 8

On the other end of the scale is TechSmith Camtasia Studio 8, which has a comparatively low price of under $300 for one license. It also allows you to record a video from your webcam. In fact, it’s primarily a video-based tool. If that’s what you are focused on doing, then it may be the perfect solution for your eLearning needs. However, while it’s easy to set up, it lacks many of the features available with higher priced tools.

Making a Decision

When making your decision, you’ll need to consider the unique requirements of your organization. This brief overview will just get you started. Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Using professional help is not a sign of weakness!

Evaluating Instructional Design Quality

Instructional Design quality is actually easy to evaluate, if you know what to look for. The following pointers will help you in that regard. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does cover the most critical considerations of high-quality Instructional Design.

Starts with Learning Objectives

High-quality Instructional Design starts with solid, well-written learning objectives that describe expected outcomes. They will say things like, “at the end of this course, the learner will be able to _____,” followed by a clear description of the desired outcome, in terms of observable behavior. Look at this comparison:

  • “This course will teach photosynthesis.” This is not a solid learning objective, because it can’t be measured.
  • “At the end of this course, the learner will be able to describe the relationship between carbon dioxide levels and photosynthesis.” This is well written, because the outcome can be assessed.

It’s Fundamentally Learner-Centered

If the course is designed as one-way instruction, where the learner is expected to sit quietly and absorb the material, chances are that it will fail miserably. Learners today expect interaction, exploration, and much less talking or telling on the part of the trainer. In fact, the trainer should be playing the role of learning facilitator and guide, as opposed to all-knowing expert. Quality design is focused on the learner, always taking their specific needs into consideration.

There is Continuous Improvement

Another hallmark of high-quality Instructional Design is the never-ending process of assessment and improvement. After each delivery, it is important look for areas that may need improvement. Then, take the time to make those improvements before the next course delivery.

It Uses a Robust System

If the Instructional Design is good, it’s going to follow a well-defined system or model. There are several to choose from. Which one you use is not as important as being rigorous in following a logical sequence of design and development. Such a system will also include an assessment step, which is covered above.

The Course Keeps it Real

One final key to quality Instructional Design is that the course helps learners discover ways to address their real world problems. Good design also helps learners gain the confidence to apply their new skills back on the job. If the training is just an academic exercise, then it really does nothing to meet the needs of the learner, or the organization for that matter. Effective design presents realistic and practical solutions to business needs, with measurable outcomes that move the organization in the right direction.

Time-Saving Shortcuts for Instructional Designers

As the saying goes, time is money. To design quality training in the shortest amount of time, the methods used need to be both efficient and effective. Also, knowing a few shortcuts couldn’t hurt.

Begin at the End

Most people will recognize the statement, “Begin with the end in mind” as part of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Turns out, it works for instructional design as well. Starting any instructional design process with the end firmly in mind will keep the development focused on what matters most. Write the learning objectives first, and let them guide the rest of the design process. For example, what behaviors should learners be able to demonstrate at the end of training? What key piece of knowledge should they be able to recall from memory?

Break Training into Pieces

Don’t think of the design process from the perspective of the entire training program. Instead, focus on manageable, focused, small units of learning that are directly tied to just one learning objective. It’s far easier to maintain concentration on one element, rather than trying to design and develop the entire course all at once. Also, when designed in this manner, learners can ultimately choose to manage their training time by taking only one or two units at a time.

Let Learner Analysis Drive Delivery Method Selection

Learner analysis is the key to determining what instructional methods will be most effective. Find out the preferences, working styles, and current capabilities of the learners before choosing a delivery method. Training content and delivery need to be guided by learning objectives in conjunction with a deep knowledge of the target audience, and what will work for them.

Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

Striving for perfection is certainly admirable, but it can also waste a lot of valuable time. Instead of trying to design the perfect program, go for a good program that can be ready and available in half the time. Look at training design as an iterative process, where evaluation by the learners becomes part of the instructional design cycle. Expect improvements with each design iteration.

Stay in Constant Contact with Stakeholders

Nothing is worse than having a course completely designed, and then promptly rejected by the stakeholders. Avoid rejection and rework by keeping stakeholders and key decision-makers involved throughout the instructional design process, from learner analysis to delivery. Not only will this reduce the likelihood of revision requests, it will also ensure the ultimate satisfaction of everyone involved.

Learner-Centered Instructional Methods

Learner-centered instruction is not new. The days where an all-knowing “sage on the stage” stands before a classroom delivering content to learners is long gone. Today, learners expect to be supported and actively engaged in exploring content, sometimes even determining which areas will be emphasized and which areas will be skipped over.

