Home > Continuous Learning, Discovery & Consulting, Micro-Learning, Performance Support, Sustained Capability > Self-Directed Learning or Self-Directed Performance?

Self-Directed Learning or Self-Directed Performance?

Stumbled over a couple of great reads this week that flung a craving on me to share a few thoughts. There is no shortage of new innovation we seek to implement in our L&D discipline, and Micro-Learning is one of the most recent. Depending upon how one chooses to integrate “Micro-Anything”, the results can range from truly innovative solutions to merely applying more lipstick on the training pig.

Nick Shackleton-Jones posted an article back in November that resurfaced earlier this week on LinkedIn, “Micro-Learning: The Next Big Bad Idea”, where “innovation” had a different ring to it, …and no cosmetics or barnyard animals were involved. Nick suggested that we should “build resources not (short) courses”, and I had to applaud. And before L&D can pull this off, we need to break the spell.

The spell reveals, at least to me, part of where our (L&D) challenge resides – Perspective. The primary perspective…or tradition, if you prefer, causes us to cling to Learning like a flotation device in a water landing. Certainly, that statement rings of sacrilege, but stop for a second and consider what our end game really is – Creating Sustained Capability in Our Workforce. Isn’t that what we’re after? Aren’t we after sustainable, measurable performance results? I’ll stipulate knowledge transfer is part of that but is it a priority over our end objective?

Where does sustained capability manifest?

It’s not during a training event – it’s at the Point-of-Work where a Performer is executing some manner of work at the task level. Point-of-Work is ground zero for the creation of tangible business value. The workforce either generates value…protects it…delays it…or losses it. We are chasing consistent execution and the elimination or minimization of errors…mistakes…inaction…poor choices…guesses…or whatever else might cause task-level performance to be deficient.

Also this morning I received a download link from Josh Bersin on the new complimentary Global Human Capital Trends Report for 2016. Download your complimentary report here.

As always, Josh Bersin’s research was top-drawer, and some valid trends are apparent. And there are some trends that are not necessarily promising. For example, there was one quote that grabbed my attention…“61 percent of executives report challenges in moving their organizations toward external self-directed learning.”

So…why are so many moving to external self-directed learning? And why are they challenged? Are they challenged in getting to external learning? Or are they challenged because external learning is not delivering the mail? [Rant] Well…duh…maybe more lipstick on the training pig is not the answer! Sorry!  It’s not!

I wonder sometimes if “self-directed” learning of any type is evidence that L&D cannot keep up. The velocity of business grows exponentially, and old-school learning methods cannot keep pace. I’m not saying internal or external learning are wrong, but I AM saying…or at least putting forth the question…ARE THEY THE RIGHT PRIORITY?

The fastest path to supporting sustainable workforce performance seems a better objective to me. But hey…that’s my bias.

Back to Nick’s article…“Build resources not (short) courses”. Those “resources” he references represent performance support assets intentionally designed for…and consumed at…the Point-of-Work where measurable value is generated or lost. Those resources are what Micro-“Whatever” SHOULD BE versus teeny tiny (said Rosanne Rosanna-danna) little courses.

To build those kinds of performance support resources there needs to be a shift in L&D’s focus to put some serious priority on the Point-of-Work where real performance manifests. That shift requires a skill set many instructional designers do not possess – performance consulting. Discovery changes.

The Point-of-Work is a new playing field for many in L&D because it is the downstream, post-training operational environment where business value is generated…or lost. We cannot only look at Performers through the HR lens of competencies and successful knowledge transfer; we have to look through an operational and performance lens:

  • We have to build solutions that support workforce performance at the Point-of-Work…
  • We have to design assets that can be accessed at the moment of need…
  • We have to provide technology that can enable access in the workflow…
  • We have to understand the nature of business risk and urgency to perform…
  • We have to enable collaboration with SMEs (if SMEs are needed) at the moment of need…
  • We have to support SELF-DIRECTED PERFORMANCE

Which of these – “Self-directed learning” or “Self-directed performance” have the best chance to generating business value?

I rest my case!

I’m not foolish enough to suggest the “rest of learning” is of no value, because it’s IS valuable. BUT…I AM suggesting that if we are trying to take the shortest path to drive revenues and profits, we should be up to our hocks in the Point-of-Work busting out intentionally designed performance support assets that target identified performance gaps. True, performance support is not a silver bullet, but if we’ve not considered it as a targeted, micro-solution we’ve missed a chance to drive or protect business value.

Nibbling around the edges of sustained workforce performance by continuing to chase learning is not a bad thing; but methinks we’re missing the “business value boat” by neglecting to place a sense of urgency…and the appropriate L&D skill sets…on ground zero where we drive results that pay the rent. Nothing wrong with self-directed learning, but I’d rather equip my workforce to direct their own performance at the moment of need as a priority.

Gary Wise
Performance Strategy Coach




  1. Kenneth Chase
    May 1, 2017 at 10:20 am

    I fail to see the utility of opposing Learning to Performance in having to choose between them to generate value ? To get on the job in the first place you need to learn, then you need to perform. I don’t see this as either/or, it is 2 sides of the same value coin. So many things impact performance why focus on the topic of Learning when one could just as well focus on compensation as a direct impact on performance and the bottom line. Some views may consider the debate about Learning and its connection to performance is more about the motivation to run faster, the why, than it is about running faster per se, the what.

    • May 1, 2017 at 11:48 am

      Kenneth, I agree that it is not an either/or proposition…Learning vs. Performance…and it some cases it should happen as you describe…learn first, then “Do”. My whole argument is to not default to that approach. If I can accommodate performance without spending the time and resources building a course or some other learning event by constructing a performance support asset in a fraction of the time designed to be consumed within a workflow…why not do it? Let’s say I do build a performance support (PS) asset instead of a formal learning asset. Following an “intentional design” methodology, I can deploy that asset twice. Once at the Point-of-Work as PS for those already in the workflow…and the second time as an embedded PS object in a formal learning path for those being on-boarded. That’s just one example, and to your point, it is rarely an either/or, but I firmly believe, and have seen first-hand, wasted time and effort building formal learning when a checklist or a short video (YouTube, etc) would do to close a performance gap. Here’s the rub…if we default to learning, we set ourselves up to miss the cause of the gap, and we build training to resolve a symptom. Been there done that many times. The discovery process to do this requires being at the Point-of-Work to uncover root cause(s) for the performance gap(s) which in turn directs the “intentions” behind what asset(s) I build as PS and what (if any) is best served by formal learning in any number of delivery venues. There will always be a learning component, I just fail to see the utility of defaulting to a longer path that potentially drives up costs and delays business impact versus leveraging a PS short cut to performance results by by-passing training. Like I said in the post, PS is not a silver bullet, but why overlook a shorter path to performance if we can facilitate self-directed performance at the Point-of-Work. Our view of the ecosystem must be more holistic and cover both Learning & Performance, but not necessarily in that order. Thanks so much for reading and leaving a valid comment!

  2. May 2, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    Hi Gary:

    I’m with you on the need for a holistic performance approach focused on the Point-of-Work. Learning is and will always be a part of this, but the L&D and Performance Support functions in the traditional HR department set up a territoriality based on who is responsible for what actions. We spend far too much time defending turf or being careful to not step on toes. The solution needed for business is an integrated performance focus.

    By the way, the lipstick on a pig metaphor is perfect.


    • May 2, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks for the comments, Dave! It is a harder journey in an HR-owned L&D function, but not impossible. You may need to brush up on your Ninja skills…go covert…and never say performance support again…call it micro-learning. if somebody barks, just tell ’em it’s a new way to train people.

  3. Joe Windham
    May 8, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Wow! Humor references to Jerry Clower and Rosanne Rosanna-danna in one post. It’s a gift . . .

    Your objective of “The fastest path to supporting sustainable workforce performance” and the bullet list of items in the view through the “operational and performance lens” are enough to get a project set in the right direction from the start.

    I’ll be using them today.

    Thanks for the inspiration.


    • May 8, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks Joe! As soon I started to write “teenie tiny” Roseann Rosanna Danna popped into my head. and Clower is an all-time favorite. Glad the ramble was useful to you, Joe! Thanks for reading and sharing a thought!

  1. April 30, 2017 at 2:31 am
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