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:

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.