All that may sound good, but sometimes it leaves the instructor wondering what instructional methods are best suited for a learner-centered classroom. Below are a few of the most effective methods, along with a brief description on how they might be applied.

Debate

The format of a debate is the perfect framework for inspiring learners to research a topic, and then challenge each other to formulate their own opinions based upon the facts that they have discovered. Learners can work as individuals, or as a team to conduct the research and prepare their arguments. Debates also require learners to actively listen to other points of view, and learn to differentiate between subjective and objective data. They also help learners develop critical thinking skills, in addition to absorbing whatever content they may be researching.

Role Play

Learners can try out different approaches through role play, and find out for themselves what works the best. The scenarios can be created by the instructor, or even by the learners. The instructor is there to keep learners on point, and ensure that certain key objectives are covered. If learners are a bit shy about role playing, they can take on the part of critical observer, giving feedback to the other learners about how the scenario is run.

Index Cards

There are dozens of ways to creatively use index cards in learner-centered instruction. They can be used to brainstorm ideas, and then collected and shared with the entire class anonymously. They can be used to jot down questions that are then answered by other learners or the instructor. The cards can be used as an audience response system, using different colors or letters to respond to a question posed by the instructor. Learners can also create their own activities using index cards, setting up the guidelines together.

Small Group Discussion

Form a larger class into smaller groups, and have learners talk about a given topic. If they need additional information on particular points, have them go and do their own research. Have the small group select a spokesperson to report back their findings to the larger class, or have them create a presentation.

Many More Options

There are many more methods that can be used to engage learners. This has been only a small sampling. Also, learners can suggest instructional methods or do their own research on what is available.

Professional and Management Development Training – Part Two

Successful organizations already recognize the value of professional and management development training. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are necessarily getting the best value out of their development dollar. To do that, businesses need to be aware of some cutting-edge trends. Below is a brief summary of a few of the leading ideas in this field.

Content Isn’t King

It doesn’t matter how wonderful the training content is, if employees don’t find the time to use it or they aren’t inspired to even try. For professional and management development training efforts to be successful, they need to be able to fit into already tight calendars. Training needs to draw the learner in, with manageable chunks of information that seem doable in small fragments of time. Usually this means a heavier reliance on remote learning. Using today’s cutting-edge technologies to make training available on mobile devices will help employees find the time for learning. Also, using a fixed-calendar of training delivery is giving way to on-demand applications that can be accessed anytime, from anywhere.

Be Social

Just because training is offered online, doesn’t mean that the social aspects of learning need to go away. There are creative new ways of allowing learners to share their experiences with colleagues. For example, Workplace by Facebook is a tool that allows employees to connect and communicate, with all of the familiar features of Facebook. Companies can join Workplace for free, or pay a fee for an enhanced version. Either way, allowing employees to collaborate via a social platform will take current professional and management development efforts and kick them up a notch by enhancing engagement.

Gamification

The popularity of online gaming has been growing steadily for the last several years, and there are no signs of it slowing. Taking this high level of interest, and using it to incentivize online learning is a smart business move. Gamification of training will not turn the content into the next Fortnite Battle Royale, but it will help motivate learners. Through a simple system of points, badges, and leaderboards, training can grab the attention of the most cynical employee.

Balance Technology Training with Soft Skills

Millennials are known for their tech savvy, but there continues to be a soft skills gap with these employees. There needs to be increased emphasis on such soft skills as communication, interpersonal relationships, negotiation, problem-solving, and decision-making. This type of training can be still be delivered online to appeal to the younger members of the workforce.

Training Consulting Opportunities in Business

There are many opportunities for training consultants in business today. They play a vital role in helping organizations realize their training goals. But before you consider a position as a training consultant, you need to be familiar with what it takes to be successful in that position. Below are some attributes of a successful training consultant.

Have a Desire to Help People

Some might argue that you don’t need a strong desire to help people to be successful as a training consultant. That would be a mistake, since the person-to-person interface is a critical dynamic in that role. Unless you have a genuine interest in helping people, and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve helped someone else improve, then this might not be the right job for you.

Know How to Make a Sale

Internal training consultants have a “captive audience” so to speak, but they still have to convince higher management of their value. For external training consultants, the need to be able to close the deal is far more obvious. Training consultants must be able to articulate their value proposition, and convince their clients that they have the right solution. This takes rock solid communication skills, as well as confidence in your own abilities.

Be Published

One of the best ways of building your reputation as a training consultant and increasing your opportunities is to publish. This includes articles, blog posts, case studies, book chapters, or even entire books. Having a portfolio to showcase your expertise and proficiencies is an invaluable marketing tool. Show potential clients that you are a thought leader in your field.

