Embedded Performer Support [EPS] Implies Intentional Design

Embedded Performer Support [EPS] is a discipline that has implication to any instructional design model you choose to use. Some training purist are fans of the tradition ADDIE model while other use SAM and numerous permutations that, for the most part, mimic what’s at the core of ADDIE since its inception. My point is that it’s not the tool; it’s how we apply it that matters most. Regardless of ISD methodology we will see considerably more iteration, concurrent development, and rapid development prototyping. This post is not intended to change the hill an instructional designer chooses to die on over their choice of design protocol; rather, it stresses the critical need to reflect key attributes of the post-training work context no matter what design hill you are on.

Continuum Overlay

The EPS discipline is pushing us [Training] into new territory that expands the scope of our deliverable from a training event transaction to seamless implementation of performer support [PS] assets to be consumed at the point of work. The aggregate of training event assets and activities with PS assets should be designed with the intent to support an ecosystem. The design effort I’m suggesting is not just larger in scope, it is involves a level of holistic discovery that is broader than we typically chase after when building training classes/courses. To that end, I’ve developed a continuum that helps me scope the different design requirements across the entire ecosystem from delivering training to Learners to supporting Performers in the work context. I call it the Learner-to-Performer Continuum. See Figure #1 below.


Figure #1

Across industries, per Bersin research, we average about 5% [or 100 hours out of 2,080] each year in formal training. Depending on your industry and/or role your mileage may vary. I refer to this as the 5% slice of the learning ecosystem pie, and our objectives there are simply to PREPARE the workforce to be at a state of readiness through effective knowledge transfer. Often, the 5% slice of the pie can be seen as the beginning and the end of Training’s role. It cannot be the end of the line because effectively supporting sustained capability trumps effective knowledge transfer every time. No sales are closed during training. No key accounts are saved in role plays. Employee turnover is not prevented during leadership workshops. Why? Because the 5% slice is a safe, controlled, and often simulated training environment. Not so much when you move into the 95% slice of the learning ecosystem and real business risk hinges on flawless performance execution.

When knowledge retention drops off as fast as it does, there is a critical need for REINFORCEment when Learner’s move into the other 95% of the ecosystem and become PERFORMERS. It is in the 95% slice where we find performer support opportunities [PSOs] that can range from downloadable job aids, quick reference guides, short video clips, and other targeted assets that are role-specific and task-centric in nature. To build these PSOs it implies Training has gained visibility to and understanding of actual workflows, has mapped them, and has determined in advance of training development where known or potential PSOs may exist.

The ENRICH phase of the continuum we find the need to support routinization of work practices; supporting the creation and familiarization of Routine. This phase can leverage social learning through collaborations among Performers and their bosses, coaches, mentors, help desk, SMEs, and others. The interactions could be accessing a passive resource like a best practices forum on WordPress or more interactive through live chat or use of corporate Yammer groups.

Intentional Discovery

Regardless of the phase, I think you can see there are different asset types and venues implied throughout. This being the case, how many opportunities might there be to “create once – use many times” when making design and development decisions? Honestly, there are many opportunities and there are more than a few we will miss without a broader more intentional discovery effort.

There is an obvious “A” as in ADDIE in virtually every training needs assessment model. The problem we run into focuses discovery limited to nailing down various and sundry learning objectives in whatever training request Training is fulfilling. Nothing wrong with this if we only needed to serve the 5% slice of the learning ecosystem. What about the other 95% where tangible business outcomes are generated…or lost? It is the 95% that serves as the driving force behind the critical need for expanded discovery.

Over several years I have refined three specific areas where this discovery should embrace including:



Figure #2

Of these three areas, I consistently find that a combination of SPACE and SYSTEMS inform MEDIUM. SPACE is the aggregate of attributes that define the physical environment where the Performer is expected to perform flawlessly – the point of work. The questions asked [Who, What, When, Where, and Why?] all combine to define performance across roles [Who] to what is at risk in the event of less than flawless execution. Urgency tells us what conditions the Performer is working under with respect to reaction time between NEED and ACTION. Is it seconds, minutes, hours, or a couple of days? All of these attributes point toward the SYSTEMS required and define whether the best Media, Venue and Mode are a push or a pull proposition.

SYSTEMS further define the ecosystem from the perspective of what technology is involved from business applications to learning systems accessible. With mobility being more common than ever, we need to know what device(s) are in the hands of both Learners AND Performers. Keep in mind that a “systems” can be non-technology in nature – think on-boarding or leader development or any other “human system” or process-sensitive workflow.

My point in sharing Figure #2 is to draw your attention to what attributes of the ecosystem fall outside of the 5% where we focus our efforts on PREPARE – where we design, develop and deliver training. My whole argument is that the “other 95%” is defined by SPACE and SYSTEMS, and by not including those attributes in our design decisions, how can we design anything more than training? When integrating the EPS discipline, you really need to know what’s going on…and what should be going on…in the other 95% of the ecosystem.

Summary Thoughts

The idea around intentional design is essential because we have the opportunity to reshape training. Reshaping often means we can reduce actual training time. That reduction typically comes from focusing more on WHAT the Performer needs at their moment(s) of need and spending time in role-based scenarios where the Learner is engaged with the EPS system in exercises that emulate their work context. We shift the emphasis on remembering all the facts and details [recall knowledge] to a more discreet set of requirements in the form of reference knowledge. In this light, the Learner can focus on much less information and instead spend time applying PSOs in a safe environment. Key things for Learner’s to remember are reduced to things like:

  • What PSOs are available to me?
  • When do I use them?
  • Where do I go to access them?
  • How do I use them successfully? [Perfect opportunity for a Level 2 eval demonstration of proficiency]

Let’s face it; we’re pre-programmed to focus on the design and development of training. I’ve done it for years and have been happy as a clam in my little 5% slice of the world. When post-training performance did not match up with stellar level one evaluations and awesome level two test scores, I had to step back and find out why. Training wasn’t bad; in fact, it was awesome. We had proof; although, our proof was limited to our 5% contribution.

EPS is a discipline. EPS is a paradigm shift. I went down the EPS road in self-defense of my training team. Building the overlay concept of the Learner-to-Performer Continuum gave us a framework that mapped the WHOLE ecosystem, not just the 5% Training piece of it. Digging into the ecosystem attributes in the other 95% changed what we designed into smaller role-specific, task-centric PSOs in many cases. I was still able to bolt those PSOs together and build my linear training content, and discovered that was a whole lot easier than breaking up linear content to go in the other direction.

The bottom line for our approach was purely defined by our intent. It came down to two questions:

  • Were we intending to build training?
  • Or were we intending to build sustained capability at the point of work?

Truth is, we had to do both, and when you consider where true business outcomes and value are won…or lost, we became very intentional with our design approach.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
LinkedIn Profile
Twitter: Gdogwise