A Bit of Harvard Business Review Hogwash

by Dr. Conrad Gottfredson

Bob Mosher just invited me to read through the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Build Learning into Your Employees’ Workflow.” I jumped right into it and discovered a well-intentioned academic researcher who proffers up some good insights but also a bit of “hogwash” * (as we say on the farm). 

The article begins by declaring that “Learning and Development (L&D) programs are critical for the success of any organization. These programs…ensure that employees have the skills and capabilities necessary to do their jobs well…”.

But in 90% of organizations today, L&D programs are failing to do this, which the article acknowledges with this statement:

“Unfortunately, many organizations struggle to demonstrate a return on their L&D investments. In fact, one estimate found that only 10% of the $200 billion spent every year on corporate training and development in the United States delivers real results.”

Here are three reasons the article provides that only partially account for this failure:

1. Trainings typically take place outside of the organization, making it difficult to translate what is learned in the classroom into real workplace applications.

2. Trainings tend to require the learner to invest a substantial amount of their own time, while still being expected to fulfill all their regular work duties.

3. The onus for applying the learning is typically placed on the learner, with minimal follow-up from the instructor once the training has concluded.

These are primarily training transfer issues that do matter. Transfer is where performers first meet the real moments of Apply and Solve in their flow of work. But the article ignores a critical phase that follows these transfer challenges. Once performers have navigated the rugged journey of transferring what they have learned to their specific work environments, the moments of Apply and Solve are joined by the moments of Change, Learn More, and Learn New in the ongoing flow of work. Here, performers must adapt to an everchanging work environment, which requires them to unlearn (Change), and then relearn (New and More) while they are working.

Here is where the HBR article really goes awry. Stopping work to learn is costly no matter where it occurs. Workflow learning isn’t just about embedding micro learning events into the workflow. This is actually the hogwash part of this article. Performers are still interrupting their work to learn in those micro events, which have their own set of challenges. The cognitive responsibility to transfer what performers have learned to their work is certainly easier in the context of work, but there is still the cognitive requirement of transfer. True workflow learning eliminates the transfer phase.

True workflow learning occurs to the degree that people learn while actually doing their work rather than stopping work to learn.

Learning while working requires a Digital Coach that provides 2-click/10-second access to all the resources people need to perform effectively at the job task level. As performers land on the step-by-step instructions and follow them, drawing upon other supporting resources as needed, they are doing their work and learning at the same time. 

This doesn’t require stopping work for reflection time, and nudges happen naturally. Whenever workers need to perform a task (Apply), resolve a challenge (Solve), or learn something New or More, the workflow naturally nudges them to access the Digital Coach that has been designed to support learning while working at all 5 Moments of Need. 

The following graphic shows the two criteria that govern true workflow learning:

1. The degree to which the workflow learning solution is embedded in the flow of work 
2. The degree to which performers are NOT required to interrupt (stop) their work to learn   

Where the HBR article and others get it wrong is they only address the degree to which learning is embedded in the workflow: they ignore the power and potential of learning in the flow of work while actually working. The following graphic shows how these two criteria can help sort through the maze of discussion around workflow learning.

If you read an article or hear any discussion about workflow learning in which it is defined only by creating or placing learning events in the workflow—where learners must still stop working to learn—then you can count it as hogwash. 

* Here’s one definition of hogwash (if you’ve not had experience feeding pigs): noun. refuse given to hogs; swill. any worthless stuff. meaningless or insincere talk, writing, etc.; nonsense; bunk

Be sure to visit our website for these additional resources: workshops and courses, an eBook on workflow learning, and our latest EnABLE Methodology white paperAlready shifting to a performance-first approach? Bring your team to our 2023 Summit! Registration is now open.

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Why Don't We Weigh Them?

