Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reflections on 2009: Who Would Have Thought??

To borrow the opening line from Charles Dickens’ classic novel Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”. I’m not sure if we could find 12 better words to describe my thoughts when reflecting on the past calendar year. It will be interesting to see how historians recall 2009, but we think it’s safe to say that it will be remembered as a wild one on almost every level. Clearly, to say that these have been difficult economic times is an understatement for many. Most every company we’ve worked with or spoken to this year has been impacted by the current economic climate. With budget issues in the corporate boardroom, there can’t help but be budget issues in the corporate classroom. The interesting thing to have watched was how the learning community, and its leaders, has reacted to the requests which came their way.

One almost universal comment we’ve heard from the CLO’s and training directors we’ve spoken with is that they are busier then they have ever been. With difficult times, come interesting measures. Even though many companies have experienced cut-backs of some kind, the learning department has had to be creative in how they continue to support and, in many cases, reeducate the people who remain. Many learning leaders are also challenged with how their departments will be structured and the type of services they will provide once things turn around and they begin rehiring again. The encouraging news is that we have begun to hear more and more positive news regarding things stabilizing, if not picking up again, which is reinforcing the thought that hopefully some type of economic recovery is underway.

The interesting thing about the Dickens quote is that it clearly states that although these are difficult times, they can also be our best! When things turn around training budgets and approaches will never be the same again, and that may not be a bad thing. These times have forced training professionals to be creative in their offerings, think outside their conventional approaches, and really examine the merit of every program they offer. This has created some incredibly exciting trends with some very powerful outcomes. We would like to share a few here.

Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s reads this blog has heard us speak, but it’s very exciting to see Performance Support (PS) finally getting the attention it has long deserved! With all that’s outlined above, learning departments are seriously looking at their impact on performance, NOT just training, and PS is stepping up as a very powerful, effective, and economical solution to that need.

Another trend we’ve been watching is the emergence of single-source publishing. Our journey into “Reusable Learning Objects” back in the 1990’s was met by many challenges, both from a technical and a design standpoint. The dream of authoring once and publishing too many outputs just wasn’t actualized for most. The exciting news is that with the emergence of more sophisticated and user friendly XML authoring tools we’ve seen tremendous up serge in this powerful and cost efficient methodology. Now learning departments are maintaining content in one place and publishing that content in outputs such as a manual in the classroom, an electronic performance support tool on the desktop, a SCORM compliant e-Learning course behind an LMS, and even as a mobile learning object on a Blackberry, iPhone, or Windows mobile device. Not only is there an economy of scale here, but the consistency across the learning experience and all moments of need is powerful. One of the biggest gains achieved with this approach is in the back-end maintenance of the content. Gone are the days of chasing redundant content across multiple tools and outputs. In this approach you simply change the original source content, republish, and the change is reflected across all the modalities outlined above.

Finally, the strongest trend which surrounds all this is that learning groups are finally leaving their all to familiar world of just supporting formal instruction and are being seen as vital across the enterprise at all 5 moments of learning. Their ability to show direct business impact and ROI is being accomplished in ways rarely achieved before. This is particularly important when we’re living in a time when budgets and “wasteful spending” is being watched like never before. Once the learning department moves toward directly impacting the bottom line by aligning itself with performance and not just training, it becomes a need to have not a nice to have. This is something our industry has been asking for as long as we’ve been associated with it, and it’s exciting to see us finally being able to address that challenge.

What many don’t know is that the next line which follows Dickens’ famous quote is “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”. We believe that 2009 will be remembered as the age of wisdom within our industry. We will look back on this year as a time when we stepped up and actually did what we have always asked of our students, we learned and became wiser! And in doing so we have turned a corner in our ability to serve the enterprise in ways we hadn’t dreamed of just a year to two ago. Here’s to a continuation of that wisdom well into 2010 and beyond.

Happy Holidays everyone! We couldn't have thought of a better community to have worked with throughout the year. We hope you found that being a part of all this has been of benefit to you and your organization. Thanks for joining us on the journey… Here's to a SAFE, SUCESSFUL, and Happy 2010!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The New Blend for the New Normal

Blending Formal and Informal Learning

The learning tradition of pre-modern society was for centuries defined by two enduring patterns. The first was informal learning in the form of on-the-job training. It was customary to apprentice young workers in the skilled trades by having them observe and work alongside competent craftsmen until they acquired enough knowledge and skill through experience to work independently. Here, learners learned in the workflow. The second pattern was that of formal learning in which a teacher pulled learners from the flow of their work and taught them through formal instruction. For centuries, society held to these two approaches: one experiential, the other didactic, and there seemed to be little impetus to change.

In the early 18th century, the arrival of the Industrial Revolution created major developments in agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing. Overtime organizations began to move away from the “apprentice” informal learning model to greater emphasis on formal training primarily using external resources and after-work hours. Gradually, formal training was brought into the organization and delivered during work time but completely removed from the workflow. Cognitive and behavioral psychology contributed to the formalization of training development and delivery. National associations emerged advancing training as a necessary part of organizational success.

The nature of training continued to evolve on the formal side. Basic skills training became supplemented by interpersonal skills and management training. Organizations who could afford it bought technology-facilitated media because of its promise of greater productivity in the workplace. The training function became more widely recognized as important, which led to a greater investment in formal training in the form of event-based courses

Eventually additional layers of organizational support emerged in an effort to support learners beyond their formal learning at their moment of apply. For the most part, this assistance consisted of support services (e.g., help desks), and publications. Support services picked up where training left off, often cultivating an environment of educational welfare where problems and needs were resolved with great proficiency, but often left those who had made help desk calls no more proficient after the call than they were before. Publication groups were charged with developing ongoing support solutions such as printed and electronic documentation and online help. Between support service groups and documentation groups, the informal learning needs within an organization were supposedly covered. But that was not the case. Informal learning, where it is estimated that 70 to 80 of all learning takes place, had gaping holes. Informal help networks flourished to fill the void where, too often, unconsciously incompetent workers helped others achieve the same status. And when someone demonstrated real competence, the less skilled would rob him or her of productive work time.

Today, the patterns of market disruption and accelerated change have become the new normal. And given the technological, economic, social, and political forces that drive the new environment, there is no evidence to suggest that organizations will somehow return to conditions of stability and equilibrium. The volatility and speed of the new era appears irreversible, which is tough news for leaders and organizations struggling to survive. Organizations confront increasing complexity in globalizing markets. They find themselves constantly challenged to learn and change, as Gary Hamel observes, “in a way for which they have no precedent.”

Google’s initial public offering on August 14, 2004, signaled the entrance and game-changing impact of web 2.0. Technologies such as wikis, blogs, social-networking, open-source, open-content, file-sharing, peer-production were not new at the time, but the Google offering coincided with the point at which virtual communities finally gained massive traction and scaled to orders of magnitude beyond anything of the past. Of course the internet was already heavily populated, but 2004 saw a select few websites consolidate anchor positions in a virtual land grab. The web presence of not only Google, but also YouTube, Myspace, Facebook, Wikipedia, eBay, and Blogger.com created a force multiplier effect for social networking and mass collaboration.

These technological and environmental advancements have fostered the new millennial learning mindset and opened the door for blending formal learning with intentionally defined informal learning practices. Here’s one example of what this kind of blending looks like:

New Blend Example 1
  • A workgroup completes self-tailored pre-work prior to attending a virtual class.
  • They attend 4 virtual meetings each lasting 2.5 hours spread out over 8 weeks.
  • Following each virtual meeting, learners independently complete “Expand” assignments requiring them to use their personal learning network to learn more about what they learned during each virtual session. They document what they learned in a course wiki.
  • Also following each virtual meeting learners complete “Apply” activities tied directly to their personal work and submit the results to their trainer. They work on these activities using a digital performance support broker that provides learners finger-tip access to all the resources they need to apply what they have learned.
  • Students work together in virtual groups to help each other.
  • Trainer holds virtual feedback/coaching session for each set of “Apply” assignments for each learner.
This “new blend” of formal and informal learning practices represents a significant scope shift for training professionals. We are now intentionally stepping into the informal side of learning. We should have always been doing to this, but emerging technologies make it more feasible. Support services and technical publication groups should NOT feel threatened by these efforts. They have much to offer here. But there is more that the training profession can and should be doing in addition.
In reality, the distinction between formal and informal learning should look more like this:

