Monday, December 3, 2007

Learning from others

10 Myths of Performance Support

Con and I often encounter misunderstandings and myths about performance support. This isn’t surprising considering how confused our industry can readily become. We don’t need to drive down memory lane very far without finding compelling evidence of this fact – just think back on the early days of e-learning with its initial promise to replace ILT. So, I thought I’d use this entry to dispel a few of the current myths surrounding Performance Support. Please feel free to add, your comments to these myths or add others I’ve missed based on your experience. As always, we’d love to hear from you!

  1. “I’ve already purchased my PS” – Performance support, like many other misunderstood learning disciplines, is an approach and methodology not a technology or product. During my early years in eLearning I watched many organizations try to purchase their way into it. That didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. While there are tools to be purchased, no organization should journey into these performance support tools without first understanding the strategic, design, and implementation implications associated with this journey. Treating PS as a product is no more effective than assuming that purchasing courseware can guarantee us an effective ILT solution.

  2. “PS can replace Training” – This is such a frustrating myth. Why does our learning industry continually position new methodologies as a replacement to ILT? Performance Support cannot and should not replace formal training. In Conrad’s first blog entry on the definition of performance support he speaks to the journey through the five moments of need. Performance support without training is about as effective as training without performance support. The two combine and complement each other to form a complete solution that covers all five areas of need. Now with this said, an effective performance support strategy can clearly change the way we look at training, in many instances shorten it, and in some rare cases, replace it. But these changes are only warranted after an exhaustive look at the current training audience and intended outcomes.

  3. “I have a knowledge management tool so I already have PS” – There are two things that trouble me about this statement. The first is the use of the word tool. As was discussed in the first myth, a tool does not give you performance support. Performance support begins with an overarching methodology and strategy. Tools can then effectively follow. Secondly, knowledge management is a vital component of any mature performance support infrastructure, but it is just that – a component part. These knowledge management practices must include not only collecting and storing information, but publishing the information into the many forms needed to support performers in all five moments of need. Knowledge management must also facilitate ready maintenance of the content. This kind of a knowledge management system can play a powerful part to an overarching performance support strategy and framework. Your performance support initiatives should use knowledge management assets, as well as many other learning assets within your organization.

  4. “Informal Learning doesn't need structure. That's way we call if informal learning!” – One of the most dangerous aspects of informal learning is that much of it is inefficient and too often ineffective. Our goal should be to create an efficient, independent, and maintainable informal learning environment. We still want to allow the power and immediacy of informal learning to occur, but there is much we can do to enhance the informal experience and make it more effective. A performance support framework can do just that. It can help guide a learner through the informal domain. It can also help with the maintenance side of informal learning so the information encountered and shared is up to date and correct.

  5. “E-Learning is PS” – A large portion of eLearning, as it has been defined over the past 10 years, actually falls in the formal instruction category. Many of these learning initiatives live behind LMS’s forcing learners to first login, search a library, and then typically sit through a tutorial. This is formal instruction, not performance support. The just in time promise of the early 90s resulted in e-learning made available 24X7.. But, although e-learning was available, it was a long way from being as immediate as needed in a performance support environment. In addition, e-learning generally fails to focus only upon what a performer needs, tailored to his or her specific situation, and integrated into specific work processes – all crucial attributes of any performance support solution. I’m not suggesting that an effective Performance Support framework ignores e-learning. It needs to provide performers the option to dive as deep as they need into e-learning when the moment of need warrants it. But this is a far cry from assuming that e-learning behind the wall of an LMS is the answer to an organization’s performance support needs.

  6. “PS needs to live behind my LMS so we can track it” – Part of this myth was addressed in the preceding one, specifically the issue of content living behind an LMS and the steps needed to access it. PS stops being PS whenever a learner is required to dig for it. The issue of tracking is important but we can’t lock performance support behind an LMS to do it. Such a practice will absolutely kill any performance support effort. Besides, much of the tracking done in an LMS is around the completion and assessment of learning experiences. Performance support is not about completion or assessment. It’s about access and consumption. Some form of tracking is appropriate in the performance support domain, but it needs to focus on who used what and how often. These results can help a training organization learn what aspects of their training program are most effective and which might need help, which learners need additional support and in which area, and which learners are not engaged once they are back at their job.

  7. “PS doesn't need to be taught since it lives in the informal domain” – Any learning methodology needs to be taught. One problem many schools students struggle with is that they have not been taught how to effectively approach their learning. The same goes for adults in the workplace. We learned back in the 90s that simply releasing a learning program such as eLearning and making it available did not guarantee consumption, in fact many initiatives failed miserably. Performance support needs to be taught in the classroom and supported by a well crafted implementation strategy. This strategy should include a communication, measurement, and maintenance plan.

  8. “Traditional instructional design approaches for developing training will also work for PS solutions” – designing for performance support is very different than designing for training. I’m not saying that instructional designers cannot create effective performance support. They just need to understand that it is a different discipline and approach. The most important issue to be considered is that the learner already has been trained, or has some prior knowledge. This often causes the design of the framework to be reversed from the way IDs typically look at instruction.

  9. “Good training will negate the need for PS” – Nothing negates the need for performance support. Good training will definitely assist in the amount of performance support someone may use, or the degree to which they understand and access performance support, but it will not negate it. Actually, good training should help increase the effective use of performance support. Performance support strategies, tools, and techniques need be taught during training. Our experience has been that the most effective performance support strategies are first introduced and reinforced during formal training. Programs where performance support is separate from training often fail due to the disconnect created by this fragmented approach.

  10. “It's only Performance Support if it's immediate and embedded” – Although immediate and embedded performance support is a vital aspect of the performance support experience, learners also need to be allowed to take a step back in order to review or practice critical skills before attempting them. Performance support has a natural hierarchy and approach. Embedded and immediate are only two aspects of that hierarchy. There are also layers of support beyond that. Sometimes learners need more information or deeper references beyond the immediate steps. There are even times when a learner may want some degree of formal training to support their performance. Viewing performance support as only immediate and embedded will not lead you to a fully-functional performance support framework for your learners.

1 comment:

  1. This information is quite provocative. Years ago, I attended a learning conference where the keynote speaker (an IBM executive as I recall) was describing the future of software technology and learning. She described the driving need for a software user or “learner” to be able to press the F1 key to get through the immediate need, but then to have another button or option indicating something like this: “Teach me more about this subject. I have 5, 10, 20 minutes.” The learner could select the amount of time available to enhance his or her skills around the topic. I felt then that this is an ideal performance support capability, however the implementation of this proves much more complex and difficult. There are no standards that I am aware of that invite this kind of integrated development, resulting in a constant search for the appropriate toolset to allow me to integrate my own business needs into that of the software experience. I suppose that’s the way it should be, as I cannot expect the software vendor to understand my business to this extent.

    Thanks for the insight Bob! I believe that Performance Support is key to improving human interaction with technology.