 Written By: Gloria J. Gery*

Throughout the years, folks have developed measures for training effectiveness, satisfaction, and learning. All kinds of approaches from smile sheets to yardsticks have evolved. When I was running a data processing training organization at a large insurance company I once got disgusted with the statistics I had to submit each month. As the functional manager I was responsible for use of facilities, instructor resource, equipment, and assuring "value" for the training dollars spent on IT technical professionals and management -- and the user community. My monthly report had to list items such as:

  •        number of student days
  •        student/instructor ratio
  •        number of "no shows", drop-outs, and last minute cancellations
  •        dollars charged back to departments using training
  •        percent utilization of facilities
  •        cost per student-day
  •        average "satisfaction" scores on our "smile sheet" evaluations
  •        on-time completion and on-cost development of new courses
  •        actual vs. planned operational budget expenditures.

At a meeting one day, I suggested a new measurement criterion.

"Why don't we weigh the students and report on a cost per pound?"

A deep quiet overcame the meeting. It was finally broken by a softly spoken question.


I guess I was being given a chance to reconsider, but I didn't take it.

"Why don't we install a scale in the entry way," I said, "like the one they use for cattle. We can have each student stand on the scale before entering class each day. We can then calculate the return on our investment by volume."

Needless to say, this attitude was a subject for much discussion both on that day and on my annual appraisal. While I wasn't exactly serious, the idea didn't seem any more irrelevant than some of the success indicators I was reporting on monthly.

None of the measurements I was supposed to take asked if anyone learned anything or if our interventions changed their performance.

One of the men who worked with me was angry about my attitude. He said: "Do you know what your problem is?" (Note: it's always a bad sign when somebody starts talking about "what your problem is.")

"No", I responded.

"You're trying to get the right numbers instead of making the numbers come out right!" he said.

I am still working on a response to that one. But I long ago gave up trying to make the numbers come out right in favor of finding the best way to measure what we're trying to accomplish.

Today, I encourage different measures. It's much easier to actually employ these assessments in a performance support environment because the connections between performance support in the actual work context is so much more direct than the distance between training events and work performance. That very statement says a lot, doesn't it?

Let me share some of the objectives and measurements that rule my work today.

  •        decreased time to understanding
  •        decreased time to performance
  •        reduced performance cycle times (associated with a task, process, customer                   interaction, deliverable, creation, etc.
  •        reduced implementation costs (for a system, product, new process, etc.)
  •        reduced support costs (number of coaches per group)
  •        reduced handoffs of work, calls, problems to others
  •        increased customer satisfaction with organization representatives as measured by           surveys, follow-up calls, complaint activity
  •        quality improvements
  •        ability to shift work to less experienced employees or to customers
  •        reduced transaction costs
  •        decreasing the gap between less experienced and star performers
  •        competitive differentiation as reported by customers
  •        organizational flexibility
  •        increased performer confidence -- and confidence by those they work or interact               with

When an organization can accomplish something like institutionalizing best practice into the work situation and make performance less a focus of individual competence and more a function of the environment itself, weighing people just doesn't come to mind for me. Does it for you?

*Originally published in CBT Solutions Magazine, May/June 1997

Develop Performance Objectives Aligned to the Workflow

By: Conrad Gottfredson, Ph.D., Rw.E.

When I shifted my mindset from learning to “performance-first” in 1984, the way I viewed and created learning objectives changed. “Performance-first” pushed me to design solutions that enabled knowledge enriched performance in the flow of work, which in turn required me to ask and answer four key questions about job performance:
  1. What is the fundamental unit of job performance?
  2. What is the role of knowledge in enabling effective job performance?
  3. What is a job skill?
  4. How does all of this influence performance-first instructional design practices?
What is the Fundamental Unit of Job Performance?

No matter the role, all work is comprised of a group of workflow processes, each with a set of job tasks. The tasks that make up each process have steps that are procedural (algorithmic) and/or principle-based (heuristic). 