Have a Product Line

You need to be able to show prospective clients what you can do. One of the easiest ways to do that is by having detailed descriptions of your products and services. In order to be different from your competition (and you’ll have plenty of that), you’ll need concrete examples of what you can do for the client. You can always customize your product offerings at a later date.

Demonstrate Commitment

Some consultants think that they can start a training business as a “sideline” to something else. All this does is to dilute your efforts. To be successful as a training consultant, you will need to be fully committed to the process. This means staying with it regardless of a few failures or mistakes along the way. Opportunities are there for those who are willing to work hard, and not give up.

Essential Professional Management Training Topics

Managers aren’t like other types of employees who have very specific job duties, such as accountants or engineers. Managers need to have a much broader skill set that includes mastering five basic management functions: planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling. Successful managers will receive professional management training in all of these areas. Let’s take a brief look at what each function involves.

Planning

Planning is probably the most essential management skill. It involves creating goals, and then setting out a plan of action to accomplish those goals. While some people believe that only top management is involved in the planning process, it actually occurs at all levels within an organization. To excel at planning, managers must also be good at problem solving and decision making.

Effective planning involves internal as well as external factors. Internal factors include things such as organizational structure, and the makeup of the workforce. External factors include management of resources, economic trends, technological changes, government regulations, political influences, and more. Staying on top of all of these factors takes extensive training and experience.

Organizing

After a plan is made, next the manager needs to break it into activities, and then allocate resources for the accomplishment of those activities. Resources include things like materials, personnel, and financial support. Managers also organize by prioritizing which resources are given to accomplish which goals, and when.

Staffing

Staffing is all about finding the right talent to serve in specific jobs, as well as making certain that enough staff is hired to meet the needs of the organization. Managers are also responsible for ensuring that talent is developed within the organization, as well as locating and hiring additional staff as needed. Managers get things done with and through the efforts of other people, so they need to be able to maintain the workforce with incentives and the proper motivation.

Directing

Directing the activities of others is probably the most commonly identifiable function of management. But just telling others what to do is not enough. Managers need to be trained on how to motivate people, and guide them with clear communication. Good managers are able to maintain the harmony of the workforce, while also accomplishing all necessary tasks.

Controlling

The fifth and final function of management is controlling operational systems and processes. This involves establishing performance standards, and holding the appropriate staff accountable for the accomplishment of business goals. Managers also solve problems that come up along the way, in order to get the desired business results.

Exploring Instructional Design in Education

When you think of an educational setting, generally the first thing that springs to mind is the picture of a teacher standing in front of a class of students, delivering a lecture while everyone jots down pearls of wisdom. Every so often, the teacher will stop to ask or answer questions. Students who have been paying attention are quick to raise their hands, while the others do their best to avoid eye contact with the teacher. Finally, the teacher will deliver a quiz, a test, or assign some other activity designed to evaluate the student’s progress.

While this visualization is true of the delivery stage in education, it overlooks a significant aspect of a teacher’s job responsibilities. Teachers not only deliver educational content, they must also plan out what needs to be learned, and how the students will learn it. That is the essence of instructional design in education.

Teachers begin the instructional design process by asking some key questions:

  • How much do the students already know on this topic?
  • What are the students going to be ready to learn at this stage?
  • What activities or examples will keep them engaged?
  • How can this topic be designed as a meaningful learning experience?
  • How will the academic standards of the school be translated into examples that will make sense to the students?

Student-Centered Instructional Design

Designing instruction that only includes activity planning, without regard for learning outcomes, is very superficial. Student-centered instructional design emphasizes not only what students are going to learn, but also how they will demonstrate learning. Classroom activities will still need to be developed, but only after the teacher has planned learning outcomes.

Goals of Student-Centered Instructional Design

Focusing on student needs, rather than activities, can have several benefits. Student-centered learning can:

  • Motivate students to start learning more quickly
  • Help students persist in the learning process, and continue to learn
  • Accommodate multiple learning preferences
  • More effectively assess student learning outcomes

Instructional Methods

The traditional teacher-centered model of instruction is largely lecture-based. In the student-centered model of instruction, many other instructional methods may be used. A few examples include:

  • Role Play. This method allows students to “try out” an experience.
  • Case Study: Case studies are good for complex issues, such as critical thinking.
  • Problem-Based Learning: Students seek to solve problems while the teacher facilitates the solution.
  • Competitions: Creating friendly competitions can inspire students who normally might not be that engaged.

These are just a few examples. Each class and topic will lend itself better to some activities over others. Care should be taken to match the method with the nature of the content, and the willingness of the students.