On-the-job Training in the SaaS World Reinvented in 2020

Amar Tejaswi E-Learning, Employee Training
On-the-job Training

Somehow the most obvious facts of life escape comprehension.

Like these:

  • 90% of what we do stays with us.
  • 50-80% of what we hear in a lecture vanishes from the corridors of our brains after a while (inversely, just 20-50% stays).

In the context of employee training, specifically that involving millennials, these numbers could be read as efficiency percentages if you associate the first statistic with on-the-job training and second with the tried and tested classroom training.

So, hypothetically, on-the-job training should be far better than the classroom training approach. If it is, why do enterprises still go with the latter? Habit? No.

It’s because on-the-job training wasn’t really practical to use in a large enterprise, or even a small company, for that matter. By definition, on-the-job training requires a senior employee to teach another on how to go about a task. It’s more like Siegfried Engelmann’s Direct Instruction. And that’s not really practical, is it? Everybody would then just be training, not actually working.

Even Blended Learning is Failing

Just a mini primer before diving into the arguments. Blended learning is a mix of highly traditional classroom training methods and the newer technologies like elearning or mobile learning typically delivered within a LMS.

You don’t need to go any further than the numbers quoted above to know that the traditional classroom training method is failing. And so is that of blended learning. How can we say that?

Well, classroom training does have its fair share of flaws. Problems leads to innovation which can provide solutions. And blended learning came along as the answer to all the problems.

But why it doesn’t solve the problem is because the core form of knowledge/training is still the same though the method of knowledge/training delivery has changed. Classroom training was earlier live and manual like school. It evolved to virtual classrooms but the core knowledge is still a guy talking or slides flipping. Instead of talking live to an audience of employees, he/she talks on camera. True, employees can access it on-demand, something like microlearning in training, but does that turn things on its head? Of course not.

Sure, Learning Management Systems (LMS) can accumulate all the training material at one place and handle the logistics part. But LMS don’t help you create training material, they just facilitate delivery.

Training materials still constitute of videos, text manuals and presentations.

Question is if they work? We only need to go back to statistic to understand if blended learning works: We only remember 10% of what we’ve seen or read.

But training managers will say it does the job, right? It probably does the job they are expecting it to do. And expectations are pretty low.

Fact of the industry is that no enterprise trusts that a training program will transform their workforce. They only hope for incremental benefits.

But that shouldn’t be the case.

So, is On-the-job Training the Alternative?


It might seem absurd at first, but on second thoughts it’s not that bad an idea.

Practically speaking, employees pay more attention and learn better and faster when they have a guiding hand leading them through their work instances just-in-time. The benefits are there. It’s just that it might not be productive for an employee to tutor another individually because both lose time in the training process. And so, the benefits are quite good but in the long term.

In the shorter time, on-the-job training increases productivity.

But, then what if the job of the tutor is automated?

General education can’t be automated completely. In learning and development, technology can only go as far as delivering the training but not being the trainer itself.

On-the-job training, on the other side, has a different story. It’s just knowledge transfer in a very specific context. Why can’t technology take up that role?

Only if on-the-job training could be automated in some way so that an employee is prompted to follow steps to certain task within an application, like Salesforce or Oracle Cloud. Just that another employee isn’t required to do the tutoring. The application, the learner is working on, itself does the tutoring leading the learner through the steps guiding him/her till the task is accomplished.  

That sounds fantastic and weird at the same time, doesn’t it?

So How is On-the-job Training Any Different Now?

Not at all.

Automated on-the-job training doesn’t have to use AI but if the need arises and there is a good use case, definitely yes. Trainers just need to translate their conventional coaching curricula to a series of situations within an application. After all, modern job functions use at least some kind of software to get outputs.

On-the-job training can manifest as a flow of the process required, which the learner can follow, to get the task completed.

The process steps can be repeated at the learner’s will but eventually the goal is that the employee should be able to go through the process without needing the training.

Now the training has to be delivered within the application right? But do you do it in the sandbox or in the live production version? Without any inputs, it’s a tough question to answer. However, it can be done either ways. Ideally because it’s on-the-job training, the coaching should be delivered within production environment. The scope of an employee messing up things is minimal because he/she is being exactly instructed to do things anyway. If an employee chooses to be adventurous and do something out of the box, nobody can control that. But, yes, it’s pretty safe to provide on-the-job training within the application live.

Well, that’s what on-the-job training was in the old days, wasn’t it?

A more high level way of looking at this would be to divide the on-the-job training process into two parts. Basic and Advanced.

Basic on-the-job training would only focus on the basic tenets of the application and how to get around them.

Advanced on-the-job training, on the other hand, would only interfere when the employee wants and in the complex situations. For instance, if an employee is unable to get something very complex done on Salesforce, he/she could ask for help and receive training for the same.

The brilliant thing about on-the-job training is that it’s much more flexible than it appears.  

Sounds Good, But What are the Benefits?

The benefits are multiple. For a start, knowledge retention is much higher as we already know from the statistics quoted above. Directly, that means the training was effective.

Apart from that, there are many other benefits:

    • Higher Training Efficiency: Because employees learn while doing, they retain up to 90% of the knowledge from the process from the first run. That also means, employees gain proficiency after just a couple or more runs of each process.
    • Experiential Learning: Apart from the effectiveness of training, which in itself solves the basic training problem, on-the-job training delivers experiential learning without putting brakes on productivity. Employees learn but, simultaneously they are working as well so it’s learning while working.
    • Cost Effective:

      Obvious question again. Is it expensive? Absolutely no. On-the-job training when automated is much cheaper than traditional training methods. Even with blended learning, we’re talking in terms of about USD 80 thousand a year on training. On-the-job training can cut by many times.

    • Higher Performance: Employees perform better because their training isn’t being stretched, they can seek assistance whenever they require and get help immediately meaning training is available to them just-in-time but without interference.

Learning is Being Reinvented and On-the-job Training is Leading the Way

True, the training industry has lagged far behind when it comes to innovation but that’s changing now.

There are companies like Walmart which are Virtual Reality to training employees simulating real world situations though it’s a narrow use case. It is innovation, nonetheless, simply because organizations are innovating by changing the core training material.

While other methods are yet to gain mass acceptance, on-the-job training is leading the way since industries already know what the benefits of such a method are. They just needed a way to do it feasibly. With that aspect out of the way, it is past time companies change and reinvent how they train employees.

Amar Tejaswi

Amar Tejaswi

Engineer by qualification and marketer by profession, Amar contributes to marketing efforts at Whatfix in ways he can.
Amar Tejaswi
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