When someone is on the job and needs an answer fast they don’t have time to go through a whole eLearning course. They need an answer they can get to just-in-time. This is where job aids come in, especially PDFs since they can be printed out or accessed on a device without giving the viewer the ability to edit the file. They don’t replace in-depth learning, but the support they provide helps boost knowledge retention and self-sufficiency.
Examples of Job Aids
We actually use aids a lot in daily life. The contacts list in your phone is a great example. You have all the numbers available but you don’t have to commit them to memory. GPS systems help you get from one place to another by providing step-by-step instructions and grocery lists let you keep track of what you need to buy. The types of aids a learner will find helpful are going to have different content but they follow the same principles. Useful aids include:
• Reference Sources (collections of data, such as price sheets or phone numbers)
• Step-by-Step Instructions
• Decision Tables (use “if” and “then” criteria to guide decision making)
When to Use Them
Albert Einstein allegedly said, “Never memorize what you can look up.” I’m going to qualify that by saying, “Look up what isn’t worth memorizing.” If a learner is going to be using a process or piece of information frequently, it might be good to have it memorized. But if it isn’t needed often or takes more brain power to remember it than it does to use it, it’s time for an aid. It’s also a good idea to provide aids for new learners. Once they know the material they’re likely to stop using the aids, but having help available as they learn the ropes is crucial. The American Society for Training & Development has a handy PDF resource for matching up needs (consistency, decision making, process order, etc.) with the best format.
How to Design Them Effectively
• Ensure that all content is current.
• Give brief context. Learners retain and process information better if they have context for what they’re doing. This can be incredibly short, possibly just a clear title such as, “How to Log in to Track Your Hours.”
• Keep it concise. Only include critical information that’s directly related to the task at hand. The PDF should be short so it’s easy for the learner to find the information they need. A page or two is often a good maximum. Individual points should also be bite-sized so they can be absorbed quickly. When possible, start directions with action verbs and use simple wording. Do not add images purely for decoration, only include visuals that aid the learning process.
• Use good visual design principles. This is a topic unto itself, but basics include using consistent fonts, colors, and alignment. Related elements should be placed near one another on the PDF.
PDFs are a great tool for providing learner support. They can be formatted a number of ways to help with different tasks, are easy to access when they are needed, and they are easier to create than a full blown course on the same subject. To conclude, here is one of my favorite learning aids, a checklist:
If you’d like to learn more about custom eLearning course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.
If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.
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