OJT rocks the brain

As I've reflected further in John Medina's insights in brain rules, I realized why on the job training (OJT) is so effective. The book reminds us that 90% of what is conveyed in a classroom is forgotten with 24 hours. That brought to mind the opposite statistic: that 90% of OJT is retained and put to use. The success of learning on the job shows us how natural learning is when we don't use those contrived contraptions called classrooms.

Learning on the job is a pro-learning ecology. The complex inter-dependencies outside of classrooms favor learning, skill transfer and long term retention. When people are shown how to use a new tool or operate a piece of equipment and then given opportunities to see if they can do it too, they get the hang of it in stages and then do like they were shown. Likewise, when someone shadows a mentor on a service call, sales appointment or interview session, the skills observed get assimilated and put to use after some faltering attempts, follow-up coaching and improved efforts. New members of a team quickly assimilate the unwritten rules and shortcut methods that are in active use by the team to realize the current outcomes, reputation outside the team and level of cooperation from others in the organization. All of this learning is outside a classroom. It's active, individualized, social, situated and conducted over "spaced intervals".

Here's how John Medina's brain rules explain the effectiveness of this kind of learning:
  1. The learners are moving around to get with whatever they are being shown, tagging along on or trying something for themselves. The brain is oxygenated by this breathing and revived by the increased blood flow.
  2. The learners are rapidly adapting to the new challenge by gaining experiences in what it feels like to adopt this role, how the situation reacts to making a move, what to do after something does not go as expected, which things create added problems, etc. The learner is also breaking out of the box of past habits and assumptions as those now lead to unintentional setbacks which call for innovative alternatives.
  3. Each learner is regarded as a unique individual who will: make sense of this in his/her own way, take different amount of time to grasp each part of it, have trouble with different facets, need different amounts of attention and come by some of it quite naturally.
  4. The learners will pay attention because it's like a conversation, they will be expected to comment after and how much they observe will make a difference. Their attention won't be undermined by multi-tasking, boring lectures or a lack of context.
  5. The learners acquire the new skills and information in the same context they will put them to use. The situations will remind them of what they learned, how they acted and what they did to respond to the setbacks.
  6. The learners have time between sessions to replay what happened in their minds. This reflecting may bring forth new questions or experiments to try out. The next session will involve a lot of repetition of the same procedures, issues and reasoning to get ingrained in their minds slowly.
  7. It's possible they have gotten more and better sleep than the typical college student, medical intern or parent with a new born.
  8. The learners and mentors are acting empowered and efficacious. If something is not clear, not making sense or not working out as expected, they are in a position to ask, get help, be shown again or try something else. They can reduce their circumstantial stress by taking action as well as avoid both contagious and chronic stress by acting powerfully.
  9. The learners are immersed in multi-sensory experiences that allure all their senses to take in what they are first shown and then given a shot at themselves. Their experiences when they've succeeded would include the sounds, sights and tactile dimensions of the moment.
  10. The learning calls upon their powers of observation to detect what the exemplar is doing in great detail. The emphasis on eyesight is congruent with the brain's enormous commitment to processing the inputs from the eyes.
  11. The learners may be understood differently based on their gender and not expected to conform to some universal standard of what "normal people" notice, how they react and what troubles them.
  12. The learners are actively exploring who they can be different from before, what role they can now fulfill and what image they will project onto others. They are immersed in an adventurous quest to discover what they are capable of, what limits they encounter and what changes come easily to them.
Learning on-the-job could not be more effective if it was designed with brain functionality criteria. The 90% success rate speaks to the effectiveness that occurs naturally when the contrivance of classrooms gets compromised.


  1. I believe that it used to be called apprenticeship and it was the primary teaching method before the industrial age. What is exciting today is that in an inter-connected world OJT can be done everywhere and almost anywhere.

  2. Thanks Harold. You're right this exciting time!

    During most of the industrial age, farmers did not go to farm school and most tradespeople did not go to trade school. It was only when the technologies became so sophisticated and expensive that apprentices would not have access without big budget institutions. It's ironical that technologies have brought us back full circle to the revival of individualized, hands-on learning.

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