For example, the following workflow map shows the processes for a company’s leaders who are responsible for leading sales teams:

Behind each of the processes shown in the map above, there is a grouping of job tasks. The following graphic shows those task groupings:

Focusing on tasks as the fundamental units of job performance provides the optimum framework for aligning all performance support and learning instruction. We know from cognitive research that the way performers encode skills into memory affects how efficiently and effectively they retrieve and translate those skills to action (see Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load, by Ruth Clark, Frank Nguyen, and John Sweller - 2006, Pfeiffer). In simpler words, how we train people affects how readily they can transfer what they have learned to their specific work environment. For example, when you were taught the letters of the alphabet, you were most likely taught those letters in a sequential order. You therefore encoded those letters in that order in your long-term memory. Now, if I ask you to retrieve those letters in a different order - say backwards by every third letter - you will likely struggle. This is exactly what happens when the training people receive isn’t directly aligned with how they perform their work. It’s like they are running into a brick wall. This is why after learners complete their training/learning experience and return to the workplace, they are often greeted with the comments, “Forget what you have learned in class. We’ll show you how it’s really done.” 

Performers need to learn according to how they will perform in their flow of work. Job tasks are the fundamental units of that work and when task training is aligned with the workflow and supported by a Digital Coach (i.e., EPSS) transfer can happen in the blink of an eye.

What is the Role of Knowledge in Enabling Effective Job Performance?

Today’s speed of change favors an organization whose workforce is inherently adaptive. The workflow is the best schoolroom for developing this critical skill. Why? Because any object or situation experienced by an individual, in the flow of work, is unlikely to recur in exactly the same form and context. Every time performers effectively respond to a recurring but altered situation, while working, they are practicing the skill of adaptive response.  

Research by Albert Bandura demonstrates that successful adaptive performance not only increases the adaptive capacity of a workforce, but also its workers’ overall self-efficacy. Increased self-efficacy fuels more effective performance. (Cognitive Therapy and Research, VoL 1, No. 4, 1977, pp. 287-310) 

So how does all this address the need for knowledge enriched experience? Performance without requisite knowledge is sterile and mechanical, but when knowledge is infused into a job task, performers are better able to successfully adapt to change. Knowledge contributes to better decision making while adapting. All of this opens the door to the benefits identified by Bandura.

A performance-first approach to instructional design begins with the identification of job tasks. Then, those tasks are mapped to workflow processes. The next step is to identify the key knowledge topics (i.e., concepts) that support meaningful performance of those job tasks. In the sales leadership example shown above, we identified 65 job tasks that make up 9 workflow processes. The table below shows the supporting knowledge topics for two of those processes. These are topics that performers need to understand in the context of the specific tasks. For example, leaders need to understand what the organization means by “Bench Strength” as they perform tasks 1, 2, and 5 in the “Build Your Bench” process.

What is a Job Skill?

There are many ways to define a skill. Here’s one way in the context of workflow learning: “A person has mastered a skill when they can successfully and consistently perform a job task with full understanding of its requisite supporting knowledge.” This is a tactical definition in that it allows the consistent identification of skills that can be specifically targeted for support, training, and measurement.  

Thus, a skill set is an integrated set of tasks and associated concepts (i.e., supporting knowledge) that comprise a specific workflow process. A learning module is generally comprised of a series of lessons, each focusing on a task and its supporting knowledge.  

The following example shows these tactical relationships: 

How Does All of This Influence Performance-First Instructional Design Practices?

The great danger of all learning and instructional theory research is the academic backdrop of researchers and their subjects. But there is much to be learned from academically focused research. As a graduate student, I was highly influenced by the research of David Ausubel, who, for me, set the research standard for the value and use of advanced organizers. Ausubel believed that one of the key roles of an advanced organizer is to trigger previous knowledge and experience as well as prepare learners to look for and process new knowledge and experience. Workflow performance objectives can and should serve these two purposes.   

When I answered the three previous questions (1. What is the fundamental unit of job performance? 2. What is the role of knowledge in enabling effective job performance?
3. What is a job skill?) forty years ago, it fundamentally shifted the way I thought about objectives. Once tasks and their supporting knowledge topics were identified and aligned with the flow of work, I found I had all I needed to write meaningful learning objectives.  

NOTE: I need to pause here and acknowledge the high probability that some readers are going to push back on what I’m going to write next. Please take a deep breath and brace yourself.

A performance-first approach to instructional design focuses on the workflow first and designs the performance support solution ahead of its associated learning experience solution. As stated earlier, these two solutions need to be integrated into a cohesive overall solution.   

