How to Create Effective Job Aids

This post was written by Sydney Coultis, Instructional Designer at Water Bear Learning. 

Have you ever sat through a tedious and unnecessary presentation and wondered why they didn’t just give you a handout instead?

Or spent hours sifting through paperwork trying to understand a complicated process and feeling more confused than before?

We’ve all been there. Huge waste of time.

So, how can we make sure everyone’s time is used in the most efficient way?

Job aids.

Not just any old job aid though, effective job aids.

That’s right. We are talking about how to make a job aid efficient, effective, engaging, and save learners a whole lot of time.

By creating effective job aids, we can take the long processes, cut out all the excess words and organize them into a product that is easy on the eyes. With a few tips on how to get started, you can save your client hours of work and thousands of dollars. Now that, my friend, is an invaluable skill.

To create an effective job aid, try out these tips:


1. Identify your audience

Conduct a deep dive to understand your audience preferences. For example, think if your audience is high-level executives compared to entry level employees. There is a huge difference. You need to make sure your job aid speaks directly to the specific learning audience.

Getting to know your audience can come in several forms. You can meet with the SME (Subject Matter Expert) to get more information on the audience, interview individual employees, or do online research.

Take advantage of at least one of the in-person options to get to know your audience on a deeper level. Find out audience demographics. Then understand what your audience already knows and what information they need to know from your job aid. You can reflect this in the job aid with content, font size, design and language.


2. Consolidate your information

What do people need to know to accomplish the learning goal? Really focus on the word “need” and tighten up everything else.

Content is extremely important, so make sure to take your time on this step. A visually attractive job aid that includes lazy or incorrect information isn’t helpful to anyone.

The best way to stay focused on crisp information is by creating an outline using Microsoft Word or Google Docs. To start your outline, organize your content using bullet points, numbers and/or multilevel lists. Begin by gathering the necessary information and putting the main points into bullets. Then, add sub categories and ideas from there.

An example for teaching someone how to use Gmail might look like:

> Enter your email address and password in the below fields and click “next”

> If you do not currently have a Gmail account, you can select “Create account” to setup a new account

An outline will organize your information into a cohesive structure and help you cut out any unnecessary information.

No time for rambling or getting sidetracked.

Focus and be concise.


3. Choose your words carefully

Always think action and consistency. Directions and instructions should always include concise action verbs. After all, job aids are instructing people on what to do. Short and direct sentences are most effective.

As seen in the example above, the word “Enter” is an action-oriented verb, instructing the user on exactly what to do.

That’s what you want.

As well as using action words, make sure those action words stay consistent throughout the job aid. For example, if your instructions include the phrase “Click on the star in the upper right corner” continue to use the word “Click” throughout your job aid.


4. Format like your life depends on it

Alright, we’re really on the way now. Selecting the correct format for your job aid is a vital step. A job aid will only be as effective as its content and visual presentation.

So, what type of job aid do you need to use to most effectively convey your message? There are a few different styles of job aids to select:

  • Step by Step process (commonly known as a “Cookbook”) is just as it sounds, using specific step by step instructions that must be followed in order.
  • Checklists are used for employees to complete a series of tasks each day, week or month. This typically includes check boxes and list items.
  • Decision table is a job aid that uses a grid to help employees arrive at a decision.
  • Flowchart (similar to a decision table) guides employees through a series of conditions to come to a final outcome. This usually includes boxes and arrows to go from one idea to the next.
  • Worksheet is frequently used to gather information and provide spaces for the employee to organize and record that information.
  • Reference guide is typically used when an employee is already familiar with the procedure but needs a guide for quick reminders. This is also usually used for multiple processes as opposed to just one process.

5. Let out your inner designer

Let that imagination shine through. Visual design is an extremely important part of an effective job aid. The content might be on point but what if the learner can’t read the text or understand the graphics?

The visual design begins with thinking through the learner experience. You want to use clear and readable text (ideally 12 pt font), 2-3 basic colors and simple graphics.

Put yourself in the shoes of the learner. What would you want to see? What is appealing to you? We have all seen overwhelming and complicated graphics or a multicolored mess that makes our heads spin. Avoid that. Simple and clean will do the trick.


Hopefully these tips are helpful as you develop your job aids and reference guides. But this is just the beginning! There are many more useful ideas to create powerful learning experiences. What tips or trick do you use to create effective job aids?  

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