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A conceptual study of visual training methods.


This paper proposes a research study to investigate the effects of two visual training methods on the productivity of new workers on an assembly line at a wood products plant in Banjarmasin, Indonesia. In the Banjarmasin plant, informal on-the-job training (OJT) is currently used to train new employees on the wood products assembly line, where they learn to assemble various kinds of wood products by working alongside an experienced worker, with little help from supervisors. The structured visual OJT being investigated in this study supplements the current system by introducing two visual training methods for new employees.



Because of the relatively simple nature of the tasks that are typically performed on assembly lines, managers often assume that assembly line jobs require no training at all to perform. As a result, a new worker may be placed at an assembly line workstation without formal training and be expected to perform efficiently with little help beyond observing or working with more experienced workers. A consequence may be that in trying to figure out the correct way of doing the job, the worker must use his or her own judgment; but if this judgment is wrong, it can lead to the waste of valuable time, low productivity, and/or poor product quality. Therefore, this kind of informal OJT method may not be the best way to train new workers on the assembly line and especially in the postindustrial workplace, where tasks tend to be flexible in accordance with shorter product life cycle.

Research Questions

1. How does the use of a 15 to 20 minute video training session to train new assembly line workers affect the workers' productivity during the first six days of their work on the assembly line?

2. How does the use of a large workplace sign which graphically illustrates the step-bystep procedure for assembling a product affect the productivity of new assembly line workers during the first six days of their work on the assembly line?

3. How does the use of both a 15 to 20 minute video training session and a workplace sign showing the step-by-step assembly procedure affect the productivity of new workers during the first six days of their work on the assembly line?


Ho: The use of a 15 to 20 minute video training session about assembly procedures and the use of large workplace graphics showing assembly procedures has no effect on the productivity of new workers performing simple task. To show this hypothesis to be wrong, at least one of the following two positive hypotheses must be confirmed by the study.

H1: The use of a 15 to 20 minute video training session about assembly procedures has a significant effect on the productivity of new workers performing simple task.

H2: The use of a large workplace sign that graphically illustrates assembly procedures has a significant effect on the productivity of new workers performing simple task.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to determine the effect of the use of visual methods to train new workers on an assembly line. The methods to be studied are (1) use of a 15 to 20 minute training session in which the correct assembly procedures for constructing a wooden fence and quality checkpoints will be shown to the workers by videotape, and (2) the use of a large graphic sign at the workplace that will graphically illustrate correct assembly procedures and quality checkpoints.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework for this study has two basic aspects. First, the theoretical approach that will be taken to learning at work and OJT will be an information processing approach. This approach considers the human mind to be a system that receives, processes, stores, and acts on information. Learners are considered active information receivers and processors who selectively attend to features of the environment and organize information for their purposes (Schunk, 1996). Information-based methods are widely used to train workers. They provide a means by which workers can gain new knowledge (Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 1997), and they include classroom training, slide presentations, video projectors, and other methods for presenting information, as opposed to practice for building skills. In this study, both training with a videotape and the use of a large sign detailing assembly procedures are information-based methods which will be used to communicate relevant information about how to perform their jobs to newly hired assembly workers.

The second theoretical basis of this study is Visual Factory Management (VFM), which involves the use of visual tools for the purpose of organizing information in workplaces (Greif, 1991; Grout, 2001). VFM is a practical approach to the management of workplace information that has its roots in Japanese business practices (Hirano, 1996). Though writers on VFM sometimes spend little or no time on the use of visual methods specifically for training new workers, others recognize the use of visual methods to specify operational procedures for workers, and it is clear that some of the principles of VFM can also be applied to the visual training of new workers on assembly lines (Shimbun, 1995).

