Designing a Learning & Performance Portal

I love walking trails in the woods; some are favorites, while others may be new and different. Whenever walking down a new path many things appear that are familiar, remembered and experienced from other paths taken. When new things are discovered, they often can pull me from the path to seek a closer look and a deeper discovery. Being pulled from the path may not be planned, but there is no doubt that diversions such as these will occur. Such a journey, with similar detours from known to unknown, can be anticipated when designing a learning & performance [L&P] portal. So lace up those boots, and let’s go for a little walk.

First, a question that many of you may/should ask…because I can guarantee somebody will challenge you, and they are going to ask you the same question…and it deserves an early answer – “Why do we need to consider a learning and performance portal?”

The Short Answer

When you investigate where the workforce is either driving revenues and/or squandering the opportunities to do so, they are not in the safety of controlled, structured training simulations. Instead, they are at work – in the workflow – and training programs are not designed to support their performance there. In order to bridge this gap, we need to find a way to get the right performer support assets into the right hands…at the right moment of need…in the right amount…in the right format…either from or to the right devices.

Okay, so that’s not so short. How about this…What you are trying to do is get the right “stuff” into the right hands when it’s needed in order to get something done without screwing up.

If you would like a longer answer and the philosophy behind all of this, check out “Justifying Learning @ the Point of Work”.

Performer Support Objects (PSOs)

Moments of need are either triggered by an issue or challenge where the knowledge worker is confronted with either remembering what/how to do something and then are forced to rely upon recall knowledge. Where we would like to be is giving them an efficient resource where reference knowledge is readily accessible. Given the amount of information we all have to deal with daily and the documented loss of up to 85% of knowledge gained from training within three weeks, it is no wonder mistakes happen. Yet, we continue to train our people the same way over and over and expectantly wait for different results. I think Einstein defined insanity using a similar example.

The emphasis in learning @ the point of work is on the worker and the work [or workflow/process], not the content. The content is critical, but without aligning and designing the content specific to the task-level and role-specific work requirements…and the expected outcomes, who could possibly make informed content design, development or delivery decisions? That’s where accessibility and directionality also become important attributes to consider.

From this point forward I will refer to any of the content “chunks” or “knowledge assets”, if you will, as Performer Support Objects (PSOs). A PSO is a “chunk” of information [support object] needed by a knowledge worker [performer] that satisfies a moment of need from within a workflow.

Pushed PSOs

There are moments of need that are manifested within the organization that the workforce is not immediately aware of and yet that information is critical to the operation of the business. I recall FDA regulations coming down to us that caused our team to rally around getting information and training developed in order that our staff remained compliant. This is a perfect example of a Pushed PSO opportunity.

If you are in sales, consider price changes, product updates, sharing a best practice, competitive alerts, etc. Regardless of the industry, there are critical “things” the workforce needs and “PUSHing” it to them in an expedient manner can be a mission critical requirement.

These are both examples where we often turn to training to support the need, and that supports the age-old battle of “Is this really training?” No, it’s not, and if we try to turn it into training it becomes too big and unwieldy for the learning participant to apply quickly and effectively in the context of their work. Apply quickly and effectively…now there’s a novel idea. THOSE are the key reasons for going down this L&P Portal path. How many times has critical information not been easily applied to the context of work…how many times has critical information been late getting to those who need it most…how many times has the information delivery methodology not been effective in getting what’s needed into the hands of those who need it? And when they need it?  And where they need it?

Pulled PSOs

Looking at things from a different direction, the moment of need may surface within the actual workflow @ the point of work. Now we are seeing individual needs of knowledge workers materialize while in the workflow, and they may well be as individualized as those who have the need. Our job is to equip our workforce with access to the right stuff at the right time…right amount…format…yada yada…you heard this earlier. The point being that we have no clue when an individual need arises; therefore, we need to provide a method for the knowledge worker to efficiently locate and PULL what they need when they need it.

How do you design PSOs for moments like these? For starters you will need to map the workflow so role-specific, task-level work is identified. Without doing this, there is no way to determine when and where PSOs are relevant or even necessary. This should become part of the “A” in ADDIE, and it should then drive the first “D” dramatically…and then influence Development decisions…ultimately putting a whole new spin on how in the world you are going to Deliver the asset. Push Vs. Pull. What device do we PUSH the PSO to, and/or what devices may actually attempt to PULL PSOs.

Human PSOs

Here’s a thought. What if the “content” required to satisfy the need is a “conversation” with a SME or a colleague, a manager, or a Help Desk geek? Now we have a social component right smack in the middle of what was sounding simple to implement.  When pressed for time, I hardly ever use the phone anymore. I can have short burst of conversation with members of my development team on Instant Message (IM).  Email is ridiculously slow because I’m at work and cannot live in email every minute. In a previous life I used Yammer, a closed, members-only Twitter-like platform. The ability to have a quick hit may be all that is required.

Media PSOs

Okay, so now the most effective PSO is a short narrated video clip. It may be PUSH or PULL delivery. The determination of which media is most appropriate is a function of the actual work being accomplished and the environment in which it is to be consumed. With a large percentage of the mobile workforce population equipped with some sort of mobile gadget, the technology now becomes an additional factor to consider what media may be an appropriate delivery medium. Did somebody say bandwidth? Security?