Formal Learning, of course, is what training groups have traditionally done—they build, deliver, and manage learning solutions to support organizational needs. The point of this blog is to make the case for broadening the scope of this work to embrace both formal and informal learning and to correlate these efforts with others whose charter plays in this same field (such as support services, technical publications, etc. In doing this, organizations establish a complete learning ecosystem.
A learning ecosystem comprises all the factors that support a vibrant learning community of interdependent people in gaining and maintaining the skills necessary to perform effectively together. It can exist at different scales in an organization (e.g., work group, division, company.)
Informal Learning, as you can see by the graphic, can be divided into two areas: Informal Intentional and Informal Independent. Informal Independent is learning that individuals and teams may choose to do outside what is planned, implemented, and managed by the training arm of the organization. This has been the elephant in the room for a long time. Two-thirds of learning taking place within most organizations has been happening in the Informal Independent area. But, as learning teams begin to focus on a broader view of their role, learning solutions are beginning to include intentional informal learning activities. This new blend can look something like this:

The New Blend Example 2 
  • An Employee is in the middle of a pressing work project. She consults her digital performance support broker and identifies four areas where there are several unique twists that require additional knowledge and skills to complete the project.
  • She immediately accesses directly from her broker, several microblogs where she shares her learning need out through several follower groups (internal and external to the company.)
  • A representative from the learning group along with other microbloggers immediately provide recommendations. She sorts through those recommendations and does the following: 
  • Schedules and takes 3 recommended e-learning courses, 2 from within the companies LMS and 1 purchased independently from an independent eUniversity.
  • Schedules and participates in 4 virtual coaching sessions –two internally sponsored and two from a colleague/friend from another company.
  • Spot reads through 3 books (two digital.), one of which was purchased online
  • As she moves forward to complete the project, she frequently accesses her electronic performance support broker to guide her as she and her team completes each critical task.
  • After she completes the project, she takes 10 minutes and accesses a “Lessons Learned” template via the performance support broker and documents lessons she learned, enriches it with metadata, posts it and then pushes it out to the her direct manager as a project report.
As you can see, there is a blend of formal learning solutions (e.g., e learning courses, virtual coaching sessions), independent informal learning (e.g., scanning through books), and intentional informal learning (using the performance support broker providing access to the resources she needs at her moments of apply.)

It is readily apparent that there is a great amount of learning going on outside the formal structures we have so adeptly put in place. The reality is that the informal side of learning is where real learning occurs in any organization. Formal learning can either help or hinder those informal learning.efforts.

Today simply building and deploying a set of formal learning events doesn’t cut it. The New Normal requires the blending of formal and intentional informal learning practices and making available the permissions and resources that support dynamic learners when they choose to learn independently.

In Summary
  1. Although informal and formal learning practices have been around a long time they have most often been approached as separate paths for learning and skill development. Over time, formal learning has become the primary arena for investment by organizations.  This is changing today. 
  2. Historically, most learning and other siloed support groups have not blended their practices to provide unified performer support to those they are charged to serve. This needs to change.
  3. The current environment of unrelenting change coupled with the disposition of an increasing number of learners to learn informally, has opened the door for learning teams to lead out in blending formal and informal learning practices.
  4. This blending has created a healthy division within the informal learning arena: intentional informal learning and independent informal learning. Intentional informal learning is anything planned for and supported when people learn on their own or with others independently.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Social Networks: Are they the "Learning Portals" of today?

Con and I had an AMAZING time at Learning 2009. It was great seeing many of you there, as well as meeting the new members of this ever growing community. We are now up to over 550 member companies worldwide! Although communicating with you through a blog like this is has always been wonderful, still nothing beats seeing each of you face to face from time to time! Our thanks and kudos to Elliott and his entire team for hosting such a wonderful event. It was very well attended by today's standards with over 1,300 learning professional from around the world in attendance. The enthusiasm and energy level was great. Con and I ended up delivering 6 breakout sessions and a pre-conference all centering on some aspect of Performer Support (PS). We were overwhelmed by the turnout and by the excitement surrounding this discipline. Clearly PS is on the rise and is quickly becoming a vital part of any learning organization's offerings.

There was one moment in particular which helped validate this feeling for both of us. Elliott likes to use audience response units throughout the conference, especially during the general sessions. It's a very powerful and effective way to quickly take the pulse of a large group like this. At one point, he let the attendees submit questions to be asked of the entire conference. Obviously there are plenty of topics being showcased and it's often hard to get a feel for which are hot and which are not. So, someone from the audience asked which learning trends or technologies we felt were overrated: Mobile Computing and Learning, Social Networking, Gaming, User Content, and Performer Support. And the two clear "winners" were...Gaming and Social Networking with both receiving over 30% of the vote. The "loser", which in our case was a GOOD thing :), was Performer Support with 9% of the vote. Not only is our industry finally seeing PS as a powerful learning approach, but we are also seeing it as something achievable.

For the sake of this week’s blog, I would like to focus on our industry’s discussions around Social Networking. First, let’s start by stating that although Social Networking may appear to be overrated, our belief is that it is, or will become, a powerful learning resource for many. Being overrated does not necessarily mean that something is bad or ineffective. Our concern surrounds the long term effects on social networking if it continues to be poorly positioned or implemented in its early stages of development. Many a powerful and viable learning approach and/or technology never got off the launching pad due to poorly positioned expectations. For instance, I still know of organizations where you are carried to the curb if you even mention the acronym LMS. Does that make LMS's bad? Clearly not! But for some the promise, investment, and overhype of the technology and approach eventually outweighed the benefits and that's unfortunate. The question is, will Social Networking suffer the same fate?

Lately, we've been asked to speak with organizations about the integration of social networking into informal learning frameworks. At times the vision ends up being a bit broader than that. The dream is to create a one stop launching pad of vibrant and supportive communities that will act as a learning portal for informal learning. If you've been around the learning industry long enough you'll remember that this approach was also what killed many efforts around corporate learning portals in the 90's. They were overrated as a one stop landing page for every learning asset imaginable. Although the premise was good, the execution left much to be desired. Most learners visited once or twice, were immediately overwhelmed, and never returned again. Will we let history repeat itself and allow the Social Networking sites of today become the "learning portals" of a decade ago?

It always makes Con and I anxious when we see a single modality being labeled informal learning or PS. As we've shared in this blog many times, effective PS is rarely driven by any one modality, but rather an overarching framework that supports learners across the 5 moments of need. Social Networking can be a highly effective tool as a part of that framework, but there are reasons why it may be dangerous to position it at THE primary one. Here are some issues to consider:

1 - Searching, navigating, and digesting a Social Networking site takes time: A PS framework is made up of shades of grey. Some elements are meant to be experience over time, processed, and applied, while others are meant to be quick, short, and easy to access, or what Dr. Allison Rossett would call a "Sidekick". When a learner expects an immediate answer they become highly frustrated and disillusioned with resources that don't provide this level of support. Social Networking can struggle when positioned as one of these types of tools. Although the information can be vast and powerful, it typically takes time to search and sift through these communities. They are a wonderful support network, but not an immediate one.

2 - The information can often be dated or incorrect: The number one killer of a PS tool/strategy is inaccurate information. Since many of these resources are accessed at critical moments of need, any wrong answers can have significant consequences. Although there can be a definite ”wisdom of the crowd" benefit to these communities, there is a huge overhead in keeping the information current and accurate. Many struggle with maintaining this thus making the information suspect.

3 - Social Networks are often not integrated well into the workflow: The most effective PS tools and resource are found within the environment and workflow they are designed to support. The simple fact that many Social Networking websites are accessed out on a network can impact their ability to act as an effective PS resource. An effective PS framework offers an immediate and concise answer to the issue being addressed often based on the learner's job role or workflow. Although many social networking sites are role based, they are anything but contextual. The more removed a PS asset is from the problem or situation being addressed, the less likely a learner is to stay the course and use the resource.

With this said, how can we make Social Networking sites work and optimize the power of communities? The simplest answer is to broker them appropriately in the context of all the other resources available through an organization’s PS strategy. The danger is that Learning Assets are often positioned to over promise and under deliver. A Social Networking community should be positioned as a fundamental tool that can sustain the underpinning of an overall PS Strategy. They are rich repositories of an incredible amount of acquired knowledge from peers, experts, and mentors throughout the organization. That's an amazing resource when consumed at the right moment and under the right circumstances.

Let's continue to see PS as a powerful overarching discipline made up of a rich array of well positioned learning assets. Social Networking is but one of these tools. Allowing it to do what it does best relative to all that surrounds it is the best way to move beyond the hype and make it a reality.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Trainers: A KEY stakeholder in a successful PS implementation

One concern I have always had when I speak about Performance Support is that I will be perceived as “bashing the classroom”. I recently delivered a keynote on Informal Learning and Performance Support for the Institute on IT Training Conference in London. I had an attendee, or delegate to be geographically correct:), come up to me after my session asking if I felt that the classroom, and the instructor’s role specifically, was diminished by adding PS to a blended offering. That couldn't be further from the truth!!

