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.