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:

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. and 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, 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

Jupiter Research (October 14, 2003). Jupiter Research reports that web site “personalization” does not always provide positive results. Retrieved October 17, 2005.

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:

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

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