Con and I are often asked to name the perfect place to introduce PS into an organization – EASY answer: The classroom! What better place to begin the journey towards independent and self-directed learning than the classroom? But for this to be successful you need a dedicated and gifted instructor at the front of the room. This is where true blended learning comes in. In one of our earlier posts on blended learning we talk about how PS is key to providing a true learning ecosystem. Just blending formal learning assets may save money and appear to be blending options, but it’s not truly supporting a learner across all 5 moments of need.

We have found that the most successful PS initiatives begin in the classroom and are introduced in the context of formal learning. Buy-in and support from the trainer is critical to this success and involves considering a few important factors:

1 – Involve the trainer early in the development process: In many of the learning organizations we work with, developing courses is a well oiled machine. It's a process where the trainers may be asked to participate, and one they have learned to trust to create fairly standard courses. Once you begin introducing PS into the mix the trainers need to be involved as early as possible so they can understand the intended outcome, design, and presentation. If they feel that PS has been thrust upon them many will not engage, in fact we have seen trainers even disrupt a PS roll out because they felt removed from the process. Many trainers see PS as a threat. It’s perceived as a tool designed to lessen their role. Again, not true! In fact, a trainer is key to making PS successful.

2 – Help your trainers to see their role differently: Integrating PS into a classroom involves more than just “demoing the PS tools at the end of class”. For these tools to be truly internalized and seen as being of value, the trainer needs to position them as an integral part of the classroom experience. They need to be seen as something that will truly help the learner in the context of their job, and as a tool that the trainer believes in! To make this work the trainer will need to teach a different level of skills than the ones they may have typically focusing on. Enabling PS is not about learning a particular rote piece of material, but rather the critical thinking skills needed to effectively problem solve and enable a PS tools in the context of doing their job. This will be a different way of approaching instruction. It begins with simply not answering as many questions and guiding the students toward the solution through the PS frameworks being introduced. The “industry term” for this type of learning strategy is “Metacognition” or learning how to learn. It involves teaching a learner about when and where to use particular strategies for learning or problem solving. This is PS’s greatest strength. The trainers who have mastered this technique are teaching at a level above all others. PS tools enable this to happen.

3 – Teach them the “Ramp up/Ramp Down” technique - This is an approach to instruction where the instructor intentionally eases themselves out of the “support” business while replacing their it with an equally effective PS strategies. As the graphic shown here illustrates, as the trainer’s level of support lessens over time, they replace that support with 3 PS tools – Peer, Job Aids, and Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS). Each moves the learner that much farther away from dependent strategies and that much close to self directed learning.

Trainers have a new and vital role to play in the overall success of a PS initiative. They simply need to be integrated and involved in a way that makes their role apparent and intentional.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Performer Support and the Moment of Change

Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning

In an earlier blog article (http://performancesupport.blogspot.com/2009/05/moment-of-apply.html ) we stated that the moment of “Apply” is the “most critical moment in any person’s individual learning process.” Certainly preparing learners for this “most critical” moment should be at the heart of all we do – after all, if people can’t perform at that moment, what good have we done with all our efforts leading up to it?

But there is another moment of need that directly impacts how we address the moment of “Apply.” Change is a fundamental reality in today’s work environment. It is often unpredictable, absolutely unrelenting, and, more often than not, terribly unforgiving. Alvin Toffler, writer and futurist, has observed that change, today, is “non-linear and can go backwards, forwards and sideways". He further describes how we must respond to this dynamic change environment, in his book Rethinking the Future:

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
The fundamental difference between how we support learners at the moment of “Change” and how we do at the typical moment of “Apply” lies in the requirement change makes of learners to “unlearn” and then “relearn” a new way. Our profession, for the most part, hasn’t provided the support it can and should when learners face this performance twist. Here are a couple of recommendations:

Take on the Challenge of Deep Rooted Change
Years ago, after completing work for a client, a participant in the project offered to drive me to the airport so we could continue our discussion. After a long drive I became a bit nervous about missing my flight. I interrupted our discussion and asked my driver, “How long before we arrive at the airport.” As he hit his breaks he turned to me and said, “I’m almost home.” Has something like this ever happened to you – where you have acted in an automated way? The cognitive principle at play in such circumstances is “automaticity.” Things that we do, over and over, tend to become automated in our skill set – to the point that we can do them without conscious thought. And when this has occurred within a workforce and the workforce is then called upon to change that automated performance, organizations face one of the most significant performer support challenges it can face.

Software companies have paid dearly in their failure to provide meaningful solutions to this moment of change—where skills have become “deep-rooted.” For example, Microsoft had to force feed Vista through its market channels. There was very little pull from the marketplace. Why, because Vista, with all of its remarkable capabilities, lacked the performance support infrastructure necessary to help people “unlearn” their automated skills and “relearn” how to perform the same tasks in Vista. Had Microsoft provided this support, the uptake by their existing customer-base would have not only been dramatically faster (thereby accellerating revenues) but the good-will generated within that customer-base would have suppressed rather than fed Microsoft’s competing market forces.

When organizations face any major change initiative, there is high probability of deep rooted skills that require overriding. This can best be done with a robust solution that supports performers in their workflow, at the moment of apply when they are called upon to “unlearn” and "relearn." Too few change initiatives adequately make this crucial investment.
This challenge of deep-rooted change has been around for a long time. We now have the knowledge and wherewithal to address it directly. We simply need to understand the realities of deep-rooted change and step up to it, ahead of it, before it’s upon us.

Grow Dynamic Learners
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is a new era of change confronting organizations today. This unpredictable, unrelenting, and unforgiving environment of change requires organizations to cultivate dynamic learners – learners who know how to be rapid, adaptive, and collaborative in how they learn, unlearn, and relearn. Today’s learners must cultivate a mindset that anticipates change. These dynamic performers must also have access to tools to help them detect change before it is on top of them. Because they live in a state of continuous change they must also cultivate personal learning strategies that minimize the probability of their own skills becoming automated (deeply rooted) unless those skills merit becoming so. These dynamic learners learn on the run and rely on performance support tools to assist them at every moment of learning, unlearning, and relearning. And when these dynamic learners see change coming at them, they know how to assess their current readiness to perform, identify what skills and knowledge they need to cast aside and then determine how to take advantage of performer support systems to assertively adapt to the conditions around them.

Is it possible to help learners develop these dynamic learning skills and disposition? Absolutely. Here are some blog articles we’ve posted that partially address how this can be accomplished:

Friday, January 9, 2009 “Flourishing During Rough Economic Times”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 “The Role of Engagement in Performer Support”

Thursday, September 25, 2008 “Surviving Unrelenting Change”
Thursday, August 14, 2008 “Organizational Learning Agility and Performance Support”

The last blog article (listed above) references a research report we published last fall that discusses the vital need for organizations to cultivate the capacity to “learn at or above the speed of change.” Since publishing this report we have been engaged in a year-long benchmarking study with ten remarkable, and in most cases, multi-national organizations. The results of this study have reinforced the need to cultivate dynamic learners and the reality that it is possible to do so. It has never been sufficient to build exceptional learning and performance support solutions. The ultimate key to success in all we do lies in the choices people make and the way they choose to go about it. This is especially true when we work to support performers at the moment of change.

Where to from Here?
Our performance support community needs examples to help us move forward in this area. We have many excellent examples that address typical moments of “Apply.” But how are you addressing the moment of “Change?” How are you cultivating “Dynamic Learners?” Share with us what you’re doing and we’ll continue to share back.

Friday, September 4, 2009

If I could start the jouney all over again...

As I sit here waiting for the long weekend to arrive (for our non-US readers, this coming Monday is a holiday called "Labor Day" here in the states) I've had a moment to reflect on my week. I was filled with appointments, presentations, and travels talking about the value and application of Performance Support (PS). Candidly, I've been overwhelmed of late by the huge upsurge in the popularity of this discipline. Whether it's the economy, conversations sponsored by industry leaders such as Elliott Masie, or just the natural evolution of learning, PS has clearly moved into the spotlight in many organizations and is quickly becoming a vital part of their overall learning strategy. It's ALL very exciting and long overdue...

The more I think about my own journey and the conversations I've had this week, the more I wish I could do this whole learning thing all over again. I would do it all so differently. Those of you who have known me for a while, know I've been at this learning arena for a long time - 26 years to be exact. The first 5 were spent as an elementary school teacher in upstate NY. After getting my Masters in computer education, I joined what is now Element K in its VERY early years (I was the 26th employee to be exact back in 1987) and spent 16 years there. I then went to Microsoft for 3 years and was a Director in the learning group. And finally, for the past 3 years I have been with LearningGuide. The irony of that journey is that I didn't utter the word "Performance Support" during the first 23 years of it! I built a lot of GREAT training assets, many of which I am very proud of, BUT never broached the world of PS until very recently.

