Another Boring Job Aid… Whiskey Tango Foxtrot??

I think I’m a colourful guy.  I have two twitter feeds.  One which is the “professional me” and is topics elements I think are of interest to me in my job.  The other is “personal me” and are all the things I find entertaining be it a hobby, my children, a new toy or whatever.  Quite often of course, these worlds collide and I post to both. Maybe not everyone separates their digital psyche and hosts them in juxtaposition like this, but the concept that I often am driven, professionally, to use methods that I prefer in my personal research or learning is certainly not unique.  It’s basic human nature.For my job, I am responsible to support other people’s growth.  I seek out gaps in what they know and what they need to know.  It’s not exactly dawning knowledge that as a learning practitioner, the better I know my audience and their roles/profile,the better results I will have.Now enter “The Job Aid”.A “what grinds my gears” moment always occurs when I am involved in a learning project that has an impactful design, clear and useful objectives and a well thought out execution.  Great!  Then, often tagged on are “job aids”.

In many organizations I’ve worked with, the “job aid” is defined as a printable pdf that holds information not deemed appropriate for the formal element of the learning solution.  It’s either criterion reference for concepts in the session or learning collateral, short walk-throughs of a tool or process, at-a-glance information, etc.  All perfectly acceptable content to support learners.

I find that often to suggest the delivery medium of flat, printable PDFs might create a solution that is not well connected to the rest of the learning program.

In several organizations I’ve worked in, client groups will over the course of a few years receive hundreds of these.  They become a change management nightmare, often ignored or at worst a sad, sad looking wallpapered cubicle.  It’s not how I personally learn. It’s not how I research things of interest or try to remember important things in my life.  Why would it work for my learner?There are some VERY handy guides out there to support what should be in a job aid.  Here’s oneadapted from “Effective Job Aids” by Susan Russell on the ASTD site. I don’t want to spend time talking about what goes IN a job aid, but I do want to provide some thoughts about other options than the very basic flat PDF.In a design for any learning solution, a medium should be considered based on the output of an assessment of your audience’s learning environment and capabilities.  Elements like location (remote, workstations, cubicles, etc), available tools and software (laptops, tablets, smartphones, reader software, web connections, etc) and required interactions for the content (software walkthrough, demonstrated behaviour, etc) are ideally brought to the table to determine the appropriate solution.  Job aids should be a part of that flow and decision making process.Why not deploy post learning resources in a way that fits in how a learner works and lives?  Why not leverage the approaches they use to be entertained, research items of interest or in how they use the learning on the job.Here’s a few ideas to get you kickstarted…


Starting with the target of my ire, the PDF is actually one monster of a great format.  Although many times we cut off it’s arms and legs, push it through a heated ringer and stab it to death to mount on the wall, it has some really great possibilities if you dig abit deeper.One I really like is the fillable form. Although still relatively flat, what it DOES is strongly encourage learners to “do something”.  Ask them to submit answers, thoughts, or completion criteria (assuming you aren’t using an LMS for this of course) easily.  It also allows you to gather feedback from them on impact and use.  Try asking “where are you using this?” and they click submit at the bottom every time they use it.  It’s very cool.A PDF can be created to be fully interactive, linked, bookmarked and supports lots of rich media. (There’s even a YouTube widget to include videos within a PDF!)

Desktop Background

One I haven’t used but I think would be REALLY great for smaller organizations or for the newly hired is to create  job aids as Windows 7 desktop backgrounds.  You can even create more than one and have them rotate.  (Shift-F10, N will allow any user to switch to the next background if not the one needed).  For a new team, or for a new corporate initiative, having this pushed out by the IT Desktop team could be an interesting new approach!

RSS Feeds/Blogs

 One thing I think is critical to consider is how to provide the most impact for a learner with the least shift in their daily paradigm.  Having job aids posted in Blog format internally has some significant benefits. One it’s super easy to update without worrying about version control.  Secondly, it’s searchable and has all the bells and whistles you may want to apply to it (integrated twitter feed, multi-author, multi-media. searchable, printable, global distribution) and when provided as an RSS feed, suddenly your learners can view them on any device, tablet, smartphone, with their favourite news reader, and get notified as soon as a new one is available. It’s a pretty perfect solution.

The Job Aid Room

I have used this one recently.  Using a virtual classroom (I used adobe connect), you create a room that has whatever material you want to show (pdf, ppt, video, process document, software walkthrough etc) and post it with a publicly accessible URL.  Many devices (tablets, smartphones, etc) have access to these rooms via apps (webex and adobe connect do for sure) and you can provide very structured job aid support. It even allows (initially upon deployment for example) a live trainer to be on hand in the room to answer questions (Love the every Friday at noon QnA in the “Job Aid Room”!!) and content is easily changed, printed or downloaded.Have you found other innovative ways to provide post-training resources?  Feel free to share with me!

Tough topic learning projects – Being a N00b

It’s nice when a learning project comes in and you have plenty of expertise with the topics at hand. For more corporately agnostic topics many organizations will hire that expertise in a learning practitioner. Things move along quicker, you have a wider breadth of experience to balance the content against and you sound more intelligent speaking with SMEs.

