Job Aids – When To Use Them And When NOT To Use Them

  Job aids are simple instructions on how to do something at work. They should be thought of as complementary resources to training with the purpose of supporting your learner’s day-to-day activities.

  • checklists
  • worksheets
  • memory jogger
  • decision tables
  • flowcharts
  • one-pagers
  • diagrams
  • procedure guides
  • reference documents
  • direction lists
  • instructions

But, when should you include job aids in your course?

#1 Help The Learner Remember How To Do Something

Your training course will only go so far. After the learner has taken the course, the knowledge may or may not be retained.

Job aids help answer the question, “How do I do that again?”

To make job aids as effective as possible, remember that they must be readily available and as concise as possible.

#2 Help Solve A Problem

Job aids can solve many problems by simply providing an answer – immediately.

For example, a cheat sheet on how to complete a process can be posted right next to a workstation. The job aid shows the steps required, removing the need to consult a set of instructions, retake your training course, or flag down a coworker or supervisor for a refresher.

This immediate access to only the need-to-know information provides an immediate solution to common problems.

#3 When Things Don’t Need To Be Memorized

All of the content in your training doesn’t need to be memorized (nor is this a realistic expectation).

Data-rich content or occasionally performed tasks are good candidates for job aids.

This could come in the form of data cheat sheets (like sorting codes or classification systems) or short “How-Tos”.

If the content is especially taxing to remember or not used routinely, consider including a job aid to bridge the gap. This will help minimize mistakes and on-the-job stress of the learner.

#4 When Training Can’t Keep Up With Change

If a procedure, workflow, or product abruptly changes, a job aid can be quite useful to stand in until more formal training can be implemented.

If the change is minor, a job aid can quickly be created to explain the new process or troubleshoot the issue quickly.

Just make sure to use it as a bandaid and not a permanent fix if the change is major or long-lasting.

When NOT To Use Job Aids

Job aids are awesome resources – but they’re not a perfect fit for every situation.

 Avoid using job aids in these situations:

                     Time-critical tasks that demand the user’s full attention. These include the hands-on type of work such as machinery operation, delicate procedures or any other skill where the learner must know how to perform the task without distraction.

                     Constantly changing tasks or tasks that are all different won’t benefit from job aids. Job aids help condense defined and consistent processes/information.

                     If referencing a job aid reduces the credibility of the user then the information needs to be committed to memory. Imagine a doctor or a team leader constantly referencing cheat sheets – would you trust them as an expert?

                     Finally, as hinted at earlier, job aids are not a substitute for training – they are a supplement to training, not a replacement.

5 Steps To Create Effective Job Aids

#1 Gather the necessary information.

Begin with audience research and interview those that actually perform the task. What steps are required to complete it successfully? Are there nuances and hiccups that are frequently occurring?

Depending on the complexity of the task, you may need the help of an SME. After all, your goal is to condense the information down into a powerful one page (or less) document – this may be difficult unless you know the topic intimately.

Finally, in doing your research, make sure to ask questions of both novice and experienced users.

#2 Choose the correct format.

The format of your job aid must fit both the learner and the task to maximize effectiveness.

Here are a few to consider:

                     Checklists: great for tasks and actionable items.

                     Step-by-step process: good at relaying specific instructions in sequential order.

                     Flowchart: use these to guide learners to a conclusion based on conditions/outcomes.

                     Worksheet: various formats allow you to test knowledge, perform tasks, and take notes.

                     Reference: good for quick reminders of something that is already familiar.

#3 Choose how it will be delivered.

This will either be printed or digital.

If it is a printed job aid, consider the size and location of where it will be available. e.g. a notecard at a workstation, a poster along an assembly line, or a letter-sized cheat sheet at a cubicle.

If it is digital, what will be the best format for delivery? An interactive app, video, image file, PDF?

Not only does the delivery method impact the usability of the job aid, deciding on the method early will help make sure the information you need will actually fit into the end product. 

#4 Create job aid.

Now that you’ve gathered all the necessary information and decided on the format and delivery method, it’s time to actually create the job aid!

Here are a few best practices to follow:

                     Keep it to one page or less. If it is digital, try to deliver it without the need for scrolling.

                     Stay focused on relaying the information as quickly and effortlessly as possible.

                     Choose visuals over text.

                     Keep everything consistent (fonts, language, color schemes, etc.) to reduce cognitive load.

#5 Test it. Share it. Revise it.

Test it prior to a full release with a sample of users. Use the feedback to really dial it in. This is important to avoid your full release being dismissed as irrelevant or useless! Job aids usually only get one shot.

Share it in the right location with the right people – and make sure they know it exists! Your job aid needs to be directly where the work is happening – workstations, desktops, wherever the user can easily access the content with minimal effort.

Revise it by analyzing long-term results.

                     Has your job aid reduced hang-ups or improved a process?

                     What repetitive questions/mistakes are occurring (or now, not occurring)?

                     Are tasks accomplished more accurately/efficiently?

                     Are users actually utilizing job aid? If not, why?

Use this information to update the job aid, or go back to the drawing board entirely.

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