I think I have found a home! Throughout most of my professional life I have struggled with the fact that although I was certified in training/teaching, it seemed like very little of my teachings had a long term and direct impact. People may have liked me and probably learned a whole lot of good stuff, but I grew tired of hearing that much of it didn't "stick", was hard to truly apply, or just didn't have the long term impact it should have. Why was that?

If I had to do it all over again, I would throw out much of what I learned about ID and do it very differently. Don't get mad a me here, but frankly the last 3 years of my professional life have strongly challenge much of what I had been taught during the first 23, including all that wonderful academia stuff. Fundamentally I was taught that everything could be solved with good training. It was the proverbial "hammer looking for a nail" and EVERYTHING looked like a nail!! My latest journey with Conrad into a deep study and intentional work in the PS arena has changed my outlook.

If I could do it all over again, I would stop even worrying about training, at least initially, and architect all my learning solutions around PS. If that didn't work, or couldn't stand alone, which in many cases it can't and shouldn't, I would build good sound training to back it up and fill in the gaps. Until 3 years ago I did it in the opposite order. I RARELY build job aids or EPSS tools to support my training initiatives, and because of that very little of my training continued on into the learner's real world. PS is such a strong and powerful discipline that I now view it as the first line of attack and defense when it comes to a learning problem, and I'll build training as a secondary approach.

Now, many of you who are reading this may accuse me turning my back on training. That couldn't be further from the truth. Training is still important. It still has a vital role to play in an overall effective Learning Ecosystem. My point here is that PS actually makes training better and allows it to do what it does best - make someone knowledgeable. PS on the other hand helps make them productive and acts as a perfect complement to training. My point here is that I feel PS needs to lead the charge, not take a back seat to training as it has for years.

Since hindsight is 20/20 I'm going to leave that argument in the past and move on. The learning solutions I design going forward will all pivot around building, implementing, and maintaining effective and relevant PS which is supported by an just the right amount and type of training. My experience of the past 3 years has taught me that, in the end, that's what learners have wanted out of "training" all along... Care to join me in the dialogue?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Another PS Component!

"Self-Check" — a Fundamental Principle of Training and Performer Support

During graduate school, I embarked on a project that inadvertently schooled me in the impressive power of self-evaluation as a principle of instruction. I had just completed a course at the University of San Francisco from Michael Scriven – a thought leader in the practices of performance evaluation. Following, I had developed a training program for an organization and was in the midst of conducting the training when one of the participants said to me, “Why don’t you stick around after class and watch us do our impersonations of you.” I was caught a bit off guard and asked “what do you mean?” His reply: “Every day after class we all take turns impersonating you for the day. Some of us have gotten really good at it.” I stayed that night and watched as every idiosyncrasy I had exhibited that day during the training was magnified out of proportion and turned into hilarious laughter.

That evening, as I drove home, I concocted a plan to force them all to view and evaluate themselves and their peers. I admit the idea was somewhat motivated by revenge but the impact of viewing myself through their eyes had actually been instructional. I developed a performance evaluation tool and trained the class in how to use it to evaluate the performance of others. And then the day of reckoning arrived. I placed every student into a set of fabricated scenarios that were as realistic as they could possibly be and videotaped them. Now, if you know my age, you know that this took place during the emerging days of video technology--so this was a novel idea at the time. I then scheduled sessions for each participant to view his or her performance along with four other peers. They all rated themselves and each other against the 10 performance rating scales I had developed. Where there were discrepancies in the ratings, they discussed and consolidated them into a single rating. It was payday! The result? They had the time of their lives. And what is more, this group ended up exceeding the performance capabilities of any previous group. In addition, as we followed this group into the real world of application, they demonstrated an accelerated performance improvement path that was astonishing.

So, here’s my point. In the discipline of instructional and learning design, we most often view evaluation as something we do to determine if learners achieved what we set out to help them achieve. We measure the merit and worth of the experience. We work to deduce the return on investment as a result. This is all fine and good, but evaluation has much more to offer. It is a principle of instruction not just a practice in the training development process. When we train people how to evaluate their own performance we place them on a path of ongoing improvement. When we provide them tools to ensure that their self-evaluation is objective and deliberate, we ensure that ongoing growth occurs at maximum potential.

I’ve been considering this principle, lately, in the context of the practices of performer support. We have developed great methodologies for developing “sidekicks” and “planners.” And we’re making real headway in learning how to “broker” all our learning assets to accommodate performers at all five moments of need. It seems to me, that there is an additional area to consider – in support of performance. If planners help me prepare to perform and sidekicks assist me as I perform, what do we do to help performers review their performance, determine how they could have performed better, and take the steps necessary to perform better next time they are called upon to act in a similar manner.

It makes sense to me that we should consider this vital part of performance improvement as part of the practices of performer support. It begins by developing self-assessment tools and then bringing those tools into formal training along with our planners and side-kicks. As we have recommended with all other performer support tools, a fundamental objective in formal training is to train performers how to use these performer support tools. This should include learning how to use the self-evaluation tools you create.

If any of you are already doing this, let us know. Provide us some examples we can share with others. This is an idea worth pursuing. We not only need to support performers at all five moments of need, we also need to support them throughout the performance process; before they perform with “planners”, while they perform with “side-kicks”, and after they perform with “self-checks.”

Michael J. Gelb wrote, “Champions know that success in inevitable, that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.” Self-evaluation can be the most influential form of feedback possible. It ensures persistent growth. It may very well be the most powerful principle of instruction and learning. And it certainly has a vital role to play in performer support.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What's in a Name? ... EVERYTHING!

As we've shared many times in this blog, the label "Electronic Performance Support System", or EPSS, was first originally claimed by Glory Geary in her 1991 groundbreaking book which shares the same title. Performance support (PS) as a discipline has matured tremendously since that time, and has truly come into its own over the past few years especially due to the current economic climate we live in. It has also risen in importance and impact due to a maturation in the way we look at learning. Thanks to the innovative thinking of thought leaders such as Conrad Gottfredson, my colleague and friend who co-authors this blog, and Allison Rossett out of San Diego State, we now see learning as more then just a series of formal learn events, but rather as a journey between BOTH formal and informal learning moments. Many have used Conrad's 5 Moments of Need to illustrate this very powerful concept. The learning organizations who are architecting learning solutions across these 5 moments are the ones who are providing a level of service learners have been waiting for and needing for years.

With all this fine work, it still troubles me how our industry tends to put PS into a box where it can't truly reach its potential. I blame the "shiny penny" phenomenon which often inflicts our industry. when a trend or "cool" approach/technology comes along we tend to gravitate towards it and leave other approaches behind. We can become so enamored with these methodologies that we can often to lose the overall context of all that we've learned and can go so far as offering unbalanced and ineffective learning strategies.

The current "shiny penny" is social learning. Now before anyone gets angry with me, I am a HUGE fan of social learning and all it has to offer. Social learning includes all the powerful collaborative web 2.0 technologies which are emerging today. It also includes many non-technical approaches such as mentoring or peer instruction. Social learning is, and will continue to become, a very powerful part of any effective learning strategy, BUT it's not in and of itself PS.

In two articles I recently read on learning, PS was positioned as a subset of embedded or contextual learning systems. I would argue that the sequence or classification needs to be reversed. Embedded or contextual learning systems are actually a subset of PS. Not the other way around. If we want to promote PS to the level of effectiveness and influence it deserves we need to move its overall positioning to its rightful place.

I would argue that PS is actually the "informal learning" many of us have been struggling to define, fund, and defend for years. In an earlier blog posting Con and I defined PS as "providing intuitive, tailored aid to a person at his or her moment of need to ensure the most effective performance.” This is meant to be an all encompassing definition. It is not technology dependent, although many PS offerings are technology based. If we look at PS from this perspective emerging and other long standing approaches such as:

  • EPSS

  • Social Learning

  • Coaching/Mentoring

  • Help Desks

  • Job Aids

  • FAQ websites

are all subsets of an effective PS strategy. To say that PS is limited to a job aid or an on-line support tool is also limiting its overall effectiveness within your learning organization. It is limiting its ability to be designed, funded, and integrated as a larger and more powerful part of an overall learning architecture.

Would it be appropriate to stop speaking in terms of "formal and informal learning" but rather group them into "formal and performance support" buckets? My argument here is that when we us as broad a term as "informal learning" we begin to bring in assets such as parking lot conversations which, although they are clearly a place where learning and knowledge transfer occurs, they are also an area where we as a learning profession will have little impact and control. PS should include all those informal assets we can and should impact, design, and facilitate.

