What Is a Job Aid? Plus, How You Can Make Your Own.

5 min read
What is a Job Aid?

Clear, simple directions are essential for learning anything new, which is why high-quality job aids are incredibly effective resources in any business or organization.

Job aids are any tools, devices or guides that provide simple instruction on how to complete a task or achieve a goal. They’re used either to introduce new steps in a process or to help people remember how to complete tasks more efficiently.

Understanding why job aids are effective, how different styles of job aids apply to certain tasks and the steps you can take to create them are necessary skills for trainers and instructional designers.

How Do Job Aids Improve Performance?

For new employees, job aids are ideal for onboarding, initial training and just-in-time performance support. For current and seasoned employees, they are a great way to introduce new work processes and provide updates on procedures.

Job aids can be printed documents, digital files, or performance support reminders pushed to mobile devices. They’re typically one page or shorter and include images to illustrate processes and procedures.

Job aids are a beneficial learning resource, as they:

  • Save training time by assisting in the completion of tasks. The eLearning Industry notes how job aids provide immediate instruction in a moment of need.
  • Reduce training costs. . According to the Association for Talent Development, job aids can be deployed up to 75% faster than traditional training at reduced expense.
  • Improve performance and support for learners. Job aids provide instant references to clarify directions, encourage independent action and promote continuous learning.
  • Ensure that standards and processes are consistent across teams. Providing a single point of reference keeps everyone on the same page (literally), making it easier to share information and update others.

Examples of Job Aids

For optimal learning, different types of tasks may require different types of job aids. These are the five most commonly used job aids:

  • Step-by-Step Manual – Used when specific tasks must be completed in a certain order and don’t require decision making. This job aid is also useful when learners need to record information as they follow each step.
  • Flowchart – Useful when learner must make yes or no decisions that affect the task outcome.
  • Decision Table – Used when a task has several variables and each variable has multiple options to consider. Unlike flowcharts or step-by-step instructions, the tasks usually do not need to be completed within a set order.
  • Checklist – Used when there are many tasks to complete in no particular order. In some cases, the tasks must be completed in the same way, every time.
  • Reference Guide – These guides are used when there are no specific steps to follow and information is not needed all at once. Their primary use is to provide essential information at a glance.

How to Create a Job Aid

As with any learning materials, you’ll want to put careful thought into how the job aid is designed.

  1. Observe and gather information about the task
    When preparing any instructional material, confer with actual users, from subject matter experts to the newest personnel, for different perspectives on what’s needed and what’s helpful. Document their process, noting if and when specific order matters, and why. Ask for helpful tips or suggestions to streamline the process.

    Be sure to specify what the desired outcome is and keep this at the forefront throughout the design process to ensure content is relevant to the task.
  2. Choose a structure
    As described in the examples section above, the exact style of job aid will depend entirely on the type of task and the required steps or procedures. If it’s not clear what the best process should be, compare different styles (i.e. flowchart vs. checklist vs. step-by-step) and see which offers the best clarity.
  3. Pick a format
    Consider what will be most convenient for your learners. Will they be able to easily refer to a printed document or reference card? Would a poster be helpful to display within a room? Does everyone have mobile devices they can use to review digital aids?

    Consider providing multiple formats to ensure the widest accessibility, such as a digital PDF that can either be viewed on a mobile device or easily downloaded and printed. It’s important to remember that visual representation is key for clarity, so include relevant images and icons that supplement the text.
  4. Design the job aid
    Begin by writing up the major steps, keeping this outline comprehensive, yet concise. This may take a few revisions. Next, include any visual representations, which you can do by taking pictures / screenshots or designing graphical representations.

    Always use active language to describe tasks, as that will be shorter and more straightforward. Ex. “start the computer” vs. “once the computer has started.” Ensure that the look and style is consistent with the organization’s style guidelines or overall branding.

    If applicable, consider how many different languages you will translate the job aid into, as some written languages may need extra space to fit into the design space.
  5. Test and revise
    Once you’ve designed the job aid, test it out and ask others to do the same. Did they successfully complete the task? Was anything left out? Was anything unclear?

    Gather feedback from the users and then adjust accordingly. Don’t be afraid to make changes, as you may even need to go with a different type of job aid. Once you’ve settled on the process, get final approval / signoff from managers or other stakeholders.

    Finally, be open to continual feedback over time, as processes or required steps may change and the job aid will need to be updated accordingly.

Download Our Free Job Aid Templates

If you’d like some templates to guide you in creating job aids, then we can help you get started.

Creating helpful tools and resources is one aspect of instructional design. The University of San Diego’s online Learning Design and Technology (LDT) master’s degree program provides a comprehensive understanding of the science behind how people learn. Our program will help you learn the theory and practice of designing effective training and instructional courses; you’ll also develop proficiency in today’s leading instructional design technology tools.

If you’re interested in learning more best practices for creating highly effective instruction materials, then consider studying instructional design at USD. Contact us to learn more.

Job Aid FAQs

Are there times not to use a job aid?

While job aids are intended to be handy, quick reference guides, there are a few situations where they’re not ideal:

  • Sometimes when executing tasks in real time, such as when attending to a patient (life or death) or overseeing a time-sensitive manufacturing process, there is absolutely no opportunity to review materials. Job aids can’t be a substitute for learned knowledge and expertise that must be memorized.
  • Similarly, job aids are not a substitute for training. Job aids work best as performance support after training. Full, comprehensive training is vital for requisite knowledge acquisition, retention and recall.

Are there other examples of job aids?

There are dozens of different types of job aids, many of which you probably encounter on a day-to-day basis. Any quick reference guide can be considered a “job aid,” such as signs in public restrooms that show people how to wash their hands. Even recipe books and to-do lists can be considered job aids.

What are the recommended best practices for job aid design?

Here are some additional tips:

  • Online research can be useful to start a process or to supplement knowledge, but also include observation, demonstration, one-on-one interviews and discussion with users when designing a job aid.
  • Consider adding a short introduction to provide context of how, where and when to use a job aid.
  • Good design makes use of white space to avoid the page looking too cluttered or busy. Cramming too much detail into a space can make a job aid difficult to follow.
  • Good design incorporates an “on brand” or compatible color scheme. Keep the text font and size consistent and easy to read, and make use of clear, simple icons to aid in visual comprehension.

What learning programs or tools can I use to create job aids?

You can use most simple desktop applications such as Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop or any of the Google Suite programs to design and create your own job aid. If you’re looking for technologies that will help you with research, design and instruction, see our list of top instructional design software.

How should I use job aids within a training program?

Job aids typically supplement other training methods. To fully understand when to use a job aid as performance support, you’ll need to know how to assess the learning needs of your students/employees. Learning how to apply these learning aids, in addition to how to create them, is a fundamental part of learning design programs.

For more information on what goes into a training program, see our post on how to create an employee training plan.

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