Why A Job Aid Might Be the Best Thing You Need with Dawn Mahoney

Why A Job Aid Might Be the Best Thing You Need with Dawn Mahoney

Could a job aid be the learning solution that helps your business? 

Empowering your employees with the information they need to level-up is an integral part of managing staff and running a successful business. When you identify problem areas or gaps in knowledge, it only takes a quick Google search to discover the variety of options available to educate your employees.

Online courses and eLearning are popular ways of training. But are they the most suitable for teaching the information you need your employees to know?

Training courses and eLearning solutions aren’t always the silver bullet. These are often costly, time-consuming answers to a problem, and depending on what your employees need to know, it could be a waste of time and money.

Before you invest in any learning solution, consider what your employees need to know. Could it be taught with some illustrative material? Do users need frequent access to easy-to-read materials rather than something they need to commit to memory?

If the answer to any of these is yes, what you might need is a job aid.

Job aids can be instrumental in helping people learn how to complete tasks. In this post, Dawn Mahoney shares her advice for creating job aids that will work best for your business. 

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Dawn is the founder of Learning In The White Space and one of the leading authorities on training facilitation and instructional design. She knows so much about job aids, she’s created a course to help you utilize them for your business, “Not Everything Needs To Be A Course: Job Aids“.

What is a job aid?

A job aid, otherwise known as a “cheat sheet”, is any material that helps you complete a task.

Dawn believes that job aids are essential tools to empower people with useable information to perform tasks independently. They don’t have to be formal or created on any special software. They just have to help the user through a process successfully and in the simplest way possible.

You’re probably already using job aids and don’t even know it. A job aid can come in the form of a virtual sticky note on your computer screen, reminding you what your computer login password is. It could be the paper assembly instructions detailing how to build that new desk for your home office. It could be a checklist, an infographic, an app, a print-out, a note scribbled onto a piece of paper – all these have the potential to function as an effective job aid.

Job aids are used over and over again and provide value to a returning user. Designed to be deliberately easy to understand and quick to use. Dawn stresses that, most importantly, job aids should be convenient to access when needed.

When you need job aids (not a training course)

The type of learning material you need depends entirely on what you want your users to know. 

Job aids are better for:

  • Processes that are difficult or unnecessary to memorize
  • Standalone pieces of information
  • Information that you don’t need very often

People often think that a course will bridge the gaps in their employees’ knowledge, but you should consider the information’s application before seeking a solution. If you need to help users follow a process to sign-into a computer program, is it necessary to take them through a time-consuming training course? Or would an instruction sheet with relevant, labeled screenshots suffice?

Job aids don’t always have to be independent of training courses – they can be useful additions. However, Dawn’s advice is that job aids should be accessible outside of the course too. They should be downloadable documents or takeaway sheets that users can refer back to when they need them.

What makes an effective job aid?

Why A Job Aid Might Be the Best Thing You Need with Dawn Mahoney

Dawn emphasizes that a successful job aid should be clear, concise, and prioritize the quality of information over quantity.

While it doesn’t necessarily matter how long your job aid is (some manuals, for example, are over a thousand pages), it does matter how it’s structured. A job aid’s primary requirement is to deliver information quickly, so index longer materials and break down the text into easy-to-find chunks.

The text should be presented simply, for example, in bullet points, numbered lists, or short sentences that are consumable at a glance.

Effective job aids often include relevant images to help to make instructions clear. Dawn recommends including good-quality photographs or screenshots wherever possible in your job aids.

Dawn also suggests using a visual-led format, like a PDF or a PowerPoint, as the basis for your job aid, as these can show both text and visual elements. She advises steering away from formats like Excel, which may overcomplicate the presentation and make information harder to absorb.

You can use video as a job aid but beware that they can be time-consuming to use. Users may have to watch more of the video than they need to find the relevant information, and as a result, may not rely on the job aid in the future.

How to create a successful job aid

Job aid creation doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require a thorough approach. Dawn shared her process of creating an effective job aid in these four steps.

1. Learn what users need to know

Dawn advises starting the job aid creation process by talking to the people carrying out the tasks in question. What procedures do they follow? What job aids, if any, do they already use? Where is the problem, and where are the gaps in their knowledge?

Familiarize yourself with the problem that the job aid will focus on, and you’ll have a better idea of what information to include. On the other hand, you’ll know what to exclude by finding out what knowledge users already have. 

Other ways to discover knowledge gaps include finding outdated information that needs updating or looking at training materials to see what’s missing from the existing processes.

2. Decide what type of job aid to create

Once you know what information you want to include, you’ll need to decide what type of job aid to create.

There are many different types, and you’ll need to decide which is most appropriate for the users. Dawn created her ‘Job Aid Selection’ tool as a starting point, highlighting some typical business needs and the job aids that might be a suitable solution.

Job Selection Tool

If this list overwhelms you, why not start by considering the types of job aids you already have in your organization and work best for your team.

You can always experiment with new types but sticking to the type you know your users already work well with will help the job aid be successful faster. 

3. Prepare your materials and create your job aid

After you’ve chosen a type of job aid, you can begin gathering the materials you need to create it. This might include preparing images such as screenshots or taking photos.

Why A Job Aid Might Be the Best Thing You Need with Dawn Mahoney

When writing, remember to keep your text clear and concise, and if you’re working with specialized material, make sure that you have an SME define the process steps or terminologies.

There many digital tools available to help you create an outstanding job aid. Dawn praised Snagit’s free job aid template as one of her favorites, but it’s important to note that you can use almost any content creation software to make your job aid, from a Word document to something more complex.

4. Make the job aid easy to find 

Finally, you need to make sure that the finished job aid is easily accessible. Dawn believes that making learning materials hard to find is one of the most significant barriers to success.

Think about when and where your users are going to need this job aid and place it accordingly. If your users are office workers who need the information when they’re at their computer, perhaps you’ll want to give them a document they can download to their desktop. But if your user is a sales assistant who needs help with the lesser-used processes on a cash register, a print-out taped to the counter might be more suitable. 

A great way to make job aids accessible is to create one space for them (digitally or otherwise) and let everyone know where they are. Dawn’s top tip is to have only one link which takes users to a page of your internal system, or a Google doc, that hosts the links to all of your job aids, so they’re always available. 

After your employees have had some time to use the job aids, spend some time reviewing their effectiveness. Are they being used? Is there any information or steps that you’ve missed or that need refining? You created the job aid to help, so check that it’s doing its job.

Dawn believes the best way to monitor if job aids are effective is to determine whether they are helpful and in use. If they’re not, find out why and adapt them accordingly. However, if they are, you may find yourself creating even more to help benefit your business.

If you want to find out more about Dawn’s process for creating effective job aids, visit her course at the TechSmith Academy, “Not Everything Needs To Be A Course: Job Aids“.

Check out more great content at TechSmith’s Free online learning platform: https://bit.ly/2QUvHeV

For more expert advice and tips visit TechSmith Academy on YouTube or listen to the Podcast.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

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