For PS to reach its full potential we need to begin discussing the discipline on a broader scale. You might be saying, "Bob, you're splitting hairs here. What's in a name anyway?" My 28 years in learning have taught me that branding and a shared vocabulary is EVERYTHING when it comes to effectively introducing and promoting a sustained learning approach. We need to do the same for PS!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lessons Learned

The Personal Rewards of Training in the Virtual Classroom

Bob and I just finished teaching our new course: High Yield Training in the Virtual Classroom. During this virtual Instructor led training (VILT) course we employed our GEAR design and development process.

For those readers, not aware of the GEAR methodology, here’s a brief description:

The GEAR™ model consists of a spaced learning that includes a series of virtual training/coaching cycles that allow participants to apply immediately what they learn to their own work requirements.

When most people gather virtually, they merely meet online and then disperse. That’s it. With the GEAR training/coaching model, gathering online is only part of the learning journey. Following every session, participants expand and personalize their understanding of what they have learned and then take steps to apply concepts and tools into their work streams. The final step in the GEAR cycle is to report progress and receive personalized feedback from the trainer and peer participants. (For more detailed information about this model view the following recording: https://admin.na4.acrobat.com/_a826380069/p22534461/

Bob and I have marveled at what we experienced, as trainers, during this virtual course approach. We have previously participated in the development of courses using our GEAR model and observed remarkable results in learning outcomes for our clients including the exhilaration it was for the trainers. But this was the first time we have developed and delivered a course of our own employing GEAR.

The result? In our combined experience of training adults, we have not experienced greater personal satisfaction as trainers—ever! This wasn’t just “High Yield Training” for those who participated as learners, it was “High Yield training” for us as trainers. We finally spent most of our training time doing what no other training delivery system can do as well. We orchestrated adaptive learning embedded directly in the work-stream where we were able to provide individual attention to students with tailored feedback – and it was GREAT!

In addition, the lines between formal and informal learning blurred – as it should. We built a performance support broker that provided a bridge from the virtual classroom into the on-the-job independent learning process of participants. Fundamental to the GEAR approach is intentional informal “Expand and Apply” learning assignments.

Now, lest those who took the course and are now reading this blog wonder about these comments – we’re not saying that the course couldn’t have been better or that it won’t get better. It could and will. But, that’s the learner side of things. For a few of our learners, the transition from the traditional classroom to the virtual classroom was a bit difficult, because, frankly, we failed to help them reset their expectations from a traditional classroom mindset. The GEAR model requires learners to engage and own their own learning journey and it is impossible for any learner to hide from it.

What we found as trainers is that we knew where everyone was at every point of their learning journey to competence with greater precision than we have ever known during traditional ILT.
For the majority of participants, who jumped in and embraced the GEAR learning approach, it was transformational. Here are a few excerpts from learner comments to illustrate:

“Thank you so much for this excellent opportunity for growth. This was a fantastic program that has taken my teaching to a whole new level.”

“The VILT workshop taught me how to properly use technology to actively engage learners in a virtual learning environment. The opportunity to use the virtual classroom first hand, from my own office, gave me a true appreciation for the effectiveness of the VILT techniques. The month of the workshop flew by, and by the end I had the knowledge, resources and tools I needed to move my learning project forward, by leaps and bounds.”

“It was great to see a Virtual Classroom firsthand., This class not only helps you design for Virtual Classroom; it helped me improve my design process for all delivery methods.”

“The GEAR model provides us with a practical, proven approach to designing and delivering training that helps our learners go from just “knowing” to “doing.” In fact, the principles we learned in the Virtual Classroom training will make all of our instructor-led trainings better!”

From these comments you can see that participants emerged from their learning experience with an understanding of how to improve training in the traditional classroom setting as well. But what we want to celebrate with you in this blog article is the absolutely rewarding experience training in the virtual classroom can be for trainers. This course wasn’t a webcast. It was rigorous training that pushed learners to work to learn. And they worked, they learned, and they performed!'

Certainly the solid performance outcomes from this kind of training is rewarding to us. But our journey through the teaching process was even more rewarding. We worked more closely with our learners than ever before. They made greater progress in their learning than we have ever seen in traditional Instructor Led Training. We were able to coach learners through the fundamental learning moment of need—the moment of Apply. We were able to draw upon our experience to provide feedback that connected to improvements in the learner’s skill-sets, thereby manifesting the benefits of that feedback in the quality of participants on-the-job work projects.

We found exhilaration and intrinsic reward every step of the way. Training adults was the best it has ever been.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Crawl, Walk, Run... The beauty of PS Design

We were recently talking with a large training group who was beginning their journey into PS. As they began to realize the potential of this approach they became more and more anxious about the amount of work that lay ahead of them. When organizations first look at PS they immediately discover two things:
  • They have what appears to be an unlimited amount of projects that PS could impact
  • They have more informal assets then they know what to do with which are basically "scattered all over the place".

This can make the initial journey into PS fairly daunting. It doesn't have to be. There are a few basic principles Con and I have learned which can make your first efforts easier then you think.

  1. Don't "Boil the Ocean": This is a quote Con and I use throughout our workshops and one that has become one of our student's favorites. When I was schooled in the formal side of ID I was taught to create courses. Although a lesson is probably the smallest defendable "chunk" in a course they can rarely stand alone. Therefore we think in much larger chunks. When piloting a formal learning solution we often have to wait until the course is written before we would dare test them on "real" students. In order to have any type of impact these formal assets are typically fairly large. PS is quite the opposite. Since PS lives at the moment of need, it can often be HIGHLY effective and have a tremendous impact when only dealing with a small amount of content. The beauty of PS design is that you can take a crawl, walk, run approach and still create a defendable solution. We often started very small in our design and built from there. Try simply addressing the top 5 helpdesk calls that come into your call center. Or ask your users to list 4 key tasks they are asked to perform but can't easily remember. These may be things they are not asked to do on a frequent basis, BUT are key processes when needed. These types of initial solutions allow you to start small but have an immediate impact. They also help you test your framework without having to build out more then is needed. Finally, they also allow your learners to become accustomed to your PS tool/strategy in a manageable way.
  2. Take a Broker approach: Most of the organizations we work with already have up to 80% of the assets they need for a highly effective PS solution they just have little to no framework to broker those assets. As our understanding of this discipline has grown it has become more and more apparent that the key to longstanding and effective PS solution is to take a broker approach. This means that you don't necessarily add MORE PS assets such as job aids to the mix, but rather that you create an overall architecture which makes your existing assets more readily available in a "moment of need" approach. We commonly hear that an organization doesn't want to add another tool, but rather get their arms around the ones they already have. The problem isn't that PS assets don't exist, it's that they simply can't be found when needed. A PS broker's job is to make these assets more discoverable and reusable in a simple and contextual manner. The learning portals of the 90's are becoming the bottlenecks of the millennium. Our original belief was that if we made assets available learners would consume. That has not turned out to be the case. We now live in an time of information overload. We have MORE assets then needed and have overwhelmed our learners. They don't know when, where, or how to use the many support tools available to them. A PS brokers job is to not only make the assets available, BUT to finally answer the infamous promise of "right asset at the right time". But a good broker should take that promise even further. It should also be the right AMOUNT of content as well. If I make a the right PDF document available to a learner it may still contain too much information. A PS broker should make that information available in a consumable manner. It may start out by simply showing a 5 step job aid. If those 5 steps are not enough, it should allow the learner to dig deeper for more information such as using the PDF I just mentioned. If that still doesn't offer enough information the broker may point a learner to a specific e-learning module, or direct the leaner to a community of practice (CoP) or subject matter expert (SME) who could assist. By offering this level of guidance a broker does two very important things, it supports the learner in an independent to dependent manner which is often the most efficient as well, and it organizes the existing assets in a meaningful way.

PS is NOT something that needs to consume a learning department or overwhelm them with more work. In fact, if done appropriately, it can make the learning assets already created that much more effective which in the long run can reduce the amount of formal learning assets needed.

The learning professional's new role is becoming one of guide and facilitator. The days of owning and disseminating the knowledge within an organization are gone. The "new normal" we live in today challenges every learning department to become a knowledge broker instead. PS is the perfect approach to help with make this all important change.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Moment of Apply

At the Heart of it All

Our industry has made great progress in meeting the instructional needs of people who are learning something for the first time and when they want to learn more about it. We have rightly broadened our approach from the traditional classroom to include other formal means to help people learn quickly and effectively. We have employed innovative technologies to make these learning opportunities available anywhere, anytime. We are, for the most part, very good at focused, event-based learning—synchronous and asynchronous.

But on the whole, we have been negligent in addressing the most critical moment in any person’s individual learning process – their moment of “Apply.” Preparing learners for this vital moment should be at the heart of all we do. This is when learners meet the realities of what they actually learned, what they didn’t learn, what they have forgotten, what they have misunderstood, the unanticipated nuances, and the challenge of a constantly changing performance landscape.

