OJT and the 70:20:10 Model of Learning
If you work in the railroad industry, chances are that you have become familiar with the acronym "OJT" for on-the-job training. OJT happens to be a central focus of the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA's) training requirements found in 49 CFR Part 243. And one of the most common questions I get asked from clients is, "How much OJT do we really have to implement for 243?"
How do you learn best?
I would like to take step back and explain, from an instructional design perspective, both the value and some of the limitations of OJT. If you think back to a time when you were learning a really complex task or job, what were you doing? Chances are that you were practicing the task to build skill. Whether it is a perfecting your golf swing or inspecting track, learning complex skills require practice and repetition.
How do you learn best?
In the world of training and development, there is a model of learning called the 70:20:10 Model of Learning. Simplified, it states that:
70% of learning is experiential (through the practice of tasks)
20% of learning is social (through working alongside others)
10% of learning is formal (through structured classroom and web-based training programs)
Now, as an instructional designer, I believe that the 10% of formal learning can make a huge impact on on-the-job performance when its designed and implemented correctly. However, it is hard to ignore the fact that 70% of learning happens through the practice of daily tasks. And a big part of the reason why this percentage is so high, is simply because we allow more time in the field for practice and do not allow much time, if any, for practice in the classroom.
Of course, OJT is not without its faults. It can have a lot of variability and is opportunistic based on what tasks need to be performed during the training period. For example, if you were learning about continuous welded rail in the fall and winter, you would not have an opportunity during OJT to experience the spring inspections and learn to identify potential track buckling conditions For these reasons, formal classroom or computer-based training should also be implemented to help create consistency and ensure all critical topics are covered in your training program. And yes, if you are fortunate enough to have the ability to employ locomotive or crane simulators or have training facilities such as a welding lab, those certainly allow for experiential learning too.
Putting it All Together
Having worked on 243 since 2012, I believe that as a result of a congressional mandate, FRA attempted to created a training rule that would formalize a lot of the informal experiential learning happening in the industry. And if implemented correctly, I also believe a well-defined OJT program can improve employee performance and ultimately safety. I have seen the deer-in-headlights look of new hires as they first step into their new role as a railroader. Let's not forget that beginning a career in the railroad industry is a bit like stepping into a foreign country; there is a big learning curve.
An OJT program allows these new hires the time they need to absorb and process all of this new information and practice the new tasks they will be performing under the supervision of an experienced colleague.
I understand that the 243 requirements can feel overwhelming and I would love to help you identify a path forward on creating an effective strategy to train the safety-related employees at your organization.