Tin Can & Performer Support – “Just Enough – Just in Time – Just for Me”

Every now and then I make it to a Training Industry conference that I can truthfully say was worth the trip. Learning 3.0 in Chicago this past week was one such conference. The title of this post is an example of one of those sound bites you hear and go, “Yeah, I get that!” This represents a very appropriate sound bite that describes Performance Support (PS) from several essential perspectives and the boon of what Tin Can brings to the table. This post hopefully can provide some illustrations to confirm this is something worth giving a rip about.

Have you ever explained something to someone who is either hearing it for the first time or is still trying to get their head wrapped around the concept? You know how they will nod slowly in seeming agreement while looking off into the ether and saying dreamily, “Yeah…” really, really slowly? That far-off look is confirmation that they are indeed interested and yet remain clueless for the most part. The room was full of those folks in the Tin Can break out session where I heard this new sound bite. I must confess now that I know enough to be dangerous and yet confident in the implications to the point of being way too excited to sit down.

The Tin Can breakout was the best hour investment of the entire conference for me. Of course my own break-out topic on “Learning & Performance @ the Point of Work” was a close second, but the discovery of direct Tin Can implications with PS stoked a much bigger fire in my belly over my own topic. In fact, Tin Can was a validation, and I awoke at 3AM before my own breakout session and rebuilt parts of my presentation because of the impact of Aaron Silvers’ presentation.

I had the good fortune to meet Aaron of ADL, the project lead on the Experience API project [Tin Can], right after his session; it was hard not to run to the front of the room like a crazed groupie! Experience API can do a lot of things, but the one definition that brought it all together for me was something Aaron said near the end of his hour: “Experience API tracks things that are much more granular and useful.” What he did not say was…Training”.

Did he say “granular”? Yup…that would be the “just enough” connection to PS. “Useful?” Yup…that too…and that would be the “just in time” support piece of PS. The “just for me” part of that sound bite was new to me because it was not on my active radar…wasn’t even possible to know…the missing link to really putting PS in the position to become an even more strategic player in driving business outcomes. Why? Because Tin Can gives visibility down to the PERFORMER – the “just for me” filter that did not yet exist. That visibility could do something amazing for tracking informal learning assets with a venue we all are familiar with – an Activity Stream. If you are on Facebook, or Twitter, or LinkedIn, you’ve seen activity streams that show what someone has “done”, “liked”, “read”, “shared”, “posted”, “seen”, “cooked”, “tasted”, “visited”, etc. When you step back and consider what you’re seeing, it is a list of things people have experienced.

For those of you nodding slowly and going, “Yeah…” I’ll toss in a few of the thoughts that fired me up. What are the “things” that could be tracked?  How about any freaking thing an individual could access from any gizmo they happen to carry? Would that not get you all raked up in a pile? I mean think about the implications on what you could track. Incorporating Activity Streams is just one optional part of what is possible. Consider visibility to actions performers may do on their own initiative that could be described by expressing learning through a statement defined by <ACTOR>  <VERB>  <OBJECT>. Right now, we express learning experiences through a very narrow window called SCORM. The statement consists of “Passed” or “Completed” , meaning something that is found in a content-oriented, LMS-centric world – Training.

Think about the diversity of learning experiences that can now define “who” a person is by what they’ve experienced during their efforts to learn formally [LMS-based] AND informally [at the point of work]. And even more powerful,  informal learning is not restricted to only CONTENT assets we might make available to them intentionally through a L&P portal or an intranet, or SharePoint. Instead, we have visibility to any action they might do on their own initiative that could be defined by:





Formal Learning




This course

This module

Informal Learning
PS @ Point of Work





This job aid

     This task guide

    This media clip

          Social Learning         





This idea

This question

This answer

Table #1

To this point, our world has been limited by SCORM, which is illustrated in that first row in the table above. The next two rows highlight the kinds of activity we will have the ability to track at the individual performer level…and rows 2 & 3 are why I am so fired up…those data made possible through the Experience API expose essential source data for defining what is relevant for supporting performance. PLUS…

What ISD would walk away from visibility to the “learning activity” coming straight from the chaos of the front lines point of work? If it were a war, would the rear support resource not want to know what kind of ammo to send to the front lines? Of course this assumes the Training organization has its collective head out of its… koff…classroom…and has evolved their performer support paradigm to include the downstream, post-training environment – the point of work. Why? Because this is where “learners” switch hats and become “performers”. We now have a path to turn PS into something more strategic.

Visibility to what is consumed/shared and by whom is a gold mine of source data to direct my design, development and delivery decisions all the way back up stream in the formal learning world of training. Why? There should be a thread of design continuity that runs through the entire Learning Continuum from Prepare to Deploy to the Reinforce phases. The credo of “Create Once – Use Many Times” has never been more relevant…or possible.

Why Should We Give A Rip?

In a previous life I was accused of threatening the job security of instructional designers and stand-up classroom facilitators. There is a good chance I also frightened the academia right out of their academics. At least I think that’s what happened…it was difficult to clearly hear the whining with their heads stuffed so far up their status quo. My mistake…in their minds…was being a passionate advocate of informal learning and for being so bold as to build an undeniable business case that introduced EPSS technology. The only thing threatened was the comfort of an out-dated paradigm and 476% ROI made it a bit difficult to ignore.

That little story to tell this one. It is hard to build critical mass sufficient to push an embedded paradigm off its pedestal. Is this new API a silver bullet? Nope. This is not a technology play. This is not a replacement to SCORM. This does not obsolete the LMS. This does not end the need for formal training and linear instructional design. What it does do is establish new drivers that:

  • Move us beyond the single-learner-single-course learning model
  • Leverage Web services to enable performers in their workflows
  • Enable mobile-specific languages
  • Increase the diversity of learning experiences into the informal
  • Improves sequencing in learning flows beyond the limits of SCORM branching
  • Provides visibility to consumption of PS tools, guides, best practices
  • Moves us beyond content to include social aspects of learning and support
  • Exposes user data – enabling tracking and visibility of the PERFORMER’s activity @ the point of work

With these new drivers available through Experience API, I realize we are looking at an iceberg of opportunity. I can admit knowing about 10% of the 10% that we can see. This has been a long time coming, and I think our challenge is to become familiar with the new capabilities that will be possible. BUT…I think that if we pursue this knowledge to posture a technology solution we are doing a huge disservice to those we support – our performers.

Our [Training’s] focus must evolve and expand downstream and into the post training work context. Granted, we did not have all the tools to be effective there as we dragged that big ol’ LMS along behind us. Experience API cuts the cord and offers new freedoms and flexibility to explore.

Thank you Aaron Silvers for pushing over that first domino…

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