The Past, Present, and Future of Manufacturing Training

The Past, Present, and Future of Manufacturing Training

past-present-future-of-manufacturing-trainingTraining within manufacturing organizations has undergone a lot of changes over time, and there are plenty more changes coming.

In fact, even if you're not aware of it, changes are happening right now. And the infrastructure that will lead to even more changes is coming soon.

If this seems interesting to you--and if you're in manufacturing training, it should, because it directly affects your present and future realities--you may find the quick overview below of interest.

This is also a great post for including your own thoughts at the bottom, since so much of the future is speculative. Please share your own experiences and thoughts and let us learn from you.

And the guide below on selecting & using online manufacturing training may be something you find helpful!

Manufacturing Training Through Time

We're going to break down some tools for manufacturing training, looking at three different time periods:

  1. Past
  2. Present
  3. Future

Here we go.

1. Manufacturing Training in the Past

Let's take a look at the past to see some aspects that we still use (rightly), some aspects we're moving away from (rightly), and some of the reasons why the present looks like it does.

We'll look at some commonly used methods of training delivery from the past, and then some commonly used methods for training record keeping and the creation of training data from the past.

Training Delivery

Training delivery means how training is delivered to workers. In the past, we focused a lot on the following methods for training delivery:

Job Shadowing

Also known as "following," "mentoring," or "go follow Joe," this means pairing a less experienced worker with a more experienced worker in the field.

This method has some real strengths. We've used it in the past, we use it today, and we will continue using it in the future.

However, there are some ways it can be improved. One of the big problems with this method is that the experienced worker wasn't always a good candidate for teaching. For example, the experienced worker may not be aware of adult learning principles, like the importance of letting the less experienced worker learn in an active method.

Another problem is that it's often not clear what the more experienced learning is supposed to be teaching the less experienced worker. As a result, the results of this kind of training was very inconsistent--sometimes people would learn a lot, sometimes people would learn little, and at times they'd learn different or contradictory things. This problem can be addressed, at least partly, by using an LMS to structure the OJT training (a tool from the present, as you'll see).

Instructor-Led Training

We also used a lot of instructor-led training in the past.
instructor led training

Again, this can be great, we still use it today, and we'll continue to use it in the future. Just remember to use those adult learning principles and other best practices based on how people learn.

However, one problem we ran into in the past is that there weren't enough instructors to provide all the training necessary. That's still true now, and it won't go away in the future.

Another problem we faced was that instructor-led training tended to be very expensive and was difficult to scale.

Manuals and Written Materials

Yet another common method of delivering training was to do it in the form of manuals and written materials.

There's nothing wrong with this. For some training needs, it can be effective, even very effective.

(Speaking of that, why not check out our tips for writing training materials and our tips for formatting written training materials?)

However, providing training in this form did present some challenges. Where do you store it? How do you make it easy for people to access when they need it the most? How hard is it to update quickly? What happens when multiple people need it? What if multiple people at entirely different plants need it? One effective way to address a lot of these problems was to make the written materials in a digital form and then make them accessible via an LMS or mobile devices.

Simple Video-Based Training

Video-based training, which effectively brought together visuals and audio narration, was a true improvement. Our brains have two "processing channels," one for words and one for visuals, and so this method of training delivery fit with the way people learned like hand in glove.

But there were some challenges in the past. A lot of that video was in the form of Betamax or VHS tapes. Over time, that got replaced with DVDs. But all these physical media forms meant you had to store the videos, they were harder to access, they could get damaged, they couldn't be in two training rooms for two different audiences at one time, etc.

Plus, a video included no assessment. So you never knew if people actually learned, unless you went ahead and created your own test.

As you'll see, being able to delivery video-based content via the Internet, and the advent of e-learning courses, were game changers here.

Training Records

OK, let's turn our focus on the past from training delivery to training record keeping.

Written Tests

The development of training records and training data often began with training managers creating paper-based tests for employees.

Paper Based Test

These then had to be handed out to employees, who answered them. Then they were collected, and someone else had to score them. And then, as we'll see, those scores had to be put into some form of record keeping process.

All told, there's little good to be said about this method. So much of it can be easier, and is today, with electronic and online systems. Of course, you still need to know some workforce test creation basics.

Paper-Based Recordkeeping Systems

Another element of training record keeping from the past was storing records of training in paper-based systems.

You've create a record of training of one sort or another. It was paper-based.

Then you'd take that piece of paper and put it in a manila envelope.

And put that manila envelope in a metal filing cabinet, perhaps. Or one of many metal filing cabinets, perhaps in many rooms. And even of those metal filing cabinets would include many manila envelopes, each full of many paper-based training records.