Inherent in the design of the learning experience is establishing the scope and sequence of the learning modules and the lessons within them. This is where the magic happens when training is aligned with the workflow. At the completion of every module, learners need to be able to do two things:
  1. Successfully perform the job tasks that comprise the workflow process represented in the module.
  2. Demonstrate understanding of the supporting knowledge associated with those tasks.
More specifically, every lesson in a module has the primary objective of enabling learners to successfully perform a specific task with the help of performance support. In addition, learners need to develop their understanding of the supporting knowledge related to that task in the context of performing it.

The following is an example of an objectives statement taken from a module overview:

In this module you are going to learn how to Build your Bench. Specifically, you will learn how to:
  • Identify talent in the market
  • Build a relationship with a potential candidate
  • Justify a position
  • Secure position approval
  • Interview and close an offer
  • Manage succession planning

And here is an example taken from a lesson overview within the module for “Build Your Bench”:

In the following lesson you will learn how to Identify Talent in the Market. To do this you must first understand: 
  • Bench strength/roles
  • High performing leadership/seller behaviors
  • The competitive/market landscape 

Here’s the good news. In the realm of workflow learning, it is absolutely possible to verify (measure) successful performance of each and every task via usage data and micro-polling gathered by a Digital Coach (i.e., EPSS). In addition, adaptive learning systems can most certainly reinforce knowledge learning while gathering measurement data to verify ongoing understanding of the supporting knowledge associated with those tasks. 

This approach to objectives isn’t theoretical. It has been proven by 40+ years of real-world experience (Rw.E.) developing comprehensive performance-first solutions that span chronologically, culturally, linguistically, and logistically diverse audiences in settings ranging from small to large international corporations, government agencies, and religious organizations. Thank you for investing your valuable time reading this blog. I hope it hasn’t been too stressful and welcome any questions or comments you have. 

Copyright © 2022 by APPLY Synergies, LLC 

All Rights Reserved. 

Insights to Unlock Performance Support for Your Organization

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast episode entitled “Insights to Unlock Performance Support for Your Organization” where Bob Mosher and Dr. Katie Coates, director of learning at McKinsey and Company, discussed her latest research findings behind the true power of performance support.  

Bob Mosher (BM): I'm incredibly honored to have Dr. Katie Coates of McKinsey & Company with me today. Katie it is so wonderful to have you here—welcome!

Katie Coates (KC):  Thank you so much, Bob. It's great to be with you today.

BM: And a recently accredited PhD, correct?

KC: Well, I'm finishing things up. But, yes, shortly.

BM: That’s absolutely remarkable, do you mind jumping in and sharing a bit about your dissertation process?

KC: Yeah, so there was some rigor around this; it followed the qualitative research methodologies. I had a committee of professors that were with me step by step looking at what I was doing and giving me feedback. It then had to be approved by our research board to make sure that everything I was doing was ethical. So, it was really in the university confines and monitored and watched by experts in qualitative research.

But the first thing you do in a dissertation is to come up with “what's the problem?” “What's the question?” And my question was around adoption and really focusing on those upfront decisions that leaders make. What are the events and experiences that lead Senior Learning and Development professionals to adopt and implement performance support? I wasn't looking at the end user adoption, but the upfront decisions that were being made. So, you frame that question, you do the lit review that I talked about and my argument was that performance support is effective and can have an impact. I just don't understand why more organizations aren't doing it.

And that's really it.

BM: Wow, this is all so badly needed.  So, let's get to it. What are some of your key findings?!

KC: Sure! So I think that there's still a lot of myths about performance support out there in the world, one of the things I continually hear was, “Well, it's good for help desks, good for very procedural activities.” So, I wanted to test that.

And I didn't say that to my participants, it was an open-ended question. I had 36 different examples from the 17 interviews. And then I synthesize that down to a number of nine, I'm not going to go through everything. But of course it's about access to consistent work processes that increase efficiency and quality. We know, that's a big part of it, that support professionals time to competency. So, during onboarding, giving them the right tools to help them.  There are examples of how this is used in soft skills as well. I mean, I hate to use soft skills, but you know, it's not the harder thing, those power skills, if you will.

BM: Love it.

