Employees are often trained away from where they work, whether it’s down the hall or on the other side of the country. This traditional approach puts a wall between what employees learn and what they do. On-the-job training can break down this wall.

Learners and teachers work shoulder to shoulder and develop a feeling of pursuing the same goal when training on the job. Training becomes something not simply given to employees, but something in which they participate. Employees can give immediate feedback about what they don’t understand and offer suggestions about how to improve lessons and processes.

On-the-job training also improves learning retention. Project Management Institute’s Lead Instructional Designer Karen Holloway said, “The in situ experience helps strengthen recall of information in a way that classroom learning can’t.”

When learning and everyday work are combined, an employee’s “mind is processing and associating the sights and sounds of the environment with the skills being developed,” she added.

On-the-job training helps instructors, too. They can see how their lessons work in practice and then fine-tune them. The process even lets instructors field-test the ideas and techniques they teach. Sometimes, this testing leads not only to better teaching, but also to better processes.

Yet while on-the-job training offers clear benefits, putting the concept into practice is difficult. Clockwork Home Services/Direct Energy’s Vice President of Training Jeff McLanahan said, “The hardest part about integrating learning into employees’ everyday work is consistency.”

McLanahan compares the process to building a habit. Organizations that use on-the-job training effectively are those that commit to it and make it a core value. Such organizations conduct training when they say they will, and they don’t cancel simply because other projects need attention.

“Scheduling training on an everyday basis and then cancelling sends a message that the training is not important,” he added. “This defeats the culture you are trying to create.”

The idea that consistency is key to making on-the-job training work is echoed by Fern Oram. Describing her experience training employees for Peterson’s, an education content provider, she believes that while the organization valued employee learning, “consistency was a missing ingredient.”

Oram also stresses the importance of learner engagement. “The learner’s buy-in at the onset is a hurdle,” she said.

If employees don’t see how training will make a difference in their everyday work, they’ll be less interested and more skeptical ─ attitudes that make learning difficult. The need to get buy-in is also emphasized by Holloway, who believes the key to winning it is support from the top.

“First and foremost, senior leaders have to commit to and communicate to the learner and his direct supervisors the value they place on [learning on the job],” said Holloway.

The support of leaders is essential, but it’s not enough. Holloway also adds that to gain employee buy-in, trainers must collaborate with all stakeholders to help them “understand the true training needs and expected outcomes and how these align with the organization’s strategic goals.”

Ultimately, education programs can achieve the best results by blending classroom teaching with on-the-job training.

“The classroom is a great starting point for learning,” said McLanahan, “but the practical application of that learning is essential as the employee works toward mastering [a] skill.”

Blending classroom work with on-the-job training requires a clear message along with good processes and tools:

  • The Message: On-the-job training is most effective when employees play an active role. Organizations send this message by asking for participation and, most importantly, by truly listening when people share their thoughts. In other words, organizations must not only tell employees that their involvement matters, they must also show them that it does.
  • Processes: Simple actions can yield big results. One such action is to bring employees together every day to discuss a point covered in training. More of a huddle than a meeting, this short conversation makes training a part of routine work.
  • Tools: New technologies like mobile apps can help organizations to integrate teaching into everyday activities. These tools put training guidance at employees’ finger tips, letting them look up key points when their jobs demand it.

Organizations that deliver a clear message and use good processes and tools can break down the wall between what employees learn in training and what they do every day. When learning and work then come together, the goals of training and the goals of the organization become the same.