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.


  1. Im one of your newbie members and learning so much. I believe I am at my tipping point (not sure Im using this term correctly)or is it an epiphany. We (my company) are at the stage of needing a broker! I do believe we have enough assets (and then some)- and the task now becomes building our learning framework around PS. A huge seems the light is getting brighter!

  2. Jeanette - You are in good company!! We are finding that the use of a Broker is the perfect place for most to start. When an organization first journeys into PS many look at it as an add-on or more work to be done, when in reality most learning groups are already 80% there. It's not an issue of adding a whole lot more, BUT rather an issue of orchestrating what already exists in a way that's consumable during all 5 moments of need. A Broker is the perfect fit for that!

    Now, also being realistic here, there will always be things to add. It's not a simple "switch a switch" on Friday and you have a PS framework on Monday, BUT it's not nearly as long of a journey as most believe.