Literature Review

From Piaget's human cognitive viewpoint, learning at work is a form of biological adaptation of a complex organism to a complex workplace (Piaget, 1950). The individual learning at work can be considered an open system that is actively and continuously selecting and interpreting workplace information relative to his or her knowledge. In the workplace, assimilation and accommodation are of equal importance and must always occur together in a mutually dependent way. The assimilation-accommodation learning model emphasizes the constant interaction or collaboration of internal cognition and the external workplace. The mind reinterprets the workplace to make it fit in with its own existing mental framework. Thus, the mind neither copies nor ignores the world. Instead, it builds knowledge structures by taking external data and interpreting them, transforming them, and reorganizing them (Flavell, Miller, & Miller, 1977).

Two key Piagetian principles are that learning is an active process and that learning should be real. In reference to the first principle, it is important for information to be presented as a tool to solve problems. In reference to the second principle, it is important for information to be associated with real activities that have meaning for the learner (Chen, 2001). In the workplace, it is therefore important that information to be learned can be seen by the worker as associated with the job and to be a tool that will help him or her do the job better. Cognitive constructivism holds that learning should be concerned with real situations, and whatever information is provided to the learner should be connected with real activities (Piaget, 1954). Much research has shown that learning tasks that involve a meaningful real world task or some simulated, case-based or problem-based learning environment are better understood. Such learning is also more consistently transferred to new situations. Instead of abstracting ideas in rules that are memorized and then applied to artificial problems, individuals learn better if they can apply knowledge and skills to useful contexts (Jonassen, 2001).

These ideas suggest that in the workplace, learning by doing and OJT can be among the most effective ways of training workers. This is because in learning by doing and OJT, individuals are given real problems to solve. Their training involves hands-on efforts to solve problems and develop adequate skills to effectively perform work tasks. By immediately learning through practical activities, they are able to learn more quickly how to perform tasks correctly and efficiently (Blair, 2001; Buell, n.d.; Chen, 2001; Jonassen, 2001). According to the information processing view, the human mind is a complex cognitive system that is similar in some ways to the central processing unit of a computer. (Bates & Dabagh, 1999). A major proponent of the information processing theory was George A. Miller. Miller and his associates introduced two important concepts for understanding how individuals learn, information chunking, and the TOTE sequence. Miller (1956) first presented the concept of "chunking," which is based on evidence that short-term memory can only hold five to nine chunks of information, with a chunk being some meaningful unit of information, for example, digits, words, faces, or moves in a game. Second, he and coworkers introduced the concept of TOTE, which means Test-OperateTest-Exit (Miller, Galanter, & Pribram, 1960; G. Miller in Kearsley, 1999, p. 1). This concept indicates that an organism Tests to see if a goal has been achieved, and if it hasn't, it performs an Operation to achieve the goal, and that this cycle is repeated until the goal is achieved or abandoned. Miller and associates suggested replacing the concept of stimulus-response with the TOTE concept as the basic unit of learning behavior (Kearsley, 1999).

From the perspective of learning at work, information processing theory focus on how workers attend to workplace events, encode information to be learned, relate it to previous knowledge, store it, and retrieve it (Shuell, 1986). When new information enters through the worker's sense organs, control processes monitor and direct the flow of the information through the system (Schunk, 1996). The information is first registered in short-term memory, which can be considered a working memory and in many cases corresponds to conscious awareness. For the information to be retained in working memory, it must be rehearsed. At any one time, only a limited amount of information can be attended to. New information attended to is perceived by being compared and associated with information in long-term memory. While information is in working memory, related knowledge in long-term memory is activated and placed in working memory to be integrated with the new information.