I remember teaching an advanced instructional design course to graduate students at a university. I showed them an emerging technology that would literally coach people through a software procedure while they did their work. This was no simulation. A user could invoke a script that communicated directly with the operating system and the application. The script would literally walk a person a step at a time allowing the person to use her own data as she did her own work. One aspiring instructional designer raised his hand and asked, “What about practice?” I stared at him and answered – “Why would you need it?” “But you have to have practice to learn,” he said. He was unable to shake the formal learning event paradigm from his mindset. He was absolutely ignorant of his core mission – to develop learning solutions that will ensure that people can perform effectively when they are called upon to act. He needed to put and keep in his sights squarely on the “Moment of Apply.” So do the rest of us. The nature of the world today demands that we do this.

Today’s work environment doesn’t tolerate learners stepping out of their workflow to learn unless it is absolutely vital to do so. And the actual nature of 21st century learners is resistant to learning options that are delayed and removed from the here and now. They are self-directed, adaptive, and collaborative in their approach to learning. These kind of learners will ultimately abandon outright our formal learning solutions if what we provide them fails to efficiently prepare them to effectively perform at their moments of “Apply.” Why, because when facing a course that doesn’t do this, today's learners will simply begin to look elsewhere.

Responding to this need, of course, is the core calling of Performance Support. It’s primary mission is to support people at the critical moment of “Apply.” The good news is that doing this doesn’t require more effort than what most are doing now. It does, however, require a mindset shift. It also necessitates learning how to redirect current efforts to bring about this alignment.

We have within our Performance Support community an organization that has been doing this for many years with phenomenal results. They don’t view people primarily as learners, they view them as performers who may have formal learning needs. They see their mission as one of “performer support.” Their first response to any need for employee performance improvement is to focus first on the “moment of apply” and then wrap other learning support around the performer-support solutions they develop. The result? The learning function is demonstrating with hard metrics the positive impact of their efforts upon employee performance. Management at all levels, especially front-line managers have assumed greater ownership of learning at all five moments of need (i.e., when learning for the first time, when Learning more, when applying/remembering, when fixing, and when things change.) More importantly, people throughout the organization have become more agile in how they learn. They are learning, unlearning, and relearning more rapidly. They have become more self-directed, adaptive, and collaborative in how they go about their day-to-day learning.

Now, I’m not proposing the overthrow of formal learning events. But I am advocating that we move much of what we do as far into the natural workflow of the organization as possible; that we avoid, when we can, pulling people from their work for large periods of time to learn. There has never been a time when we have had greater capacity to do this than now.

For example, virtual classroom technologies provide us the option of allowing learners to synchronously gather online from where they are actually doing their work. The virtual classroom also provides the capacity to spread learning out over time so that learners, between online sessions, can act upon what they learn (Apply) in the context of their work and receive specific feedback. The VC brings instructor led training deeper into the workflow and much closer to the “moment of Apply.”

In The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway’s character, when asked how he went bankrupt, replies: “First gradually, and then suddenly.” This will be the case for much of what we call formal learning today – unless we push our efforts more deeply into the organizational workflow and provide people the tools and preparation they need to successfully perform at the “Moment of Apply.” This must be at the heart of it all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Web 2.0 - Let's be careful this time...

The Danger of Unclear Expectations

I was recently attending a conference where a presenter was sharing their new Performance Support(PS) strategy and proceeded to demonstrate a web 2.0 application. It was a Community of Practice (CoP) that enabled collaborative document sharing, wiki type message boards, and an instant messaging environment which showed the learner who was "online" based on their login and certain projects/communities they had joined. Now, before anyone misinterprets this posting, I am a HUGE fan of CoP's and believe that they play an important role as one of many potential PS tools. My concern is that it's unfair to position a Web 2.0 tool as a full blown PS framework or strategy.
I have learned to become nervous for technologies like these when they first emerge in our industry. We seem to always be in a hurry to put these new tools into categories before they are allowed to become fully baked. We saw this with e-Learning in the 90's and I've personally experienced it as far back as the laser disk players in the late 70's and early 80's. (No comments on my age pleases!! :)) It's not that any of these technologies are "bad" it's often that we misrepresent them, making promises they can't often keep.

I've been feeling the same way about Web 2.0 technologies lately. They do have many of the characteristics of PS, but before we start selling them as the next generation of the overall discipline let's be sure we're comfortable with all that's comes with the "moment of need" promise. Phrases like "moment of need", or its 90's counterpart "Just in Time", come with some big shoes to fill. To the learner these words equal certain outcomes which many Web 2.0 technologies simply don't support. When positioned this way these outcomes are expected to be contextual, embedded, role based, immediate, quick, and streamlined. If you've ever wandered through a Google search, tried to get a timely and coherent response from a Twitter "Tweet", or read through pages of Wikipedia text the outcomes just shared don't always resonate. Again, these resources are INCREDIBLY helpful and offer a level of support like never before, but in and of themselves, they are not a comprehensive PS framework.

So where does Web 2.0 fit? They are clearly a form of PS, and a good one. If you have read through some of our earlier postings, a PS framework is not driven by any one tool or approach, but is rather an ecosystem of related and well orchestrated tools and resources. Many of you may remember the pyramid pictured on the right which represents a PS framework. This is not a tool based offering, but rather a support journey which a learner participates in. The "moment of need" is represented at the top. It can be everything from an immediate need solved by accessing a few short steps, to a more abstract need whose answer may involve many resources. Either way, individual seeking the support begin the experience at the top and should be allowed to journey deeper if the need dictates. The important thing is that the support needed can be found at the correct level within the framework, AND that the experience is constructed in a way which allows the learner to move throughout as quickly and easily as possible. The danger of most PS solutions is that they are simply a collection of resources without the surrounding framework to help the learner navigate appropriately.

The drawback of many Web 2.0 toolset is that few offer the top layers in a quick and easy way. They tend to involve some degree of navigation, search, sift, and time. The top layers of the PS framework are contextual, quick, brief, and involve very little help from others. Web 2.0 technologies tend to work best lower in the framework where a learner expects the support to be more robust and take more time to explore. These tools are perfectly acceptable at this level as long as the learner understands where they fit in the overall experience. Many will get frustrated with these tools if they are sold as immediate and contextual, and then turn out to take time and remove the learner from the work flow.

As if often the case with any of these tools, it's all about setting clear expectations and teaching the learners when and how to best use them in the first place. Web 2.0 is and will continue to be an amazing part of the PS and learning landscape. We just need to be careful that we use them appropriately and with the correct expectations.

Monday, May 4, 2009

An Index of postings: A recap!

The PS Community Blog has been in existence for over 2+ years now! Many have asked for direct references to some of the postings based on topic and intended outcome. We thought this week's posting might be a good time to take a breath and give you a link back to all the postings since we started. Below is a catalogued list which includes the title, intent (Strategic or Practitioner), and a brief description of the content. We hope you find this helpful in referring back to past posting... Please feel free to comment on any and all!!!

2007 Posts

  1. What is Performance Support? - Thursday, November 1, 2007
    Defines performance support and the Five Moments of Need

  2. Finding the True ROI in Learning - Thursday, November 8, 2007
    Describes how PS finally provides means for assessing ROI

  3. Watch Out for the Quicksand - Wednesday, November 14, 2007
    Describes the threats to a successful PS effort

  4. 10 Myths of Performance Support - Monday, December 3, 2007
    Lists 10 misunderstandings organizations often have regarding PS

  5. Delivering Greater Organizational Agility - Friday, December 7, 2007
    Describes how PS can contribute to greater learning agility for organizations

2008 Posts

  1. Context is KING in Performance Support - Monday, January 14, 2008
    Discusses the need for performers to understand where they are, why they're doing what they're doing, what others are doing and how it all relates to the task at hand.

  2. Increasing Organizational Value Via Performance Support - Thursday, January 24, 2008
    Discusses how PS can help legitimize the training and support function as a core contributor to "the bottom line".

  3. Rapid Task Analysis for Performance Support - Monday, March 17, 2008
    Provides detailed description of how to conduct Rapid Task Analysis

  4. Performance Support CAN'T Stand Alone! - Friday, April 18, 2008
    Discusses how PS fits into an overall blended learning solution.

  5. Categorizing PS Solutions and Their Authoring Tools - Tuesday, May 6, 2008
    Provides guidelines for selecting PS authoring tools.

  6. Achieving a High Performance Workforce in “Times of Radical Change” - Tuesday, May 27, 2008
    Addresses how PS can help address the challenges organizations face in a turbulent economy.

  7. The Importance of Process in PS Design - Friday, July 18, 2008
    Discusses the vital need to organize PS solutions around business processes.

