The History of Job Training

by Kermit Burley ; Updated September 26, 2017

On-the-job training (OJT) is a hands-on method for training employees. It is usually performed by someone who knows how to complete a task, who then shows another person how to perform the same task. In colonial times, this form of training was called apprenticeship. Ben Franklin is a good example of an apprentice, who learned how to become a printer from a master to whom he was indentured as he learned the necessary skills.

Earliest Forms of Job Training

The Chinese developed a philosophy in the early fifth century B.C. that allowed students to actively participate in their own learning. Similar to our current case-study method, trainees reviewed a parable or example. The group then discussed its meaning. Around the third century B.C., Socrates developed what we have come to call the Socratic method. Using this form of job training, instructors pose questions to the group and encourage them to discover the answers.

Middle Ages to 19th Century

Around the 12th century, scholasticism rose to popularity. It is defined as a form of experiential learning or learner-based instruction in which information is presented and learners use several methods to discuss and interpret evidence. In the 17th century, John Locke had a great influence on job training and education. He stated that students learn best when they learn simple ideas and then slowly develop these concepts into more complex ones. Our current classroom training model is based largely on Locke's philosophies.

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The 20th Century

Great strides were made in job training during the 20th century. Adult learning theory, led by Malcolm Knowles, proved that adults learned differently than children. Prior to Knowles's findings, adults learned how to perform their job tasks in the same manner that children learned their lessons in school. With the advent of adult-learning methodology, adults became more involved in their own training and activity-driven training began to replace traditional classroom methods. Adult workers used exercises that closely mirrored their actual work environment and job duties.

Modern Times

Modern job training is embracing newer technology. Online learning is still widely used, but virtual and mobile techniques are rapidly gaining ground. Workers have the opportunity to learn to perform their jobs using applications designed by instructional designers. Blended learning combines traditional on-the-job training methods and technology-based approaches, including computer simulations and virtual classrooms.These methods enable people to learn material without the necessity of traveling to training courses.


  • "Management of Organizational Behavior";Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard;1982
  • "The Adult Learner:A Neglected Species" Malcolm Knowles 1984
  • "Designing Training and Development Systems";William R.Tracey";1984

About the Author

Based in Bethlehem, Pa., Kermit Burley has been writing articles for over 30 years. His articles have appeared in "Training" magazine, as well as numerous company publications throughout the course of his career. Burley holds a Masters of Education in instructional design from Penn State and is certified as a trainer and instructional designer.

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