The new way to train a workforce — by looking

  • by Mike Bartels
  • 6 min

Person doing a quality check in an automotive factory

Many manufacturers are battling the skills gap and grappling with the challenges of adapting to new technology, but a solution to their problems could be within sight.

There are few experiences in life more stressful than training for a new job. You’re in an unfamiliar environment, meeting new people, learning new rules, testing new skills while under the microscope of new managers, struggling to make a good first impression, deciphering workplace politics, filling out forms, learning names, establishing routines, memorizing the floorplan, and oh by the way, you also must learn to successfully perform the tasks that you have been hired to do. For both employee and employer, the first few weeks in a new workplace can be incredibly challenging, and an effective training program can mean the difference between embarking on a lifelong career and heading back to the job listings.

Tobii Quality Assurance

So, what makes an effective employee training program? Certainly, good instructors, good manuals, good communication, and good evaluation are critical, but beyond these traditional ingredients, it’s also worth looking to technology as a source of inspiration and innovation. The trick is to find high-tech tools that have a positive impact on both sides of the equation:

  1. Easing/expediting/improving the experience for the employee
  2. Simplifying/cost-cutting and reducing errors for the employer

Eye tracking is one such tool that has been shown to have a dramatic impact on the training process.

Seeing through the eyes of the experts

Eye tracking is a sophisticated technology built to do a very simple thing – record the visual attention of a person while they’re performing a task. That’s it! If you ask the most experienced, efficient, and productive employee at work to wear Tobii Pro Glasses 2 while performing his or her job, you have created a dynamic second-by-second video recording of their process from start to finish with nothing embellished and nothing omitted. That includes:

  • Everything that he or she looks at during the task
  • Every switch, button, lever, or key that is engaged
  • Every interaction with co-workers, signage, screens, and manuals
  • Every misstep, issue, and error-correction
  • Every unwritten, unspoken, unconscious habit that leads to success.

I could probably add a dozen more bullet points to that list, but the best way to illustrate what an eye tracking recording of job performance provides is to show one.

Eye tracking uncovers tacit knowledge

Tacit Knowledge is information that is difficult or impossible to transfer from one person to another in written or verbal form. That definition can be applied to a lot of professions out there, including blue collar, white collar, and no collar work. Think about your own job as an example. Think about how challenging it would be to explain to a newbie all the rules, guidelines, shortcuts, heuristics, safety-checks, mental-breaks, and hacks that get you through the day. Pretty difficult, right? Now imagine if instead of explaining every facet of your job, there was a way for a new employee to simply watch effective performance through your own eyes. That is the advantage of eye tracking, the ability to simply and effectively communicate the incommunicable to new hires.

Gazeplot of an expert versus a novice in an automotive factory
An example of gaze plots from novice and expert quality assurance inspectors. With eye tracking you're able to compare and aggregate data on visual attention.

The feedback that we’ve received from our clients has been overwhelmingly positive. An automotive company that uses Tobii Pro reported a 50% decrease in the time required to train new staff. A chemical company was able to quadruple its rate of defect detection. An aluminum foundry estimated that the use of eye tracking will save them 400 training hours per year, in just one department. As these statistics suggest, the ability to create training videos, inform training processes, and revise training manuals with real human attention data as a guide is incredibly powerful. It’s about more than just using a high-tech gadget with “wow” value; it’s about revolutionizing training with real ROI. Now more than ever before companies are turning to eye tracking to improve their training for a number of reasons:

  • Low-key eye trackers: Systems like Tobii Pro Glasses and Tobii Pro screen-based eye trackers allow unobtrusive eye tracking of real employees performing real tasks without interruption.
  • An aging workforce: The knowledge that leaves with the retiring baby boomer generation is priceless. Recording their performance through eye tracking and sharing it with their replacements is an efficient means of transferring that tacit knowledge to the future.
  • Language-neutral training: The translation requirements for international training can be costly and time-consuming. Learning from watching eye tracking footage can reduce or demolish language barriers.
  • A virtual tomorrow: With VR slowly creeping into training and onboarding processes, the ability to record and analyze attention will be critical in our new virtual training centers.
  • Tech enthusiasm: Training might previously have been described as an “old school” industry, but it has recently embraced new technologies, such as AR and biometrics. This has opened the door for eye tracking too.
  • The bottom line: The high monetary and resource cost of onboarding employees has always been a regrettable certainty of managing a workforce. Many businesses are now realizing that shaving a few hours off training time, accelerating the journey to expertise, or reducing the error rate of new employees can translate to millions in savings. We can help with that.

I could go on and on about the benefits of eye tracking in professional training or I could share with you a sample of training material that was built from worker attention data and you can see for yourself:

Written by

  • Mike Bartels

    Mike Bartles

    Director of Marketing research and user experience

    Mike Bartels has a master’s degree in experimental psychology and 12 years of experience within the field of eye-tracking research and attention measurement, across a range of different areas of commercial and academic fields. His publications include eye tracking–related articles for several marketing research magazines including Quirks, QRCA Views, MRA Alert, and a book chapter in Eye Tracking in User Experience Design (published in 2014 by Schall and Bergstrom). He has presented at several scientific conferences including the Human-Computer Interaction International Conference, IIEX and the Eye Tracking Research and Applications Conference.

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