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Learning & Development Blog

How To Improve Learning Outcomes With Performance Support.png

How to Improve Learning Outcomes With Performance Support

Given that the goal of instructional designers and training developers is to improve employee performance, it’s surprising that many continue to create learning programs with little or no reliance on performance support tools or systems.

Fortunately, performance support systems have received more attention in recent years, thanks to a broader trend toward informal learning strategies. As you design and deliver your next learning program, you can improve learning outcomes by keeping these three things in mind:

1. Build performance support into every blended learning effort

Sending learners back to their jobs after training (even a “blended” combo of eLearning and ILT) without performance support is like sending them off into the woods without a map - then wondering why they got lost, even though you “gave them directions.”


Dr. Allison Rossett describes the value of performance support in her article Ode to Performance Support.

Performance support delivers valued assistance, given limits on human memory. If people could remember everything, then performance support would not be necessary. Even Albert Einstein recognized his limitations and relied on performance support. He admitted to not knowing his own phone number because he could look it up, when necessary.

Unfortunately, traditional training methods - and even most eLearning - overestimates the capacity for human memory. Charles Jennings articulates the natural tendency for people to learn, then quickly forget:

We have the situations where people are training, they go back to the workplace ... and we find that it hasn't actually changed their behaviors and they can't do what's expected of them. So, managers say they need to be trained again. You get this cycle where you're training and training and training again.

 2. Select the right performance support tool for your situation

 At a high level, your choice of PS tool will depend on a variety of factors, such as task-complexity and duration, and the degree to which "process context" required. Here's a quick sampling of the performance support options available:

  • Job aids, quick reference guides and tip sheets qualify as performance support. These basic tools distill the most frequently performed tasks down to their essentials so users can consult them at a moment's notice.
  • Electronic performance support systems (EPSS) take job aids to the next level. These repositories of user instructions are structured around business processes and job roles. Go here to learn more about the difference between EPSS systems and related concepts like on-line help, eLearning, and knowledge management.
  • Forums and discussion groups have been around a long time, and provide effective support for those looking to solve a problem while they're still "in the flow" of their work.
  • Communities of Practice and Expert Locator Networks - these on-line resources take forums and discussion groups to the next level, and are structured around specific topics.
  • Learning Portals - act as hubs for all the resources listed above.

Keep in mind that your company's "default" support tool (like a corporate intranet, or the on-line help that's built into a piece of software), may not be the most effective option.

EPSS Systems

3. Make sure people know how to use the performance support tool before they need it for on-the-job reference.

It may seem like extra work at first, but you do need to take time to get your learners proficient using the support tool. The best way to do that is to:

  • Use the performance support tool as the foundation for your classroom training sessions. You can certainly use Powerpoint or any other supporting tool for training delivery, but be sure that your learners spend plenty of time learning material straight out of the performance support tool. After all, that’s where they’ll be going when they forget much of what they learned in your ILT class.
  • Build practice exercises that require learners to consult the performace support tool for completion. Create scenarios that require users to practice (whether you’re training a new business process, software tool, or sales skill). As part of that practice, be sure your exercises refer learners to the support tool.
  • Create other activities that will encourage learners to immerse themselves in the performance support tool, such as:
    • Scenario-based case studies
    • Scavenger hunts for information
    • Process workshops in which teams consult the PS tool to understand the end-to-end process, including upstream and downstream impacts

In Summary

The good news is that performance support systems (and specifically Electronic Performance Support Systems, or EPSS) are finally making serious inroads to blended learning programs. Once more L&D professionals begin to focus on them, we can look forward to a larger body of best practices.


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Rossett, A. (2010, August 9). Ode to Mobile Performance Support. Retrieved from https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/500/