Job aids: if you do the work, reap the benefit

I commented on this post at Cammy Bean’s Learning Visions the other day, sharing some of my experience working with job aids.

I’m a strong believer in them (and wrote about them here [when to create them] , here [Rossett and Schafer’s Job Aids and Performance Support], and here [a job aid for taking your prescription]).

After my virtual conversation with Cammy, I was reminded of one of the great instructional design truths:

If you know enough about a set of tasks to create effective training, you know enough to develop job aids for those tasks.

In fact, you can’t develop effective training if you haven’t done enough analysis to develop job aids.

That’s not to say you always develop job aids or performance support.  (Insert the usual skill-and-knowledge-only stuff here.) What I am saying is:

  • If you know you have skill and knowledge gaps, you must have data on the desired performance, the actual performance, the standards, etc.
  • If you know that, then you know details like when to perform, how often, consequence of error, and so on.
  • And if you know that, then the tasks themselves are telling you whether they’re suited to job aids.

Let’s say the job is to help the unpaid treasurer of a volunteer organization manage the group’s finances through QuickBooks Online Edition.  The treasurer has never used the software, so we have a definite skill/knowledge gap.

My own task analysis would start with an outcome analysis: what are the desired results?  Accurate and timely reports, accurate and timely entry of income, accurate recording of expenses…

Clearly I could create a training class for this stuff (meaning, to attempt to encode it in memory).  For such a class, though, I have to figure out all the steps that lead to those accomplishments.

Which means that I’ll know enough to identify the steps/tasks I can cover entirely with job aids, and steps/tasks for which I can combine job aids and training.

Job aids often appear as step-by-step guides, flowcharts, and decision tables, but as the Rosset/Schafer book demostrates, they can take many other forms.  Imagine a well-designed cascading style sheet with call-out boxes.  It can embody the major components of a CSS, helping someone create a new one without having to dig the code out of a reference book.  (The reference book is a job aid for recalling the requirements and options for an entire body of code.)

If you’re designing instruction, don’t overlook the high payoff that comes from providing job aids.  (To say nothing of the intangible but very real value of not boring people by trying to make them memorize stuff they don’t need to memorize.)

6 thoughts on “Job aids: if you do the work, reap the benefit

  1. Nice post, Dave. I’m thinking out loud here and wondering if an eLearning course can be a job aid.

    I think it can, if the course is a short, quick hit that shows someone how to complete a specific task (perhaps with some interactivity), but doesn’t have a big final test (or anything that needs to be memorized). This is what most eLearning software training is…

    What do you think?

  2. Cammy,

    My quick description of a job aid is something you use on the job that tells you what to do and when to do it.

    So, for example, I’d call a software wizard a job aid. So’s a recipe, or a help file showing you how to use Excel’s AutoFilter feature.

    I’m reluctant to say a course is a job aid, though mostly I’m hanging up on terminology. Course = instruction; job aid = performance guide.

    I can imagine a course built around the use of job aids. E.g., a sales rep course with one topic being “searching for prospects.” The task: enter queries into your customer database based on certain factors so you can identify prospects for additional products or services.

    In the sales course (in person, online, whatever) you’d have had demonstration, interactivity, practice, likely centered around a job aid.

    The job aid would have a clear title like “How to Search the Customer Database.” If I had an online set of such job aids, I wouldn’t have to go back to the (instructional) course if I didn’t feel like it. The job aid could of course contain a link to a detailed example — making the job aid effective both as a memory jogger (ah, yes, I have to do x, y, and z) and as a worked example.

  3. It’s a bit of semantics. I think some ‘courses’ can be a bit of both. Loosely joined job aids.

    I’m thinking in particular of a project I’m currently working on — short software training courses, small nuggets of info, demos with titles like “How to…”, some embedded practice and interactivity…

    It’s a blended course/job aid.

  4. Cammy, I wouldn’t argue much. To me, job aid analysis / design is a fundamental part of the instructional design process. You can embed the skills or knowledge in a job aid, and then provide training in the use of the job aid within the context of the larger job.

    Farther up the workflow stream, of course, you could design an application with good prompts, intelligent defaults, embedded references, etc., etc., as a form of performance support. Airline pricing is complicated; Southwest’s display of prices for your itinerary is not.

    Farther down the workflow stream, the test of the loosely joined job aids would be: can I find them with a minimum of effort, and can I use them on the job to accomplish my task?

    The quibble (and it’s mostly a quibble) is that if the learner sees the job aid as stored in “the course,” she’s got to remember where the course is and where the job aid is inside that wrapper.

    But certainly you could both embed the job aids within a course and then make explicit an easy way to retrieve them, aiming for that within-three-clicks ideal.

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