- Who We Are
Performance Support to the Rescue
April 16th, 2012
After dragging myself out of the water, my friend yelled, “How is it?” Not wanting him to miss the experience, I responded, “It’s Great!” Robert dived in and when he surfaced, the look on his face was all I needed to begin to warm up. Somehow it made the one-dip swim worthwhile.
I experienced something similar to the reality shock of Dalton’s pond after I completed graduate school and entered the real world of work. In my pursuit of a Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology, I had been grounded in Gagne’s events of instruction, Briggs design sequence, Bloom’s taxonomy, and Mager’s approach to writing instructional objectives. I had been mentored by gifted professors in instructional research, design, and evaluation. And I had developed and implemented highly impactful event-based learning solutions. I walked confidently onto my first day at work for Standard Oil of Ohio convinced that I would quickly show folks how it should be done. But what I met was “Dalton’s Pond.” It was an environment with ever-shortening deadlines with sevier consequences, more to do than there is time to do, and the challenge of constant change.
As I reflect back to my first dive into corporate learning and compare it with today, the challenges have only intensified. These unrelenting realities have required consolidation and redirection of the foundational practices and intents of traditional instructional design. For example, as I surfaced from my plunge into the real-world of organizational learning, time realities forced me to collapse the instructional design and development process down to a few core rapid practices. I also immediately awakened to the reality that there are Five Moments of Learning Need:
- When people are learning how to do something for the first time (New)
- When people are expanding the breadth and depth of what they have learned (More).
- When they need to act upon what they have learned; which includes planning what they will do, remembering what they may have forgotten, or adapting their performance to a unique situation.(Apply)
- When problems arise, or things break or don’t work the way they were intended. (Solve)
- When people need to learn a new way of doing something; which requires them to change skills that are deeply ingrained in their performance practices. (Change)
These Five Moments forced me to broaden my view to intentionally addressing the informal side of learning as well as the formal which led me to the performance support work of Gloria Gery. It all moved to warp speed when I met Bob Mosher. His insight of “training to independence” began a collaboration of thinking that has fueled a seismic shift in how I approach the design, development, implementation, and maintenance of learning and performance solutions. Along the way, Bob and I have escaped from the short-sighted view of only building and implementing mastery-driven learning events (in all their forms). The world of instructional design is much broader than that. Instead, our work has become one of helping organizations learn at, or above, the speed of change with a dynamic learning workforce that is rapid, adaptive, and collaborative in how they learn. As a core part of this work we employ rapid instructional design and development practices to deliver performance support solutions; solutions that optimize the time it takes to gain and maintain on-the-job competency. A workforce is competent to the degree they can safely and effectively perform their work without wasted effort at every working moment.
This much broader view of the work we do doesn’t ignore formal learning; it saves it. The following graphic shows this broader view:
The red part of the graphic represents the formal side of learning. This shows the reality that whatever a learner begins to master during a learning event (Instructor-led, or eLearning), begins a rapid death spiral once the event ends. This presents a remarkable challenge to learners as they move from the formal learning environment into the phase called “Learning Transfer.” As the influence of their learning experience rapidly diminishes, somehow learners must find their way to “on-the-job competence.”
Here are some questions for you to consider: How are you supporting learners during this vital transfer stage? Are they on their own? Or, do you have in place a performance support infrastructure that mediates the loss of learning and systematically supports the journey to competence? If you do, how efficient is it? How much time is it taking to navigate the transfer phase? From beginning to end, how much time does it take to get to competency in your organization?
Our experience is that we can often cut the time to competency in half with the development and implementation of an instructionally sound “Embedded Performance Support Solution” (EPSS.) An EPSS provides immediate, intuitive, tailored aid to a person at his or her moment of need to ensure the most effective performance.
When an effective EPSS is in place, the nature of formal learning can transform into a rich learning experience that accommodates the full range of mastery requirements.
Mastery obviously includes complete internalization of an independent skill. With this highest level of mastery a performer has the ability to complete a task automatically. This capacity is securely encoded into long-term memory and can be executed without conscience thought – it just happens when it needs to happen. Generally, only skills where the critical impact of failure is significant to catestrophic merit this level of investment (see graphic above.) On the other end of the mastery spectrum is the ability to efficiently complete a task using the EPSS without any direct training on a specific skill. Learning can occur at the moment of Apply. This reference-based learning is made possible by a generalizable understanding of how to use the EPSS. Too often organizations treat skills at this end of the scale in the same way they do those where the impact of failure is catastrophic. This approach is costly and unreasonably extends time to competency.
Competency embraces this full spectrum of mastery. But competence is only fully achieved when performers have integrated what they have mastered into actionable skill sets within the context of their personal workflow. This generally requires integration with other existing skill sets within the performer and also with other people via collaboration.
These integrated skill sets must be internalized at the appropriate level so they can be successfully executed as needed with a justifiable amount of effort. What is more, competency always carries with it sufficient conceptual understanding to facilitate proper judgment and the capacity to adapt, on-the-fly, to the unique challenges that occur in the workflow.
So here’s the point. With an EPSS, event-based learning can focus on those skills where the critical impact of failure merits the investment of rich instructional methodology. But the rest of learning can be reference-based. That is, learners can turn to the EPSS at the moment of Apply and safely accomplish their work. They learn while they are performing on-the-job guided and helped by an EPSS.
Now, you may have been wondering about the third phase of the graphic above labeled “Sustain.” This is where the real work lies along with the greatest opportunities. Once a learner achieves competency, that achievement is often short-lived. Change happens and with change comes the challenge of unlearning and relearning. This is one of the primary reasons why “reference” learning coupled with an EPSS is so vital.
Any EPSS authoring software worth its salt will have strong knowledge management capability. Every learning and performance support strategy must include content maintenance. As long as your EPSS remains trustworthy, learners will rely on the EPSS to remain competent in an ever-changing environment. In the Sustain phase, they can rely on the EPSS to help them Apply, Solve, adapt to Change, and learn More whenever needed. In addition, because there is an EPSS supporting learners through all three phases, performers can redirect wasted learning effort spent in:
- mastering skills during formal learning that can be safely performed on the job solely with the help of an EPSS,
- battling through the transfer phase without EPSS assistance; and to,
- maintaining competency with information scattered beyond the reach of “two clicks and 10 seconds.
By collapsing the time to competency and optimizing the sustain phase, learners can devote this reclaimed energy to making a meaningful contribution to the work of the organization, including innovation.
An organization is competent to the degree it performs effectively at every changing moment. This can’t happen unless organizational knowledge is current, staff skills are up to date, and required resources are readily available to support optimal performance. The question is how can organizational competency be achieved in today’s turbulent business environment? The answer lies in your addressing all three phases of the journey of gaining and maintaining on-the-job competency. This, of course, requires instructionally sound performance support solutions that are:
to deliver ROI and specific business benefit.
in the workflow and readily available at the moment of apply.
according to circumstance, specific roles and varying access needs.
only what’s needed in the form needed to effectively perform inside the business process. The pyramid’s the key.
with formal learning to complement and extend current learning investments
and current in every place.
to meet performance support expansion requirements.
Stay tuned for more about these seven requirements for an effective performance support strategy.