Research has shown that working memory is limited in capacity and duration (Miller, 1956), but long-term memory is much larger. The basic unit of knowledge is the proposition, and propositions are organized in networks. Types of knowledge include declarative, procedural, and conditional, with procedural knowledge being the know-how of how to perform tasks. Large bits of procedural knowledge may be organized in production systems. Networks further are linked through spreading activation to enhance cross-referencing and transfer. Retrieval of knowledge depends on its access in long-term memory, and failure to retrieve may result from decay of information or interference. Information may be best retrieved with cues that were presented during encoding (Schunk, 1996). Information-based methods are the most widely used methods in training and include methods for which the goal of training is to present information (as opposed to providing practice), such as classroom training, slide presentations, and the use of video projectors. Such methods can help clarify teammate roles and expectations, and, more important, can impart knowledge (Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 1997). Visual perception usually plays an important role as an input modality for information in the workplace. Visual perception refers to the meaning attached to contextual inputs received through sight. From the application point of view the properties of vision that are basic and important are light intensity response, color response, temporal response, and spatial response. In light of advances in digital visual devices, we can transfer work information much more effectively and quickly than before, which implies that the importance of visual perception for learning is growing even more in the workplace (Blum, 2000; Galsworth, 1997 & 2001; Greif, 1991; Grout, 2001; Hirano, 1996; Shimbun, 1995; Visual workplace, 2000).

Experimental Training Project

This training program will take place in a wood products assembly plant located in Banjarmasin, Indonesia. Two main kinds of products are assembled at the plant: wooden garden tiles and wooden garden fence sections. There are a total of 80 assembly workers at the plant (40 workers per shift, with two shifts per day). The materials for assembling the products are directly supplied from mills and a molding factory that are owned by the same company and are located nearby. Materials for assembling the products include pieces of wood and wood screws. These materials are supplied to the assemblers by other workers who place the materials at locations neas the assembly point, which is a worktable. The project will be concerned with the productivity of new assembly workers who assemble the simple wooden garden fence sections.

Experimental Design

This study will involve four groups of new assembly workers. Three will be experimental groups and one will be a control group. Each group will consist of eight workers, for a total of 32 subjects. The three experimental groups will be (1) eight new assembly line workers who are presented a 15 to 20 minute training video before beginning work; (2) eight new assembly line workers who are able to view a large sign near their workplace which shows assembly instructions for the fence section; and (3) eight new assembly line workers who axe provided both with video instruction and with a large sign showing assembly instructions. The control grout will consist of eight new assembly line workers who are not given a training video before beginning their job and not provided with a large workplace sign showing assembly procedures.

Each individual in a group will work with an experienced worker at a single assembly station The same eight experienced workers will be paired with new workers for each of the four groups Four workers of the group will work on the first dally shift, and four workers will work on the second dally shift. The productivity of each of the pairs of workers (the new worker and the experienced worker) will be recorded daily for a total of six consecutive daily shifts. Therefore six days will be devoted to determining the productivity of each of the four groups, and a total of 24 days will be required for the entire experiment. By following this experimental design, the productivity of worker teams consisting of an experienced worker and a new worker who k, exposed to one or both of the experimental conditions can be determined. These results can then be compared to the productivity of the worker teams in which the new worker was not exposed to the experimental conditions. In this way it can be determined if one or both of the experimental conditions increase the productivity of the teams.


Video Training. For video training, the researcher will prepare a 15 to 20 minute videotape which explains the basic procedures for assembling fence section. This training aid will include video footage of individuals assembling fence section and diagrams of the procedure for assembling the fence section. Job analysis shows that this procedure can be broken down into five basic steps from start to finish. These five steps will be shown in the video: (1) framing and spacing, (2) front side assembly, (3) back side assembly, (4) clamping and squaring the four edges, and (5) fastening the fore edges and finishing. The main criteria that must be fulfilled for constructing an acceptable fence section will also be described in the video. The video will be individually shown to new workers at the workplace. A trained technician will be in the room to operate the video equipment, to explain the video, and to answer any questions that the subject may have. The video will be shown within one hour before the time the subject is to begin work on their first day on the job.

