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How to Create Effective Job Aids

May 17, 2019

This post was written by Sydney Coultis, eLearning Developer at Water Bear Learning. 

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

Or spent hours reading complicated text to understand a process, feeling more confused than before?

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

How can we make sure to use learning time in the most efficient way?

Job aids offer a viable solution.


What is a job aid?

A job aid is any material that provides simple information about how to perform a task.

Examples of job aids include:

  • paper handouts
  • one-pagers
  • instructional lists
  • cheat sheets
  • print-outs
  • performance support materials

Basically, a job aid can be any type of material meant to assist in the learning process. Even ‘Ikea furniture instructions’ could be considered a job aid.

Job aids are used across many types of organizations. Corporate training. HR departments. Higher education. K-12 education. Any environment that requires learning, or behavior changes, to occur.

Well-crafted job aids improve job performance and behavioral change, all while saving your company time and money.


How to create effective job aids

Job aids are not just an unconscious stream of text on a print-out or PDF.

To be effective for learning, job aids must be well-organized. They must eliminate the fluff. And most importantly, they must solve a problem for the learner.

Using a combination of instructional design and user-experience design, the best job aids are simple, straight-forward and visually appealing.

With a few tips on creating job aids, 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 target audience

Conduct a deep dive to understand your audience preferences.

For example, do you have a target learning audience of C-level executives? Or entry level employees. Understanding your audience makes sure your job aid communicates the correct message.

Getting to know your audience can come in several forms. Start by meeting with your SME (Subject Matter Expert) to gather information on the target audience. If you need more information, you can interview individual employees. Or conduct online research to discover insights about audience demographics.

We suggest using at least one of the in-person options to personally get to know your audience on a deeper level.

Once you know your audience, you need to perform a needs analysis. Find out what your audience knows and what they’re expected to learn from your job aid.


2. Gather and consolidate your information

It’s time to drill down: what do people need to know to accomplish the learning goal? 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 confusing 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 lists. Organize the main points into bullets. Then, add sub categories and body content 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.

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.

Here are a few other suggested action words you can use in your job aids:

  • Turn on / off
  • Take off / remove
  • Attach
  • Check
  • Make sure
  • Proceed
  • Continue
  • Replace
  • Plug in
  • Enter
  • Delete
  • Hold
  • Click
  • Highlight
  • Press
  • Type
  • Open
  • Close
  • Wipe

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 the rest of job aid.

Ikea furniture instructions, seen in the example above, are job aids that rely solely on pictures. No text at all.

While this does work in certain situations, we do suggest using text in your job aids. Especially in corporate training. Just make sure to keep your text simple, short, and to-the-point.


4. Format like your life depends on it

Our job aid is coming to life. Now we need to format.

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.

What type of job aid is most effective for learning? There are a few different types based on your situation:

  • Step-by-step process (commonly known as a “cookbook”): just as it sounds, using specific step-by-step instructions to be followed in sequential order.
  • Checklists: used to complete a series of tasks each day, week, or month. This typically includes check boxes and a list of actionable items.
  • Decision table: uses a grid to help learners arrive at a decision.
  • Flowchart (similar to a decision table): guides learners through a series of conditions to arrive at a final outcome. Usually includes boxes and arrows to move from one idea to the next.
  • Worksheet: frequently used to test learner knowledge, perform real-world tasks, and provide space for the learner to organize and record information.
  • Reference guide: typically used when a learner is already familiar with the procedure but needs a guide for quick reminders. Usually used for multiple processes as opposed to just one process.

5. Make it visually beautiful

Time to make it pretty!

Visual design is a critical part of creating a job aid. It requires a combination of creativity and user-experience design.

The job aid text might be on point, but what if the learner can’t read the text or understand the graphics?

Put yourself in the shoes of the learner as you think through the user-experience. What would you want to see? What is appealing to you?

Quick design tips for effective job aids:

  • Make your text readable (at least 12 pt font)
  • Use just 2-3 colors
  • Include visuals (charts, pictures, infographics)
  • Keep your look and feel consistent
  • Don’t be afraid to start from a template if you’re new to visual design

Here are some instructions to create your own job aid template on Microsoft Word.

Resources to download job aid templates:

 *Note: the above links will not be directly to job aid templates. But they may provide a decent starting place to design from.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What software should I use to create job aids?

Our favorites are always the simple tools. PowerPoint, Word, Google Slides, Google Docs. If you are getting deep into your design, you may always want to use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to create custom graphics.

How is a job aid used by employees?

Typically job aids are referenced by employees to learn a task. As the employee learns how to perform a new task, the job aid serves as a pool of information to continually refer back to.

What is the difference between a job aid and a procedure?

A procedure is a linear, step-by-step process to perform a task. A job aid is a learning material that presents information and instructions. Therefore, a procedure (or step-by-step process) could be visually expressed using a job aid.

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? 

About the Author:

Sydney Coultis is a learning experience designer at Zscaler. Connect with him on LinkedIn for more.