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Learning & Development Blog


Performance Support: Putting Content Into Context - Part II

Kristin Ford is Owner and President of PC Training Source, an independent consulting firm that specializes in premier learning industry products and services. She is also President of the Twin Cities Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development. Kristin has known Dashe & Thomson for many years and is very excited to contribute a two-part guest post to the Social Learning Blog.

I often refer to performance support as Microsoft-Help-That-Actually-Works. I don’t know about you – but I have used Microsoft Help only a couple of times and it is a very frustrating exercise. You cannot print it out, it often does not give you the steps you need to complete the task, and the steps are not clear or are incomplete.

When you access a solution that does not work the first time, or the second time, or, bless-your-heart-for-trying-again, the third time – guess what? Learners give up.


Help that works puts information in context. It gives you the steps you need to complete a task, showing you how to do something while you do it. It allows you to learn more thoroughly – until you gain the understanding needed to complete the task.

What Are The Benefits Of Performance Support?

Performance support is a beautiful and powerful solution for so many reasons. Knowledge is expensive to acquire. Organizations must leverage the most valuable resource – people and their performance – in every way that they can. Organizations simply cannot afford not to use it.

Also, performance support is pretty flat. It does not have many (if any) bells and whistles built in. But it doesn’t need bells and whistles. The learner is already engaged and motivated because it works. What they need is access. Give it to them. They will be delighted.

Here's an example.

It is fairly easy to understand how an imbedded solution would work in a technical or software situation. It is readily transferrable. This is similar to how I first “got” the concept of eLearning. You most likely do not want to learn computer skills without a computer.

A client of mine replaced their traditional eLearning model with performance support for Microsoft applications. The estimated ROI on this particular project was 186%. That was a combination of the actual cost of eLearning vs. Performance Support, a significant reduction in help desk support, and usage. If increased productivity and performance were measured, the number would have been even higher!


Now, just start to imagine the time and productivity saved because the learner does not need to leave the application in order to get help, does not need to ask a co-worker for help, and does not need to ask the help desk for help and wow – pretty soon you see a significant leap in productivity and performance.

This customer was pretty smart. After realizing success, they decided to try performance support in another area - one that had been causing them angst for a very long time. Product Knowledge.

They had a continual roll-out of new products that both salespeople and customers needed to be educated about. However, “training” and marketing on these products was done repeatedly. New products needed marketing to educate both customers and salespeople and it was being produced in multiple modalities. There were snazzy video presentations for customers, printed manuals for salespeople, and eLearning to be developed, lagging behind rollout and revenue goals.

However, product knowledge is not a skill. It is knowledge that people need to access in context. So they developed a searchable product knowledge performance support tool on the intra and internet and “scaled” it to the salespeoples’ mobile devices. Same information, exact same stuff, searchable and accessible in multiple ways, but only developed once. Content in context. Beautiful.

Are Mobile Devices Ideal For Performance Support?

I have gotten more and more inquiries about mobile learning from clients, and the biggest challenge is defining a learning project that lends itself to this methodology. Please – “BEWARE - NEW SHINY THING!” Mobile is an incredibly powerful – and useful – delivery method, but first keep the end user (learner) in mind and keep information in context.


Go back up to The Five Moments Of Need from Part I of this blog post. You need all five. You really don’t want to learn something for the first time on a mobile device. A mobile device might be better served as a performance support tool rather than as a "total" learning solution. I am all for performance support or mobile apps that support a process like business development or closing a sale. That’s good, powerful, true blended learning.

To get some ideas on what will work well as performance support – look to the apps that you yourself find helpful, and the job aids you use that are the most effective. Then go ahead. I dare you. Put more of your content into context. Feel the power surge through. Go for it.

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