By now you know I’ve spent a good part of my professional life guiding organizations through adopting, designing, implementing and measuring informal learning — better known to me as performance support (PS). The one thing that continues to amaze me is our limited view of this powerful discipline.
Our learners spend 80 percent of their time surviving and learning informally. Why don’t we have a more intentional and strategic way to approach that time? Our focus around formal learning is dangerous. I’m not sure many CFOs today are going to continue to invest in a resource that only impacts employees about 20 percent of the time. If we’re going to be viewed as strategic and have a measurable business impact, we need to get in the performance support game soon.
With that said, here are comments I often hear: “We’ve already invested in SharePoint, so we already have performance support,” or “We publish job aids, so we already have performance support,” or even worse, “We just launched our LMS last spring, so we already have performance support.”
My grandfather once said, “Just because you can swing a hammer, it doesn’t make you a carpenter.” The same holds true for PS.
I do think SharePoint and these other approaches can be a powerful part of an overall PS strategy. The problem is, using one or two tools, no matter how powerful, is not a strategy.
Many of you offer award-winning formal learning programs. Let’s focus on an old standard:
instructor-led training (ILT). Would you be offering an effective ILT program if you only had a classroom with desks and chairs — no instructor, no student manuals or instructor guides, no projection system to show slides or examples? Of course not. An effective ILT experience needs a number of key components to deliver the value and learning impact we have come to expect.
The same goes for performance support. Although the aforementioned tools can help add to an overall strategy, none of them alone fits the bill. Let’s discuss five principles that, when approached holistically, can help your organization provide a complete PS program.
Embed in the workflow: The closer the PS strategy and related tools are embedded in the workflow, moved closer to the problems employees are solving, the higher the probability of adoption and impact. Proximity is everything. Clicking out to an LMS or a SharePoint site to search through thousands of resources does not count as being embedded.
Provide context based on job role, process or circumstance: This principle is often confused with being embedded. Just because something is accessible doesn’t mean the content will be useful. Content needs to be relevant to the learner’s role, workflow or problem to be solved.
Provide just enough content: This is one of the most misunderstood principles of this discipline. Many PS solutions simply offer too many options. This is not an abundance strategy; it’s a specificity strategy. Effective PS offers just the right amount of support and then guides the learner to more if needed.
Integrate into formal learning: The most successful PS solutions I’ve been involved in start in the classroom or the formal domain. Rather than teach everything like we once did, the trainer only teaches the essentials and then uses the rest of class time to help learners understand how to be self-reliant using PS.
Establish trustworthy content: The No. 1 killer of PS is incorrect content. Since PS is consumed at the moment of performing a task, if it doesn’t help or produces an incorrect outcome, learners will never use it again. Some type of maintenance strategy has to accompany every PS rollout.
Performance support is a powerful approach. We need to provide just as rigorous and thorough an approach as we have on the formal side if we are going to truly benefit and have the greatest impact.
Bob Mosher is global chief learning and strategy evangelist for LearningGuide Solutions and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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