Unfortunately, if you aren’t in a role where you live in a certain program or catalog and know you are likely to have foreknowledge of project content, you just never know what you are going to get.

Personally, for me this is half the fun of the job! I love that feeling in the initial discussions where the client builds you a picture of their world and you get to be a part of it. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in a myriad of projects and built an interesting collage of topics. In my brain is a mix of network administration, financial sales, radiology and orthopaedic tools, unreleased smartphones, leadership programs, corporate objective setting, martial arts and web design. Whew!

A strong learning team will have a good workflow in place to deal with all projects regardless of topics.

When the rubber hits the road however, it can be daunting to face a completely foreign knowledge area. One of my favourite projects over the years was the orthopaedic tools project. It was probably one of my most successful outputs and arguably the one that was the steepest learning curve for me. I was not an integration specialist, was new to the world of medical imaging altogether, and knew nothing of orthopaedics. I definitely felt like a newbie (n00b).

Process aside, there were a few keys that turned that project, and me, from n00b to performing.

Going into the jungle? Find a guide. Using coffee as an open bribe, start making friends. Someone who knows and can introduce you to others, knows the terminology, or has history, you can very quickly hit the ground running.  This person can also be a great co-facilitator for a session with very knowledgeable learners.

Get in the learner’s trenches. If you don’t know your learner, how can you possibly build something that will help them? The world of the learner, regardless of team, shifts just like yours. What was the approach, alignments, tools or resources one day, can be very different the next. If you can’t paint a clear picture of who they are and what they do every day, you are going to miss something.

Teach yourself first. The bigger the learning team, it seems the less individual learning practitioners think they need to know about project as a whole. Once you have an army of SMEs, Consultants, IDesigners, IDevelopers and so on, it can become unclear who knows the final collateral best. Make it you. Always know the content + 50% more. (start reading) You will be credible, able to be more involved in SME discussions, and have great discussions with your client.

Be there. If you support IDs and they can’t get content? Be there, find it. If you are an ID and a facilitator has a rough session, Be there, give them an evening of one to one on the content. A learner group hits a major hiccup in a webinar, Be there, solve the problem, rerun the session and offer the next as gratis. The more you are involved, the better the project result. Guaranteed.

It’s not always easy. When you start to pile up many projects with brand new knowledge areas, it can be tough to be as involved in each separately. Know your limits and when to draw the line. No matter how good you are, there is a threshold you can easily cross where outputs cease to be great.

For me, this is what the job is all about. Finding something new and intriguing to dig your teeth into and seeing it through.

Digging deeper: Audience Learning Profiles and PLEs

You are building, whether intentional or not, a theme of how your learners will seek out and absorb information.  There is an evolving culture and environment for learning outside the scope of any one program. The fact of the matter is, everyone already has a way of accessing information that is easiest for them both within and outside of the workplace.  Why force them to learn a new way when you can possibly leverage what the already know?

This became abundantly clear in an exercise I participated in some time ago.  We asked a pilot group in a computer lab to search for information on random general topics using any tool at their disposal.  Topics ranged from the definition of an acronym or word to finding a recipe.  The turnaround for everyone, as you would expect, was exceedingly fast.  Seconds in most cases.

We then asked the same group to use only corporately available tools to find internal information.  Again topics ranged from definitions to project outlines and templates to benefit information.  Turnaround was very slow.  Many weren’t sure where to start, everyone took different routes and many were unable to complete the exercise at all.

Albeit not a fair exercise in many workplaces, especially smaller organizations where most information might not be readily accessible, a conclusion could still be drawn around how much thought was put into the design of information access as a whole at the corporation.

There wasn’t any.

If you follow any model where you seek to intermix formal learning with informal learning, you a going to quickly create an abundance of collateral for learners to leverage.  You might be looking at leveraging wikis, job aids, blogs, dashboards and white paper repositories for your teams to use.  But was there thought as a whole into the overall design of information access and what makes sense for each team?

Rarely does a learning practitioner have the opportunity to steer the way a company sets up it’s information systems and how the collage of tools and workflow for an employee interact.  You can however learn how to ensure your solutions “fit” in that environment.

In observing a potential learner for a day, you will observe for example:

  • Tools they gravitate to for answers to questions (phone, google, intranet, mobile, LMS)
  • The way they optimize their workflow (two monitors for toolA and toolB)
  • Linear and non-linear tasking (they start logging a ticket before hanging up)
  • How the team interacts with each other (messenger, face to face, SMS)

A map can be made that reflects that individuals Personal Learnng Environment (PLE). Pool this with other team members’ PLEs and that overlay will provide you with trends you can take into your next solution (TLE?). For company wide deployments, pooling all team will provide a theme of how the company prefers to learn (CLE?).

Follow this map! Create your solutions that fit within this paradigm. Deploy a solution with an mLearning follow up refresher for leaders that lean towards that are always in 1:1 meetings. Reconsider the deployment of a new wiki when access to current tools are a struggle. If access to the LMS is a challenge while reps are on the phone due to screen real estate, add deep links that open new modules directly on their support portal.

PLEs are a fantastic audience profile tool and, if kept current, are of immense value in keeping your finger on your company’s learning paradigm.

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