Visual Aid. The visual aids for this study will consist of four large signs which will be designed by the researcher and constructed by technicians who work at the wood assembly plant. The sign will be constructed of wood and will be placed in a position that will allow it to be easily and clearly seen by the workers. Symbols, pictures, and diagrams will he the main communication media, with a minimum of words being used on the signs. The background of the sign will be white, and the symbols and illustrations will be shown in orange and black. The sign will be well lit at all times and glare will be avoided. The signs will show the five-step procedure for assembling a single fence section. As for the video training, the five steps illustrated on the sign will be (1) framing and spacing, (2) front side assembly, (3) back side assembly, (4) clamping and squaring the four edges, and (5) fastening the four edges and finishing. The sign will also include a list of checkpoints for assembly an acceptable fence section. The main criteria for quality checking are correct size, quality, and quantity of the materials, color matching of the fence section, precision and good square of the fence size, precise spacing of the parts, cleanness of the fence, and the finished fence to be free from handling damage. When they are placed on the job, workers in those groups for assigned a visual aid will be told that the sign is there to give them a step-by-step guide the assembly procedures. They will be told to use the sign to help guide them in the correct assembly procedure.

Data Collection. The data to be collected will primarily pertain to the productivity of the worker teams that include a new worker and an experienced worker. Two basic kinds of data concerning productivity will be collected: the number of units that the worker teams produce daily, and the number of those units that are found acceptable. Acceptance or rejection of a completed fence section will be determined by the quality checkpoints. The person doing the data collecting will be the quality control inspector for the fence assembly operation. They will collect and record daily unit production and unit acceptance data for each work team. If a fence section completed by a work team is rejected by the quality control inspector, the reason for the rejection will be recorded. At the end of each shift, the total number of fence sections completed by each work team will be recorded along with the total number of accepted fence sections. These totals will be compiled over six days for all work teams on all shifts for each of the three experimental groups and the control group.

Information about any disruption to the assembly process during the experiment will also be collected. A technician will be instructed to record the time and extent of any disruptions that may occur for the subjects during a shift. At the end of the six-day period for each group the workers in the group will be asked if they have any comments about their training. Workers in the experimental groups will be specifically asked if they found the condition or conditions they were exposed to (video training, visual aid, or both) useful in learning the job, and if so, in what ways. Members of all groups will be asked if they thought their training was adequate for the job and if they have any further comments about their training.

Data Analysis. The units of study for this research are work teams consisting of a new assembly worker and an experienced worker. For each of the three experimental groups and the control group there will be eight work teams consisting of a new worker and an experienced worker. The SPSS statistical package will be used for descriptive statistics of the productivity of these teams and to analyze the data on productivity. Descriptive statistics will include the calculation of daily and overall productivity totals for each work team in each group. Productivity will be measured in terms of number of fence sections assembled and number of acceptable fence sections assembled. In addition, for each work team in each group, means and standard deviations will be calculated for number of fence sections assembled and number of acceptable fence sections assembled.

One-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) will be used to analyze and compare results for the four groups. ANOVA is an appropriate means of analysis among groups when population distributions and variances can be assumed to be normal and population variances can be assumed to be equal (Rutherford, 2001), which are reasonable assumptions in this case. The four groups of work teams will be compared with one another using ANOVA to determine whether there is any significant difference among the groups in number of fence sections assembled or number of acceptable fence sections assembled. The .05 p value will be selected as a level of statistical significance of the test.


The significance of this study is that it will provide information to assembly line managers that will enable them to decide whether implementation of the kind of visual training that the study investigates will be beneficial to their training procedures. This information may enable those managers to significantly improve their training for new assembly line workers, reduce the time needed by new workers to become expert assemblers, and improve worker performance. If it is found that the visual methods used in this study do not lead to greater productivity and better product quality among new workers, this information, too, will be useful because it will provide partial support for the idea that, for simple assembly jobs, no extra training is needed other than observing, listening to, and working alongside of more experienced workers.


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Chong Aik is a Ph.D student in Walden University. He has been running his own woodworking factories in Indonesia for 15 years.
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Author:Aik, Chong-Tek
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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