  8. Organizational Learning Agility and Performance Support - Thursday, August 14, 2008
    Addresses the pressing need for the Learning Function to help their organizations learn at or above the speed of change.

  9. Owning a Hammer Doesn't Make One a Carpenter - Friday, September 12, 2008
    Describes two stages which are typically overlooked: analysis and measurement

  10. Surviving Unrelenting Change - Thursday, September 25, 2008
    Addresses further the pressing need for the Learning Function to help their organizations learn at or above the speed of change

  11. The Role of Engagement in Performer Support - Wednesday, November 5, 2008
    Discusses the implications of employee engagement for the specific practices surrounding performer support

  12. PS is KEY to the success of any Learning Organization - Monday, November 24, 2008
    Discusses how PS brings greater cost efficiencies into the learning offerings.

  13. Building Virtual Communities that Thrive - Friday, December 5, 2008
    Provides guidelines for establishing vibrant virtual communities.

  14. 2009: The YEAR for Performance Support! - Monday, December 22, 2008
    Provides a look backward and forward on the progress of PS.

2009 Posts

  1. Flourishing During Rough Economic Times - Friday, January 9, 2009
    Describes four actions the learning function can take to help their organizations flourish during rough economic times.

  2. Mobile “Support”: Is it the next generation of M-Learning? - Friday, February 6, 2009
    Discusses the growing use of Mobile-support

  3. Has Single-Source Publishing FINALLY Come of Age? - Friday, February 13, 2009
    Defines single-source publishing and its role in PS.

  4. Rapid Task Analysis Checklist - Friday, March 20, 2009
    A job aid for planning and conducting Rapid Task Analysis. Provides links to video clips discussing each of the critical steps.

  5. How PS Can "Save" Blended Learning!! - Friday, March 27, 2009
    Describes lessons learned from successful blended learning initiatives and the vital role PS played.

  6. More Performance, Less Training - Friday, April 17, 2009
    Brilliant guest blog by Dr. Allison Rossett describing the roles of planners and sidekicks.

  7. The Role of the Virtual Classroom - Wednesday, April 22, 2009
    Describes why the Virtual Classroom has come of age.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Training in the New Normal

The Role of the Virtual Classroom

During the past 6 months, there has been a major spike in the use of the virtual classroom as an alternative to the traditional classroom. There are many reasons why this is happening and why it is wise to do so. Here are some:

  • First, organizations have significantly cut back funding, forcing learning leaders to look for ways to deliver instructor-led training without travel.
  • Second, many organizations are less willing to pull their employees out for full or multi-day workshops. They would rather have the learning imbedded in the workflow, which is what spaced learning using the virtual classroom allows.
  • Third, the virtual classroom also allows training to scale more readily to a large, dispersed workforce in an environment that is continually changing.
  • Fourth, learners increasingly prefer to learn a bite at a time in the context of their work rather than all at once and away from their work.
  • Fifth, organizations are finding that when learning is spaced over time, there is a greater likelihood that skills will transfer more readily into the work-life of learners.

Although these are all excellent reasons for incorporating “Virtual Instructor-Led Training” (VILT) into an organizations learning landscape, there is another reason, that for me, is the most compelling.

Old Ways Die Hard
My parents were school teachers. We also had a dairy farm. One day, after my father had endured a rough day meeting with parents, he looked at me, as we were putting our boots on to go to the barn, and said, “You know, the more I’m around people, the more I like cows.”

I have grown to understand dad’s thinking. Cows, for the most part, are much easier to manage than people. For example, anyone who has tried to herd cows knows that it’s not hard to do. All you have to do is get them going in the right direction and avoid getting them spooked.

Thirty years ago, when I entered the learning profession, we all herded learners like I had herded cows. We drove them into classrooms, shut the gate, and fed them wonderfully designed training programs, doing all we could to “avoid getting them spooked.” Afterwards, we turned them loose, to graze on their own— until the next time when we were called upon to gather them up again and feed them another wonderfully produced training program.

We got away with this for a while, but at some point the learning landscape began changing and didn’t stop. The pace of this change has continued to increase in speed. It has also become turbulent and unpredictable. The children in our family have grown up during this accelerating environmental churn. They span Generation X and Generation Y (the Millennials). These generations are emerging as learners equal to these times. For the most part, they are aggressive, self-directed, rapid, adaptive, and collaborative learners. Certainly no one is going to herd them into classrooms, close the gate, and force-feed them a traditional course – at least not for any sustained period of time. Trying to do this would be like trying to herd cats. And there’s a high probability that those who cling to the old ways of training will, at some point, get scratched (see : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWymXNPaU7g ).

There is a “New Normal” that Calls for a New Way
In the visionary words of Yoggi Bera, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” There most certainly is a “New Normal” where the environment in which we work is in a state of accelerating churn. There will be no return to the calm, predictable past. The realities of this New Normal compel us to alter how we profess learning. We can’t cling to old paradigms. I’m not suggesting we cast them completely aside or even “shift” them. Instead, we need to create new paradigms that fully fit this “New Normal” and at the same time provide bridges from the old paradigms for those who need or want to walk them.

Perhaps another farm insight could help illustrate what I mean by a “paradigm bridge.” One of my jobs, as a young boy, was to teach new calves how to drink milk from a bucket. This was not a natural thing for any calf to do. Their nature and experience was to seek milk from an upward source. I used a paradigm bridge to help calves embrace a completely new paradigm (i.e., drinking from a bucket.) I would put three milk-soaked fingers into the mouth of a calf and gradually nudge its nose downward toward the bucket. The calf would often resist, but I would bring the bucket up as far as I could, and with handfuls of milk channeling through my fingers into the mouth of the calf finally get the nose down and into the bucket of milk. By doing this, several times, over a short amount of time every calf completely change its inherent paradigm—how it drinks milk.

Now, the New Normal generation of learners probably isn’t in need of paradigm bridges. They are the ones defining the new paradigms needed for these times. They’re embracing and pushing the evolution of Web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies to facilitate the immediate collaborative resolution of their learning needs and wants. Those of us outside this aggressive, self-directed, rapid, adaptive, and collaborative approach may need a bit of help across the bridge into this “New Normal” way of learning with its ever fluent supporting technologies.

So Here’s the More Compelling Reason
The virtual classroom can provide a crucial paradigm bridge for our time to help facilitate the journey into the mindset of a rapid, adaptive, collaborative, self-directed learner – a learner who can learn at or above the speed of change. Recently while speaking with a group of learners about the New Normal, one of them said, “I’m a Gen Y in a Baby Boomer’s body.” No matter the generation, the reality of our times compels us to this new mindset. Eric Hoffer pegged it right:

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.
It is in the virtual classroom where trainers can help learners bridge their informal and formal learning efforts. Here trainers can help build meaningful bridges to unleash the full potential of social networking. Here they can orchestrate a total Learning Ecosystem™ to sustain agressive learners at all five moments of learning need. Here, regardless of anyone’s generational genesis, trainers can help them cultivate the capacity they need to learn, unlearn, and relearn in the New Normal.

A Caution: Calling it VILT Doesn’t Mean it's Effective VILT
For more than 10 years, Bob and I have developed and proven in our client work an approach to Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) where learners achieve outcomes that actually far surpasses traditional face-to-face training. We employ an approach we call GEAR. It is a blended “Spaced Learning” approach where learning is spread out over time. This allows participants to learn and immediately apply what they learn in their professional lives.

This approach is different from the majority of live, web delivered classes offered in organizations today where learners merely meet online and that’s it. In the GEAR model, “Gathering online” is only part of the learning journey. Following every session participants “Expand” upon and personalize their understanding of what they have learned. They take steps to “Apply” what they have learned into their work life. They also report on their efforts and “Receive direct feedback.” This feedback is where virtual trainers deliver their greatest value. It is the key to accelerated learning.

True VILT requires greater instructional rigor in its development and delivery than what has typically been expended in the development of traditional “Instructor Led Training” (ILT). This isn’t to say that the same rigor isn’t called for, but the lack of instructional rigor can be more readily masked and at times compensated for in the traditional ILT classroom.

The bottom-line? Just because someone claims that training will take place in the virtual classroom, This may or may not be the case. Organizations can achieve a consistent high-yield “Return on Instruction” (ROi) in their VILT. This return can potentially exceed traditional ILT but it requires an instructionally sound, blended spaced-learning approach. The GEAR model provides a practical framework for accomplishing this.

