Over the last few years, many companies transformed their Training Departments into Learning and Development Departments — a name change that could be seen as a small detail. However, the move reflects something much more relevant: that training is simply a means to an end, whereas what really matters is the process of learning.
This approach to learning is not new but has been somewhat forgotten over time. In 1941, the U.S. Department of War’s Training Within Industry (TWI) Program stated, under the Job Instruction component, that “if the worker hasn’t learned, the instructor hasn’t taught.” In other words, any information delivered needs to “stick” in the trainee’s mind. The TWI Program authors already knew this in 1941, and they used it to develop the teaching-learning pattern of the Job Instruction 4-Step Method.
Indeed, it is staggering how well the 4 Steps of Job Instruction work, and how effective it is in the job learning process. The 4 Steps provide the job instructor with techniques that allow the learner to learn more easily and deepen their understanding — that is, really retain the information they take in. This approach develops not only the learner’s knowledge of the task but also the skill of performing it.
To understand how this happens, we must first understand the four barriers to human learning.
First, there is the barrier of memorization — we don’t learn something if it doesn’t stick in our minds. Too often, a new task is presented to the learner in a way which makes it very hard or outright impossible to remember. Either there is too much information, the information is neither well-organized nor clear, or the way in which the instructor presents it is chaotic (from the learner’s perspective).
To overcome these difficulties, the 4-Step Method for Instructing tells us that PREPARATION is a critical component of instruction. The instructors need to make a plan for how to teach the job; they also need to break the job down in order to present it in a clear and concise way to the learner. This preparation enables the instructor to communicate the content in a clear and precise manner, which helps the learners to focus their attention on specific points. This is the key factor in memorization: When a learner is able to focus their attention on specific, clear points, memorizing becomes easier and more likely.
TWI Job Instruction adds another factor in removing the barrier to memorization: repetition. When presenting the job to the learner in Step 2, the instructor using the 4-Step Method presents the job three times, each time adding a bit more content to ensure easy “digestion” of information.
TWI Job Instruction removes the barrier to memorizing.
Secondly, there is the barrier of physical performance — actually doing something. All jobs require the act of performing; we will never learn a job in depth if we do not really experience what doing it feels like. Only doing things with our own hands gives us a real, deep understanding of a job. Frequently, instruction consists of merely explaining the job without a hands-on component, and the learner comes away without having learned or understood the job at all.
In order to remove the barrier to physical performance and enable real, deep learning, the TWI Job Instruction method has Step 3, Try-Out Performance, and Step 4, Follow-Up. Before leaving a learner to perform a job on his or her own, the instructor needs to test the learner’s performance. This requires the learner to demonstrate the task four times to the instructor, who watches for and corrects errors, which helps to reinforce the correct way for the learner.
TWI Job Instruction removes the barrier to physical performance and deeper understanding.
Third, there is the barrier of not recognizing individual differences between learners. These differences can be grouped into three categories: abilities, prior knowledge and motivation. Let’s first consider the ability to have a so-called “working memory,” or operating memory, which is the ability to maintain and manipulate information while we receive it.
Cognitive psychology models and research support the idea that the capacity of human working memory is limited and that there are large differences between people in terms of their working memory capacity1. The 4 Steps of TWI Job Instruction combine various techniques to teach working memory more effectively. In Step 2, we use the techniques of “segmentation and dosing the new information” and “tell and show” to help learners effectively process the information. These techniques enable the instructor to adapt content to our limited working memory capacity, making it easier for the learner to select, organize and integrate new information. This increases the possibility that the information will be stored in the learner’s long-term memory.
The 4-Step Method also considers differences between people in terms of prior knowledge and motivation. In Step 1, when the instructor prepares the worker, he or she asks each learner about their prior experience to find out how much the learner knows about the task. The instructor also explains the importance of the task, accounting for the influence of prior knowledge and motivation, which helps them adjust the instruction to each learner. This is a very humanistic approach to training and demonstrates (once again) the common characteristic of all TWI modules — Job Instruction, Job Relations, Job Methods and Job Safety — which is RESPECT FOR PEOPLE.
TWI Job Instruction helps to overcome obstacles regarding differences between students in terms of abilities, prior knowledge and motivation.
Fourth, there is the barrier of the learner’s emotions and feelings. Often, the training process can look threatening to the learner. Fear is usually a steadfast barrier against learning: Neuroscience that when we are scared, our rational brain “shuts down,” and learning becomes impossible. It is very important to create a learning environment in which the learner does not feel threatened and instead perceives the situation as beneficial.
The TWI Job Instruction 4 Steps also are helpful here. Step 1, Prepare the Worker, and Step 4, Follow-Up, are both meant to create appropriate emotional conditions for learning. Positive emotions will help in the learning process: Positive emotions lead to positive feelings, and those positive feelings provide greater motivation and employee engagement.
TWI Job Instruction removes the barrier that negative emotions can pose to the learning process.
When an on-the-job trainer uses the 4 Steps of TWI Job Instruction to teach, they remove these barriers to learning. Learners can learn more easily and in greater depth while being able to do the work correctly, safely and conscientiously. The on-the-job trainers realize that they are doing a good job, which gives them a sense of accomplishment and more motivation to become better trainers. So begins a self-feeding cycle of growth and development.
Sir Ken Robinson said, when speaking about the learning revolution, “You cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do is, like a farmer, create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”
This is precisely how TWI Job Instruction can help us create better conditions for human development in every organization.
**This is a revised and updated version of an article originally published in 2020.