Learning Agility: Re-Invention with Performer Support

Last November I had the privilege of participating in a panel of experts at the Learning 2008 Conference sponsored by Elliott Masie in Orlando. The focus of the panel, moderated by Dr. Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher, zeroed in on best practices intended to improve accessibility of learning to learners in their moments of learning need. I sat with three other CLO-type learning leaders from Bank of America, Disney, and Sprint. After sitting on a similar panel the previous year, I noticed immediately that the role played by just-in-time learning had increased in these three leading companies. With a standing room only crowd in our meeting room, it was apparent the momentum of interest had also spread more broadly. Why? Two reasons:

  • Traditional approaches to learning still fall short on delivering sustained performance.
  • Economic contraction demands better return on dollars spent within organizations.

We sat before a room of learning professionals looking for a better way to maximize (and protect) dollars available to invest in learning solutions. The panel exhibited unrehearsed agreement on the fact that training assets needed to shrink and become more targeted to work demands. I refer to this from the perspective of the learner as their work context. Assets need to shrink to meet the immediate demand for learning at the point of attack. In other words, learning must be designed for consumption in (or near) the workflow – learning needs to be agile.

a⋅gil⋅i⋅ty:      1. ability to move quickly and easily; nimbleness.
2. ability to think and draw conclusions quickly

This definition is spot on when you consider what we are asking our workers to accomplish on the job – quicker, better, and cheaper. We all have heard that those businesses that are more competitive have the ability move quickly to address challenges and adjust to forces of economic change. When you consider who is doing the moving, it is not the company but the workers who render productive outcomes.

If organizations expect their workers to become more agile, they must enhance their ability to think and draw conclusions quickly. It follows then that their learning moments must be satisfied the same way. The need for agility in learning is a shot across the bow of every training department on the planet. The velocity of business, the velocity of work exponentially increases with every new business challenge or economic inflection. The velocity of learning has no choice but to keep pace, and we are not going to keep pace by delivering learning in the classroom or via e-learning solutions alone.

Our design efforts cannot deliver the results we need through shifting creative juices to sizzling, flash-based learning assets – the focus must be on the performer – and in their work context. When and where we support the performer becomes a crucial design consideration. Unfortunately, learning technology and exotic authoring platforms receive too much emphasis as solutions for improving learning impact. Both may very well play a critical role, but they represent bright and shiny objects that distract key attributes that demand precedence.

Attributes of the learner’s work context must become a “first” consideration in our discovery efforts when searching for a solution. When key learning environment attributes are considered, the end product of our design efforts – Performer Support – can take many forms. Most of these assets break tradition with linear training design methodology, though they do not completely eliminate the need for design linearity. The secret sauce involves a blend of Performer Support Objects (PSOs) embedded within the training design (linear as it may be) in a manner that enables direct access by the learner at the point of need. What I am suggesting is re-use of PSOs in both formal training venues and in informal Performer Support venues.

What is Performer Support?

Formal training programs, whether live classroom or self-directed e-learning, typically contain learning objectives and often assessments of knowledge transfer. Performer Support, on the other hand, is a learning asset designed for immediate consumption in the context of work. Often the role of Performer Support serves as reference knowledge when the learner could not draw upon recall knowledge. The concept of a PSO implies that the asset is in fact an object. A PSO does not always have to be a “thing”; it can be a capability that is in the form of human intervention or system. Consider these:

  •   Job aids, quick reference guides, cheat-sheets, etc
  •    Knowledge bases with best practices, tips, techniques, etc
  •    Help Desk able to push reference assets on demand
  •    Access to an “expert”
  •    Embedded help in the workflow or application being used

All of us have used the “PSO” sitting next to us; we collaborate with a tribe member. “Hey, do you remember how to file out this service form?” Too bad tribal knowledge is not consistently accurate. Well-intended collaboration in this form has the potential to spread incorrect information – with great agility – and who knows what business risk goes with it. My point is this – Performer Support may take many other forms. A perfect example is the proliferation of social networking and expansion of communities of practice as readily available sources for bogus performer support right along with the good stuff. Can you say “Wikipedia”?

Monitoring social networks can be a monumental task. The best way to prevent the spread of mis-information is not to lock down access to external sources; but to build your own in-house “network” specific to the work context of the performers you seek to support. This is not my recommendation to rush out and buy an Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) , although a platform like this may be in your future. A stash of PDFs available on-line or as simply constructed as laminated job aids may be a better starting point.

Bottom-line – Performer Support requires more holistic discovery on the front end of the training design effort to identify attributes of the learner’s work context. We need to segment learning along the Prepare, Deploy & Reinforce – PD&R Learning Continuum – only then can potential learning moments identify targets for embedded, re-usable PSOs. Before this can happen; however, you will have to “sell change” to the traditionalists and the ADDIE purists. In the end though, I suspect they would rather deal with changes implied by holistic discovery in their design approach than go down with the training Titanic.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise