How do you design for learning on the job

About learning on the job

Learning on the job was once the major approach for workplace learning. During the Industrial Revolution (in case you’re wondering, approx. 1760-1820), work became institutionalised in huge factories and so did workplace learning. Moving learning away from the workplace to the classroom can have some major downsides.

The major downside is best known as the transfer problem. One can be able to perform a new task in a classroom but that doesn’t mean the task can also be applied at work. That is why there is renewed popularity for learning on the job. It is not just learning by doing: Professionals who are learning on the job make a deliberate choice to use the workplace as the ‘main stage’ where the learning will take place. This needs professional design and ‘scaffolding’ to be effective.

The role of the workplace instructor (or mentor/coach) is an important one. So are targeted assignments with feedback and (micro)learning materials or performance support materials available on the job.

Customer case:

Finding the right blend of learning activities for a ‘learning on the job’ programme for rail workers can be a challenge. Here’s how Railcenter did it. Read more »

Most important learning on the job features

Some of the important features of learning on the job are:

  • The workplace is deliberately chosen as the main stage for learning.
  • It involves much more than just ‘learning by doing’.
  • Good learning materials need to be available. In general, it is about clear and well-defined learning assignments, (micro)learning materials that are easily available on the job and performance support embedded in or close to the workplace or work processes.
  • It has the well-defined structure of a learning process with clear objectives, a clear start and a definite end.
  • The role of the workplace instructor, mentor or coach is very important: She or he guides the learner and the learning process.
  • The role of the workplace instructor/mentor/coach is to instruct, support, assess, give feedback and sometimes test the learner.
  • The learning process often consists of the ‘classic’ learning approach of:
    • The learner prepares to do a task by studying relevant information.
    • The instructor shows how the task has to be done; the learner observes.
    • The learner performs the task under the supervision of the instructor/mentor/coach.
    • The learner receives feedback from the instructor/mentor/coach.
    • The learner continues performing the task more independently and under less supervision.
    • The learner ‘takes the test’ and the instructor/mentor/coach assesses the level of proficiency.

Learning on the job uses the following aNewSpring features:

  • Blended Learning
  • Events
  • Social and Mobile Learning
  • MemoTrainer™ as retention tool
  • Conditional learning activities
  • Certificates of participation
  • Hand-in assignments
  • 360° feedback
  • Video hosting
  • Catalogue
  • Assessments

Reasons to use learning on the job

Best place to learn

In many (but not all) situations, the workplace is the best place to learn a new task—the context, input, tools and materials are available there.

Easy to combine

Work and learning can be combined in an easy way. There is no additional time needed for travelling, only dedicated time at work to focus on learning.

Succesful delivery

There is little to no chance that the transfer problem occurs: The learning takes place at the actual workplace.

Short time to competence

When well organised, learning on the job has a shorter ‘time to competence’ compared to traditional classroom training.

Unexpected benefits

The role of senior staff/experts who share their knowledge, skills and expertise with participants can be very rewarding.

Five tips to help you design a learning on the job programme

  1. Conduct a clear decision process to decide whether or not to choose the learning on the job approach.
  2. Besides the pro’s, some clear con’s should also be taken into account. The most important condition is the availability of instructors/mentors/coaches who are well suited and motivated to do their part of the job. They will also need time to fulfill their instructor/mentor/coach role in a proper way–which involves a lot of time actually. Often, part of the investment is also to train and support the instructors/mentors/coaches to do their job.
  3. Design the entire process both for the learner and the instructor/mentor/coach. Be sure that the building blocks—assignments, (micro)learning, tests and performance support—are well designed.
  4. Support the entire process, delivery and availability with an easy-to-use, easily available learning platform that serves both the learner as well as the instructor/mentor/coach.
  5. Don’t restrict yourself too much by sticking to the ‘pure’ learning on the job approach. Consider whether and where it is useful and effective to blend in some other learning approaches—this might be a classroom event or social learning.

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