But none of that was easy, quick, or inexpensive to do.

Retrieving those records later was also often a challenge, no matter how diligent you were with filing. It took time, and often they were lost and never found.

And it was essentially impossible to collect data from those paper-based documents, "crunch the numbers," and come up with any meaningful data on your training.

Excel Spreadsheets and Access Databases

It was a big step forward when we left paper-based systems behind, at least partially, and started putting those records into Excel spreadsheets and/or Access databases (or similar systems).


But still, we were using a general tool for a specific solution.

Programs like Excel and Access weren't specifically designed for training record keeping. So you had to create the templates and fields. You had to manually enter the data. And so on. And it was very hard to run meaningful reports, especially on training records in different spreadsheets/databases.

You get the idea--although this was an improvement, but this wasn't the promised land for training records.

2. Manufacturing Training in the Present

Now that we've taken a look at manufacturing training in the past to set the scene, let's look at some of the tools of manufacturing training in the present.

In many cases, you're probably using these already.

Online Learning

Online learning systems helped to ease a lot of the challenges associated with manufacturing training in the past. That includes training delivery and training record keeping.

Let's see how.

Learning Management Systems (LMSs)

A learning management system, commonly called an LMS, made it much easier to administer and run an effective training program.


In particular, LMSs made it easier to:

  • Collect all training materials in one centralized repository
  • Assign training "strategically" to the workers who needed it (and not to those who didn't)
  • Notify workers of their training assignments, helping to make them responsible for their own training
  • Deliver some of that training to workers online
  • Deliver online tests to see if workers learned from the training
  • Store completion records, test scores, and other training records automatically
  • Run reports on training records to gather more helpful information
  • Use and assign training in a blended learning solution

This short video gives you a better idea of what an LMS does.

Learn more about our LMSs here.

e-Learning Courses

One thing that an LMS let you assign to workers was an e-learning course.


e-Learning courses offered several great benefits that we've touched on earlier. These include:

  • The ability to provide "video-based training" with images and audio narration to workers
  • The ability to provide that training online, so individual workers could complete it on their own schedule
  • The ability to provide training to workers at many locations or on different shifts
  • Built-in assessments (tests) to determine if the worker learned from the e-learning course
  • Automated record keeping, in which the e-learning course "tells" the LMS if the worker passed or failed, what the test score was, how long the worker took, etc.

Here's a short sample of an eLearning course for manufacturing:

See our complete collection of eLearning courses here.

Other Online Learning Activities

But LMSs let workers complete more than just e-learning courses online.

Most of them also provide tools to help you write and deliver your own online quizzes to your workers.


And in addition, some of them include tools that you can use to write and deliver instructions on the different steps for performing a task at work (or for evaluating the worker's performance while demonstrating those skills to a supervisor).

Other LMSs include other forms of online learning activities as well. Such as tools for social learning.

Online Record Keeping

And a big plus for online learning tools is the ability to digitize a lot of the record keeping chores we've talked about earlier.

Online systems make record keeping for training easier in a number of ways, including:

  • Creating one central repository for all training records
  • Providing access to those training records for all who need them
  • Automating the creation of a lot of training records (for training completed online)
  • Removing the need to create your own training record templates
  • Making it easy to run report and see who's done and not done with training
  • Automatically sending reports to managers on training completion, more


Mobile Learning Tools

Mobile technology is a big part of today's world.

Chances are good you've got a mobile phone in your pocket, right? Maybe even your kids do. In fact, maybe they were raised in a world that included mobile phones.

And how about tablets? Do you have one for personal use? An i-Pad, perhaps? A Surface? A Kindle? Something else?

And are you already using mobile at work? Do you check your email on your phone? Do you have mobile apps for tracking performance, revenue, or safety?

mobile at work

Well, if mobile's come to your home, and to your work, you can be sure it's come to your workforce learning & development, too. Let's look at just a few applications.

Mobile LMS/Training Access

Even today, people can view and complete training on mobile devices, including tablets and phones.

Mobile Access

This makes it even easier for employees to complete their training when it fits their schedule, which is a plus.

It also makes it easier for them to access training materials when and where they need it: on the job while performing a skill.


Learn more about mobile apps for workforce training here.

Mobile Record Keeping

If it's nice to be able to complete training on a mobile device, and maybe even in the field, that's true of creating training records, too.

Why should you have to run back to your desk top to create a training record?

Wouldn't it be nice to use a mobile device to check a worker off when he/she is demonstrating jobs skills in the field and you're evaluating them?

