One of the most common questions that people ask during every stage of learning is, “Why do I need to know this?”

It’s a question we ask as early as toddlers, though it is abbreviated to an incessant barrage of “Why?” statements at that point. It continues through high school when we ask our calculus teacher “When will we ever use this?” And then as an adult it evolves into “How does this impact me?”.

Sadly, even though we all pursue this quest to understand and “connect the dots” of the world around us basically from birth, the response to these questions tend to remain standard, universal and one-size-fits-all replies which never really satisfy. We tell the toddler “Because I said so,” the high school student gets, “Because it will be on the test,” and the adult is asked to be satisfied with, “Because you’ll get a certificate of completion added to your personnel file.”

Just imagine if the response could be “Because this fundamental change to how you do things will increase your efficiency, reduce your frustration and you will be measured on how effectively you apply this new process to improve your results.”

In fact, let’s stretch our imagination even farther to the learner never even needing to ask the “why” questions at all because the structure of their learning made the relevance to them very clear and obvious from the start.

That’s a wonderful fantasy you say, but it’s a dream that could never be achieved in reality. Welcome to the world of structured on-the-job training (SOJT). In this world, the emphasis is on how learning is applied not just in work-based scenarios, but also in the very real context of the specific duties of the learner’s job. SOJT development programs do not just expect a learner to apply what they’ve learned through formal instruction back on the job; an SOJT development program requires it and guides it.

Training without an expectation for measurable behavior change back on the job is just a presentation. Some people give a lot of presentations and call them “training,” even though their only measurement of success is how many people attended and not how much impact the trained content had on the workers back in their daily routines.

This is compounded even worse in how we tend to approach on-the-job (OJT) training. Many OJT programs have little or no uniformity, those assigned to be “peer mentors” have very little guidance, the assignment of “Show the new person the ropes” often has no additional explanation of what “the ropes” are, and the primary way the learner receives coaching is when they’ve messed up. We know that our ability to be skilled and confident doing any task grows from us repeatedly doing the task correctly. Yet even though we know this, we leave such a large part of our learning completely up to chance.

SOJT is all about mapping out the skills that a person should learn, including how to both instruct those skills and monitor growth in those skills, and how to evaluate successful completion of the OJT tasks not as a mere “yes/no” checklist, but rather by evaluating production output and improvements using business metrics.

The foundation of an SOJT program is:

    1. What are the specific, measurable actions someone needs to be able to demonstrate they can do to be considered competent in the role?
    2. How will the identified competencies be observed, measured and evaluated?

To personalize the competencies even farther, build on the foundation:

    1. Provide a context to the learner within which they can choose a direction.
    2. Empower the learner to write SMART goals which stretch them to do an activity different than they way they currently do it.

Designed correctly, the SOJT approach to development can also be used to support learners in not just engaging in one-size-fits-all type tasks, but also create an environment in which each individual learner is fully in the driver’s seat of their own professional growth, right down to being empowered to author their own custom-fitted, personalized learning assignments borne out of their own self-expressed areas of need.

The tips above should help you bring a little structure to your on-the-job training.

Register for the June TICE to see Paul Smith’s session, “Custom-Fitted, Personalized Learning Using Structured On-the-Job Training”