The Traditional Classroom Doesn’t Have to Die—It Just Needs to Change
None of this suggests that traditional training has to disappear. The personal connection that can take place when people gather in person is unmatched. Unfortunately, we too often misappropriate learning time spent in traditional classrooms with low level learning that could readily be accomplished in other, more efficient ways. This is a subject that merits discussion beyond this article. A crucial question for any learning leader to ask is “What is it that we can only accomplish by physically gathering together to learn?” The answer to this question may very well lead us to places we have not yet gone. But this is certain, it will be a better place for the organizations and the people we serve.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Visiting Expert Series: Vol. #1

We are going to start a new "feature" on our blog this week: "The Visiting Expert Series". In an effort to expand the reach and scope of the blog we are going to be inviting guest industry experts to contribute to our blog. Not only does this give you a well deserved BREAK from us, it will also broaden the perspectives and expertise shared. This month's guest is Dr. Allison Rossett, author of the wonderful book on PS entitled "Job Aids & Performance Support: Moving From Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere". Thank you Allison for a great posting!!!

More Performance, Less Training
Allison Rossett, San Diego State University
This article and model are adapted from Allison Rossett & Lisa Schafer’s book, Job Aids and Performance Support in the Workplace: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere, San Francisco: Pfeiffer/Wiley Inc. (2007). A web site that supports the book and these ideas is at: http://www.colletandschafer.com/perfsupp/index.html

From My Classroom to Your Workplace
I think that the most significant thing going on in training and development today is that we have technology, software and hardware, that allows us to punch through the walls of the classroom to deliver expert messages and nudging closer to work. This happens in many ways, via e-coaches, knowledge bases, blogs, wikis, social nets, and performance support tools. What all have in common is that they are happening where we work and live. I’d like to focus here on just one form of on demand delivery, performance support.

Performance support is immediate, targeted and present. It earns its place by adding value as teachers, doctors, supervisors, seniors, and auditors respond to their tasks and challenges. In these brutal economic times, performance support mobilizes messages and thus boosts performance when we can’t afford to send an instructor out or bring employees in. Instructors require resources, vacation, and sleep. Performance support tools do not.

Performance Support Tools
The best way to appreciate performance support is to look at examples showing how performance support solves problems and elevates practice.

I can remember twiddling my thumbs while waiting to do laundry in my dorm at college. When I wanted to do the wash, the washers and dryers were almost always busy, causing frustration, late nights and early mornings. When I did get to it, the room, with scattered piles of laundry, wet and dry, disgusted me. This was the result of aggressive launderers who chucked wash on the table if you weren’t there to claim it. Enter e-Suds. e-Suds is civilizing the process by introducing information and technology. USA Technologies installed Internet based laundry systems on several university campuses. The system tracks the use of washers and dryers and then alerts students by email, cell or PDA to the status of their laundry and the washers and dryers in close proximity. Imagine the benefits of knowing the “wash cycle is complete” on your load, or that a washer and dryer is available in Chavez Dormitory, floor 3, north end.

In the first edition of the Handbook of Job Aids, Rossett & Gautier-Downes (1991) attempted to expand the ways that people thought about and used job aids. That 1991 enhancement was based on the nature of the content. To traditional job aids that supported information (the Yellow Pages, for example) and procedures (documentation that reminded of how to change the message on an answering machine), Rossett & Gautier-Downes added job aids that coached, advised and guided decisions. Is this the right graduate school for me? How do I work with an employee who is often tardy? Where should I invest my money, given my circumstances?

While those remain fertile distinctions, what we see today is that effective performance support often brings the three together in one computer-based program. For example, a performance support program for an individual contemplating graduate education might include a database of possible university programs and pre-requisites; procedures for applying; and self-assessment checklists to help potential applicants anticipate readiness and preference for one program or university over another.

Two dimensions are critical in performance support. The first dimension is the degree of INTEGRATION of the support into the task. Is the performance support inside or outside of the task? Is it like your ATM or is it a computer program that helps you decide how to save for retirement? ATM support is inside, integrated into the task, as you maneuver the screen. The retirement guidelines stand apart; they nudge you to think about this as you consider an investment, answer a question, reflect on a paragraph, and plan for each eventuality, given your situation.

The second dimension for performance support is how much TAILORING the support offers. Is the support standard for all or actively tailored to your situation? Does it know you and act differently as a result of that knowledge? Consider the difference between support that tells you and every other 55 year old that you should save for retirement and support that knows you have triplets about to enter college, influential factors in your saving patterns and needs. Is it a mass mailing from your city government about fire danger in California OR a notice sending you to a web site because the system recognizes that your home is on a canyon, the fire danger is EXTREME this month, and you must do special kinds of cleanup to mitigate danger?

Integration, Tailoring and Finding Your Way
Imagine that you have an important appointment across town, at a place you have never been.
Table 1 presents alternative support systems to get you to your destination. Focus on the proximity of the support to the challenge.

Let’s look at tailoring now. Is the tool offering up a standard, consistent message or one that is customized to your situation? This is a question about the activity level of the tool. Does the tool adjust to you? Does it know you? Does it care which mutual funds you hold, how old you are, how many you must put through college, what products you sell and in which geography, or if you just by-passed the verbal suggestion to turn left at Albatross Street? Does it reach out and nudge and remind about goals? Does it provide a statement of operating procedures or model approaches to customers’ objections? The Yellow Pages and Wikipedia are standard, worthy, and passive resources. You go there to find information on Mogadishu or mockingbirds or local veterinarians that specialize in large farm animals. Those trusty resources wait and serve, but they do not customize automatically. You must know what you want and need and go for it. They succeed as support if they house valued resources that are “findable.” In our book, Job Aids and Performance Support in the Workplace: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere, a chapter is devoted to IBM’s efforts to make its many substantive resources readily available to far-flung employees.

Schwab.com and Quitnet.com are different their performance support is actively targeted to you. They know you and your goals—and your circumstances. Schwab will help you reach financial goals. Quitnet is there to help the individual who wants to stop smoking turn away from a cigarette after a long, hard day at work. Both tailor responses based on answers you provide to them and “know” you when you return to the site for advice because you are craving a cigarette or trying to decide where to invest a royalty check. The knowledge goes where the need is, when it presents itself.

Introducing Planners and Sidekicks
Performance support is an information-rich asset that a nurse, teacher, parent, mechanic, taxpayer, pilot, or auditor turns to for help in getting things done. Performance support appears in many forms, from notes on matchbook covers to well-worn documentation, to posters to ehelp.com, financial planning tools, and GPS. Because there are so many possibilities, Lisa Schafer and I, in Job Aids and Performance Support in the Workplace: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere, tamed the domain into two kinds of performance support: Planners and Sidekicks.

Planners are in our lives just before or after the challenge. They help us decide if Avian Flu or piracy at sea should alter our trip plans. I use one to help me think hard and comprehensively as I tailor a presentation for a group.

Sidekicks are at our side during the task. The quick food cook reads the job aid as she creates the new food product. The quarterback glances at his wrist in the huddle. The writer pecks away and smiled at how wikis once earned a red line under it in this sentence, but no longer does. Sidekicks vary in how close they are to the task. They might be next to the task, as is the case with the cook and quarterback, or integrated into the thick of it, as in the spelling checker.

Now let us add the question of customization. Is it guidance for everybody interested in the product or hurricanes or retirement or does it know you and your situation and tailor advice accordingly? Table 2 illustrates the model applied to sales.

Performance Matters
Planners and Sidekicks have a long history and a bright future as we lean on performance support to improve interactions, spell correctly, satisfy customers, stock the house for nutritious eating, and make smart and fair decision about whom to hire. It makes sense to move from knowledge in the classroom to knowledge everywhere, since that is where life and work happen… everywhere.

Allison Rossett is Professor Emerita of Educational Technology at San Diego State
University. Allison teaches, consults, conducts studies, and presents on topics associated with learning, performance and technology. You can reach her at arossett@mail.sdsu.edu

Jupiter Research (October 14, 2003). Jupiter Research reports that web site “personalization” does not always provide positive results. Retrieved October 17, 2005. http://www.jupitermedia.com/corporate/releases/03.10.14-newjupresearch.html

McManus, P. & Rossett, A. (February 2006). Performance support: Value delivered when and where needed. Performance Improvement.

Rosenberg, M. J. (March, 2003). Redefining e-learning. Performance Improvement, 42(3), 38-41.

Rossett, A. & Gautier-Downes, J. (1991). A handbook of job aids. SF: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Rossett, A. & Mohr, E. (February, 2004). Performance support tools: Where learning work and results converge. Training and Development, 58(2), 35-39.

Rossett, A. & Schafer, L. (2007). Job aids and performance support: moving from knowledge in the classroom to knowledge everywhere. San Francisco: Pfeiffer/Wiley. Web site and tool: http://www.colletandschafer.com/perfsupp/

Schmid, R.F., & Gerlach, V.S. (1990). Instructional design rules for algorithmic subject matter. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 3(2), 1-14.