Or just to keep a record of the people who attended an instructor-led training class?

Mobile Performance Support

Training has its place, but so does performance support.

By performance support, we mean getting helpful information to workers when they need it on the field/on the job.

Mobile devices can make it easy for workers to access training materials while they're working. This means they won't waste a bunch of time leaving the work area to find the information, or they won't go ahead and do something without knowing the proper method. It might be as simple as using a tablet to scan a barcode and then learning work procedures related to a task, machine, work area, or process.

Learn more about job aids and performance support here, and learn more about using mobile apps for performance support here.

Informal Learning

According to the 70/20/10 model of workplace learning, much of what people learn on the job occurs outside their formal, assigned learning.

70 20 10

There's no reason to get caught up on the exact percentages, and in fact they're in dispute, but the basic idea is this:

  • 70%-Stuff people learn while directly on the job through experience
  • 20%-Stuff people learn while talking/communicating with coworkers
  • 10%-Stuff people learn from formal, assigned training

As you see, a lot of workforce learning happens informally. And there are a lot of tools you can use to help facilitate that learning. Many companies are using social learning tools to help their employees more effectively share helpful information. In some cases, those social learning tools are even integrated into their LMS.

Learn more about 70/20/10 and informal learning here.

3. Manufacturing Training in the Future

Now that we've seen the past and present, let's look at a few of the trends we'll see in the future of manufacturing training.

More Video

Video-based training is going to become increasingly common.

That's because the Internet makes it easier to distribute it, and it's also because mobile devices make it easier to capture it (most of us have phones that can record videos at work in our pockets, after all).

This will include videos in e-learning courses, of course, but it won't be limited to that.


More 3D Video

As the use of video-based training increases, you'll also see an explosion in the use of 3D in video-based training.

3D animation has some great benefits, including showing things you can't ordinarily see because they're:

  • Inside something else
  • Too small to see
  • Moving too quickly to see
  • Too far away to see
  • Only visible if you stop production (which you don't want to do for training)
  • Too dangerous to see


Read this article to learn more about how we create online training courses using 3D animation.

More Interactivity & Simulations

A "standard" e-learning course of today can be a pretty linear affair. Open, click the next button, advance to the next screen, and continue until you get to the test. Take the test, pass it, and you're done.

In the future, you'll see more and more interactivity in e-learning courses.

In many cases, this will mean using scenario-based learning, in which your workers are put in a scenario like one they'd face at work.

Web Tension


You'll also see more scenario-based learning, which asks a learner to make decisions when faced with a work-like scenario and presents feedback based on the learner's decision. An example, taken from Anna Sabramowicz's eLearner Engaged and their Broken Coworker learning activity, is shown below.

Broken Coworker Image

Learn more about scenario-based learning here.

In other cases, this will mean using game-based learning, in which your workers play a learning game online that helps them develop knowledge and skills that will make them more productive workers.

And in still other cases, this will be the use of virtual-reality simulations (remember, we've already discussed the increased importance of 3D, which is part of what will make the virtual reality so compelling) and augmented reality. You've probably already noticed the availability of inexpensive viewing devices for this kind of stuff, such as Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, and similar devices.

All of this will lead to more effective training, and it will also lead to more training data (we'll discuss that shortly).

For now, check this article to review some information about current and future training technologies, including AR and VR.

More Informal Learning

The emphasis on informal learning won't go away. Instead, it will continue and it will grow.

Why wouldn't we want to facilitate the most effective form of workforce learning & development? When we can find tools to facilitate it, we will.

And, is it something we can track? That we can analyze and learn from?

You'll see that two things that already exist--the Experience API (also called Tin Can) and Learning Records Stores (also called LRSs)--are already making roads to capturing that informal learning data.

More Big Learning Data

Finally, we'll see an increased emphasis on big data in learning.

You've heard of big data. You know it's all around, right?

We see it in our personal lives, with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and more.

We see it at work with big data approaches, Industry 4.0, and the Internet of Things/Industrial Internet of Things.

Batch Trending_Grade Run Trend

And you're going to see it in learning & development, too. For more about that, read this article about Big Data and Big Learning Data.


Hopefully, you found some stuff of interest here.

Maybe it's even helped you identify some opportunities for the future, or some things to plan for, or some stuff to learn more about. We hope so.

We also hope you'll share your own experiences and predictions about the future of manufacturing training below. That's what the Comments section is for, after all.

And since you made it all the way to the bottom of this article, why not reward yourself and download the free guide to effective manufacturing training below?

Want to Know More?

Reach out and a Vector Solutions representative will respond back to help answer any questions you might have.