Stupid Simple PSOs

Keep in mind that the most applicable delivery venue may be embarrassingly old-school. I worked at a Children’s Hospital where they had “Codes” that would be announced over the house-wide PA system throughout the day. Code Red meant FIRE; Violet meant a violent person, Black meant Bomb, etc. There were actually about ten of them. Who could ever remember ten colors and whether to run, search, bail, or just be alert? The delivery solution? A laminated card hanging around everyone’s neck from the lanyard that also held our ID badges. Stupid simple, and talk about just-in time…

Dude, it’s on the Intranet…Search for it

Them’s fightin’ words. I had a manager who worked for me in a previous life that forever encouraged me to find what I needed with the simple phrase of, “Oh, that’s on the Intranet.” My response was usually, something along the lines if “Oh, so is every-freaking-thing else…send me a link when you find it.”

Though an Intranet may be a legitimate “portal”, they often either outgrow [or never had…] an organizing taxonomy with any degree of integrity and that is a key distinction when comparing an Intranet portal with a L&P Portal. The search function on an out-of-control Intranet can be the source of violence in the workplace. I know this because I had to fight the urge to choke a manager @ the point of work on numerous occasions…but that’s another story.

In reality, the L&P Portal would be/could be found as a link off the main page of the Intranet if one is already being used. Not to get into the technical world of role and access privileges, but if the Intranet knows who you are, it likely knows your role in the business, and as such, would be able to provide an interface that was role-specific. The bottom-line here is this – you must be able to search by key word, phrase, or process/task name to enable a L&P Portal to bear fruit. For argument’s sake, a L&P Portal branching off an Intranet portal page would be a portlet…a smaller more targeted “portal” that is aligned with specific work functions or other disciplines where the aggregation of information resources were relevant.

Do not allow that taxonomy comment escape your thoughts just because your L&P Portal may be behind an Intranet. A good search function is critical for an L&P Portal to function effectively, and that will never happen if the rigors of a solid taxonomy are not developed and followed.

What About Design?

Right, that’s what the title promised. I saved this section for last because there were a few seeds that needed to be planted regarding the content and direction and the moments of need where both content and direction of information flow mattered. This in turn matters when you are considering a design. In Mapping the Work Context for Performance Support I describe learning environment attributes that are clustered under SPACE, SYSTEMS & MEDIA. I will not rehash everything here, but the short version is that SPACE describes the who, what, when, and where associated with the knowledge worker and the moment(s) of need that surface from within the context of their respective workflows.

The post mentioned above discusses the importance of mapping the actual workflow to identify the source(s) of performance gaps and the potential targets for PSO development. The emphasis was more on the content and less on the platform to connect it to the user.

Here are a couple key categories around the ingredients in a L&P Portal design to affect that physical connection:

  • Define user access to PSO resources based upon their role
  • Who by role is going to access the portal? Staff, clients, prospects, public, suppliers?
  • What technology will be expected to receive a PUSH – will access a PULL transaction?
  • Is remotely stored content accessible directly via URL or is restricted login required?
  • Will the portal run in the background of a major business application?
  • Can the L&P Portal reside in cloud architecture or must it be behind a firewall?
  • Who needs to connect/collaborate with respect to a workflow/moment interaction?
  • Do knowledge workers need to connect with content owners or SMEs directly?
  • Is there a need to provide feedback or comments to the content owner?
  • Is user-generated content acceptable – Is it to be moderated?
  • Is there a blogging and/or wiki capability required?
  • Are threaded discussions important for tracking comments and responses?
  • Is there an email/text notification requirement for key PUSH object delivery?
  • What potential media types will the knowledge worker PULL and what might be PUSHED?
  • Is it important to track who downloads what PSO? [Stock answer is “Heck yeah it is!]

This is just a short list, and it addresses none of social profiling opportunities that should be considered…but…it should give you a sense that there are very few pieces and parts that have anything to do with traditional training design and/or design models like ADDIE. But as I mentioned earlier there is no reason why the process of ADDIE could not be adapted to suit this application of design and development.

Summary Thoughts

I’ve been getting a lot of hits to the blog and more and more interest seems to be focusing on the point of work concept and the resulting integration of PSO development into learning solutions. I’ve come to the conclusion that pursuing a L&P Portal is either going to happen because we take the initiative and run with it, or it is going to happen because we are at a competitive disadvantage and have no choice but to react after-the-fact. Sorry if that comes across as an absolute, but I honestly feel that if we do not react soon, we will fall farther and farther behind the needs of our workforce.

As I have said numerous times, this AIN’T TRAINING. The mindset…the paradigm…are evolved to keep pace with the needs of the business. This is purely about hooking up those in need with training, information, knowledge, or human assets that can satisfy their need…and the closer to the moment of need the better. Does that mean EPSS technology? In some cases, it must be. In other cases it can be a simple as a WordPress site. The challenge is affecting a design discovery effort to “map the needs” for learning @ the point of work.

To get down this new trail, we may find ourselves off the beaten path discovering aspects related to things that were never part of our training job description. The ability to map a workflow and tie task-level components to information, knowledge, and/or human assets immediately comes to mind. If those skills do not reside in-house, find them someplace else. This is not rocket science, but it is different. All that means is that the tradition training job description has been out-grown, and, unfortunately, so has the approach we are taking to equip an effective workforce with sustainable capabilities @ the point of work. We definitely need to take a walk, and it will be longer for some than others.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning