From Training to Performance Support

You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.” – Seymour Papert Once upon a time, appliances were basically the same with minor differences from model to model. There was also a time when appliance repairmen had vehicles filled with repair manuals. But now there are thousands of appliances, each with their own electronic nuances. To remember all these nuances and stay up-to-date to all the model changes is impossible. More often today, you will see repairmen using tablets or phones to access needed repair information. Is this training? Not really. Are they learning? No doubt. Repairmen learn with each repair, and there is no need to memorize every detail of a repair when the repair answers are in the form of performance support on a hand-held device. In the past, businesses often relied on training events to prepare employees for work. The truth is that traditional training only addresses what will happen at some point in the future. Unless the newly acquired knowledge is used within a few days, the actual learning transfer drops off, and mnemonic recall is lost. For this reason training is limited, whether in the classroom or eLearning. In fast-paced work environments, performance support is the answer to just-in-time learning for organizations aiming for competency. Glory Gery stated, “We conceive of learning as an event in which we fill people up in advance with enough information to survive on the job. Instead we must emphasize learning as an outcome of performance, not a precondition to it, and we must strive to limit the amount of learning as a precondition to doing.”[1] Formal training is rarely sufficient enough to maintain successful on-the-job performance. In other words, employees need to learn in real-time at the moment of need. When do we need performance support in lieu of training? According to Conrad Gottfredson, well-known performance support expert, we need it at the five key moments of need:
  1. When learning something for the first time
  2. When seeking to learn more about something
  3. When trying to apply or remember something or adapt performance to a unique situation
  4. When attempting to solve a problem or deal with something that has gone wrong
  5. When something changes that requires a change in how work is done[2]
An organization must consider how to embed performance support into the employee workflow. It is possible that a laminated 8.5 x 11 job aid could suffice, but in the technological era we live in, more often it is an embedded or electronic performance support system (EPSS) that will provide the worker with real-time support. According to Gery, an EPSS is an “orchestrated set of technology enabled services that provide on-demand access to integrated information, guidance, advice, assistance, training, and tools to enable high-level job performance with a minimum of support from other people.”[3] Employees can access an EPSS via computers, tablets, or even mobile phones depending upon their job and work situation. Regardless of the tool used to access performance support, getting answers to workplace challenges needs to be easy for the employee. In order for the EPSS to be effective it is “determined by two principles: the proximity of the EPSS solution to the person at the moment of apply, and the immediacy in which the performer is able to access the specific task (two-clicks) and then interpret and begin to act upon the information and help once they get to it (ten-seconds).”[4] We live in an era of exponential change. Change is constant. It is difficult, and most of us have experienced change management initiatives in our careers. At those times we had to unlearn old ways of doing things. Training alone, in the traditional sense, often failed to address workplace needs when change was implemented. The most effective and efficient way to support change at work is by combining training with an EPSS. Shifting the paradigm to performance support and an EPSS can be difficult for organizations when training has always been the sole response to change management. Maybe it is time to change how we rollout change, but where do we begin? There are steps that organizations can take.
  • Transform the learning organization into a performance organization. This requires educating key stakeholders to become champions of performance support.
  • Bring business leaders onboard to the fact that learning on the job is better than training before the job. Training before the job should be to help employees learn what “resources are available to help them continuously learn and perform.”
  • Upskill the performance support team. The three skillsets that prominently emerge include technology (systems engineer), design (performance support designer or instructional designer) and content (technical writer).
  • Educate and manage subject matter experts. Performance support teams must work with others who own the employee work interfaces. These may also include user experience designers, software development teams, and subject matter experts.[5]
  • Establish a standard performance support design and development methodology. [6]
Going from a training organization to a performance support organization is complicated and requires coordinated efforts by all involved. Is it worth it? It depends upon how important organizational competency is to leadership as indicated by the following:
  • Reduced time to effective performance
  • Rapid response to change
  • Continuous improvement
  • Measurable business impact[7]
We live in a fast-paced era, and learning new ways of doing things is more important than ever. Continuous workplace learning is essential to stay on top. So, go beyond just training, and implement a performance support strategy to become a competency-based organization in an ever-changing business landscape. [1] Tony O’Driscoll and Jay Cross, September 2005, “In Her Own Words: Gloria Gery on Performance,” Internet Time, [2] James Rasmussen, “A Match Made in Heaven: Performance Support and Mobile”, Learning Solutions Magazine, 18 August 2014, , (7 January 2016) [3] Gery, G.J. (1991) Electronic Performance Support Systems: How and Why to Remake the Workplace Through the Strategic Application of Technology. Tolland, MA: Gery Associates. [4] Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher, “Ten Seconds: Performance Support in Two Clicks”, Learning Solutions Magazine, 9 July 2012,, (14 January 2016) [5] Frank Nguyen and Kangmei Yang, “Five Steps: Changing Paradigms from Training to Performance”, Learning Solutions Magazine, 25 May 2015, , (19 January 2016) [6] Frank Nguyen and Kangmei Yang, “Create a Standard Performance Support Design Methodology”, Learning Solutions Magazine, (26 May 2015), (20 January 2016) [7] Conrad Gottfredson, “Performance Support Improves Business Outcomes”, Learning Solutions Magazine, 22 April 2015, , (21 January 2016)


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