Tips for more effective on-the-job training

Employees arrive in the workplace with various levels of knowledge, experience, skill, and training. While your company may have a formal onboarding process to welcome new hires, in most organizations it is ultimately up to the front-line supervisor to make sure employees get up to speed.

On-the-job training can be incredibly valuable, but it can also be frustrating for both employees and supervisors if the methods for teaching and the student’s learning style are incompatible.

People are naturally inclined to present information in the same way that they understand it, so it isn’t uncommon for a supervisor who “learns by doing” to show an employee a task and then leave him or her to figure it out largely on their own. This will work well for some tasks, but it will be a disaster for others.

While you don’t need to become an expert in learning styles and teaching techniques, having a basic understanding of such concepts can help you be more effective in completing your training duties. The more effective you are as a trainer, the faster your employees will be productively performing their duties.

Consider these key concepts when you conduct training:

Match training method to task. Research has shown that the most effective way for people to learn is to match the teaching method to the nature of the material being taught. For example, would you want people to obtain a driver’s license based solely on their ability to pass the written test? While lectures, tests, and instructional videos are all good tools for teaching people to drive, those lessons are reinforced when a driver gets behind the wheel and obtains hands-on experience.

Consider personal preference. While teaching methods should match tasks, you should still consider learning preferences. Learning is improved — for all preferences — when training combines a variety of learning activities such as demonstration, discussion, handouts, brainstorming, games, and hands-on experience, to name a few.

Acknowledge previous experience. Treat employees like intelligent, experienced adults whose opinions and insights are valued and appreciated. Create training opportunities that build on the learner’s knowledge base. In group training, you may want to discuss how participants might learn from each other and provide opportunities for people to share perspectives or discuss relevant past experiences.

Demonstrate applicability. Take the time to show employees how training will apply to them and their work. Use examples and discussions in the training that reflect participants’ current working experiences. It also helps to deliver content that fulfills an immediate or upcoming need; adults tend to respond best to training that can be applied right away.

Ask for feedback. Adults especially feel more invested in training when they have the opportunity to give input on their education. Results are the best way to measure the effectiveness of training, but soliciting learner feedback can help you understand how various aspects of training impact success. Such insight allows you to further improve training outcomes.

Kyra Kudick, associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates Inc., specializes in employment law/HR issues such as employee relations, hiring and recruiting, and training and development. For more information, visit and

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.