Monday, November 24, 2008

Performance Support is No Longer a “Nice to Have”

PS is KEY to the succes of any Learning Organization:

Clearly we live in challenging times. Throughout the coming months budgets in every area of an organization are going to be tight and tested like never before. Learning organizations will be asked to do their part to both watch its spending and increase its impact. We can no longer afford, if we ever could, to spend money on learning assets that do not give an organization the highest return on its investment and maximize performance. This is the perfect time to reevaluate PS as a key player in that strategy.

As Conrad and I have talked with organizations about PS over the past several years it has always amazed us how PS has taken a backseat to traditional training programs. It is often viewed as an add-on or “nice to have”. At the same time, training classes and e-Learning dominated the learning landscape. In today’s economic climate I would challenge that view and suggest that it’s time to reverse these priorities.

Traditional training offerings are heavily burdened and costly, often having limited impact on true performance within an organization. In many ways the old training model is broken in today’s learning climate. Training is designed to help a learner internalize information, but with the rate at which that information changes and the sheer amount of information, it is no longer realistic to expect these programs to keep up or to be nearly enough to meet the demands of today’s workforce. Employees need to have access to the latest information in the context of doing their job, not attempting to memorize it in class or searching for it behind a Learning Management Systems (LMS). Performance support should take the lead as the major driver of performance and productivity.

The biggest stumbling blocks to PS taking a more prominent role in most learning strategies are twofold:

  1. A fear that PS is something “new and untried” while training is something we already know and are accustomed to.

  2. A belief that PS is expensive to begin designing for and using.

Let’s address both of these:

PS has been around since the early 90’s when Glory Gery ( first coined the acronym EPSS (Electronic Performance Support Systems). It’s actually been around a lot longer than that! The irony is that PS has actually been around longer then e-Learning which many believe distracted its early efforts, and has been incorrectly labeled PS in many organizations. In reality there are a number of PS tools, design models, and consultants, LearningGuide being one of them, who have been successfully implementing PS for years at a fraction of the cost of e-Learning and with at least twice the impact. Here are some impressive numbers to consider:

  • Instructor-led class time reduced by as much as 75% when blended with PS.

  • Development costs 70% less than those needed to produce the “equivalent” amount of e-Learning.

  • Rapid design models and tools reducing development time by as much as 50% over standard e-Learning.

  • Standard training and support solutions for as little as $2 per user.

  • Print cost eliminated for training manuals and standard operating procedure documents.

  • Level 1 helpdesk calls reduced by 30% or more.

  • Call duration with helpdesks reduced by over 50%.

Gone are the days when developing a performance support framework was costly and delivered too limiting of a focus or impact. Today’s performance support authoring tools use the latest advances in XML single-source publishing allowing learning departments to rapidly create content while producing multiple deliverables at the same time. For example, a learning group can author a single set of content for a sales program or desktop application, which can then be used to produce training manuals for the classroom, an embedded moment of need PS system for the desktop, mobile learning assets to be accessed via mobile phone or PDA, AND a support tool for the helpdesk to use to decrease backend helpdesk call volumes. Not only does this cut down on development time and expense, but it also creates a robust learning solution which supports an employee throughout the entire learning journey. This content is also easily maintained and redistributed in real time, guaranteeing that the learner has access to the latest information. This is far more then training or e-Learning alone could ever attempt to accomplish. The greatest benefit of all is that the learners are more productive and spending less time searching for information while trying to do their job.

My intent is not to imply that training is no longer needed or valued. In fact training can be more impactful then ever when PS is designed and implemented as the key driver in a learning solution. Training no longer carries the burden of instilling every bit of knowledge needed to follow a process or master a system. Training time can be reduced and more effective as it focuses only on the fundamental skills and effective support strategies which are enabled by the PS framework available at the desktop. Training now concentrates on how and where to find information rather than being THE end-all for information which is rarely remembered, poorly applied once back on the job, and constantly changing.

An effective performance support strategy, design tool, and methodology are more important to the success of today’s businesses than ever before. It is the one learning discipline which can keep up with the rapidly changing demands of business empowering today’s workforce to a level of productivity and effectiveness training alone has rarely achieved.

I was recently at a conference and a colleague candidly told me. “Bob, I realize that my training programs aren’t getting the return we need, but I’m just not going to change right now because it’s just too scary out there to do something different.” I couldn’t disagree more!! If we take that approach we are destined to fail and be labeled as dated and ineffective. This attitude reminds me of quote a colleague of mine sent recently by Aldus Huxley; I see the better, but it is the worse I pursue”.

Con and I would welcome an opportunity to talk to each of you more about how PS could have a profound impact on your overall organization at a time when learning departments are being held accountable at unprecedented levels. This is NOT a time for us as an industry to fall back and not innovate. This is an opportunity to lead and support our learners as never before.


  1. There is a paradigm shift when we move from classroom based training (CBT)to PS. CBTs are big managed events with significant focus on scheduling and travel arrangements. Event organisation is around having a action packed day(s) filled with as much of good learning engagements as possible.

    PS comes at the other end of the spectrum. The focus is on smaller chunks of knowledge, just-enough. Add the complexity of contexuality and personalisation, we are talking of very different skillsets at worst or different planning methodologies at best.

    I suspect that this metamorposis will not be driven by the practioners. The practioners will need to be incentivized by the learning leadership in an organisation. The leadership will do so if they are convinced of the dovetailing of PS's (and indeed eLearning) benefits with those of the companies startegic objectives like scalability, adapatbility, efficiency and productivity.Case studies, show-and-tell would work better than a presentation around development time, resources.

  2. Couldn't agree more. I posted a similarly themed item (

    Performance Support (in the broader sense you use use it) is the direction value adding training functions need to move to make the impact they will need to remain viable.

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