KC: Yeah. There was one example in an organization where they a people leadership hub, it was like, “Okay, how do I hire people? How do I develop people? How do I review their performance? How do I handle different scenarios?” Now there's some procedural things in there, but there were a lot of things around interviewing or coaching, giving feedback and performance support pieces to really support that whole process. So, lots of different types - regulations and compliance, hybrid working models when people were working from home and they don't have the water cooler, or the person next to them to ask. So, these were the types of examples. So, so many things out there. That was one big lesson learned.

BM: You know what I love about that is it so resonates with where we are today with the pandemic situation. But these challenges have been around forever, I just think the circumstance has exacerbated it and exposed the cracks in the dam that might have been around anyway. But compliance, these kinds of things, the hybrid worker, the disruptive workforce, to keeping up with the rate of change, again, those have always been in every organization you walk into, but the nature of the stress or the time, or the anxiousness of those things, was just something that we kind of swept under the rug, frankly, in some ways, but you found that these people ran right at it with this kind of an approach.

KC: Oh, there were a couple of amazing examples around how performance support showed up during COVID. One in particular that's really interesting was a hospital and the learning team. They had gone to a conference, and they learned about performance support, and they really wanted to do it. But the way they described it, to get it in the door, would have been a very difficult process for them—lots of bureaucratic red tape. Then, when COVID hit, they shut down their in-person Academy but they had to train nurses from one ward, so maybe they were working in the ICU, and they now had to work in the COVID ward. They had the baseline skills, but there were some differences. So, they did have some things that they had to teach them. And the learning manager picked up the phone and called her boss and said, “I think we need to do performance support now.” And they went and took a quick proposal to the leaders and leader said, “Yes, that makes total sense. Bring it in.” They then worked with a team of external experts and in 10 days they produced a performance support solution. It was amazing, absolutely amazing. And now they all love it. They have doctors coming and saying, “When do I get my performance support?”

BM: Happens every time.

So, my friend, I've known you through this whole journey and you seem to have emerged more passionate than when you started this research.  It must have reinforced your own experience. And then on top of that you got to talk to these wonderful leaders across all those industries and you saw again and again the impact and enthusiasm.

Here's my question, Katie. In your opinion, you've known so many leaders, and you've met so many L&D professionals. If you look at our industry, why do you think we continue to lag in putting performance first? Where do you think that comes from? And how do we break that cycle?

KC: Yeah, I do think one big thing we've talked about, is there are a lot of learning professionals that grew up creating learning experiences. And that is fun. They learned the ISD model and they are passionate about it. They're really focused on that.

And so I think that's one piece where we need to help them understand that this too can be fun! Maybe even more fun due to the impact that it can actually have!

BM: We know we are currently in the industry minority, but I have faith that because of wonderful work a and research like yours, and people like you, that our voice is getting stronger. We are becoming a cohort and a community, which is what we need.

I can't thank you enough for your time today, for your dedication, for your friendship, and for your leadership. This is not for the faint of heart, but as you've so well demonstrated in your research, it is well worth doing. So let's all work to be a bit be more like you and do more of this. Katie, thank you so much!

Listen to the full episode for more on Dr. Coates’ research and her organization’s performance support journey.

Subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up-to-date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.

Visit our website for additional resources such as: workshops and courses, an eBook on workflow learning, and our latest EnABLE Methodology white paper.

Copyright © 2022 by APPLY Synergies, LLC 

All Rights Reserved. 

Methodology Matters: Rethinking Learning Objectives

By: Dr. Conrad Gottfredson

Note: This blog is the second in a series of articles looking at traditional Instructional Systems Design (ISD) practices through the lens of a “performance-first” mindset. Click here to access the introductory blog to this series: “Methodology Matters: A Performance-Based Instructional Design Methodology”.

In 1978, I took my first graduate-level course in Instructional Systems Design. At the time, I was an Undergraduate Research Trainee (URT) for the department of Instructional Science. The first lesson in that course taught me how to write measurable learning objectives. Our textbook was titled Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction (written by Robert Mager). For the next six years, I wrote hundreds of Mager-perfect objectives. I was a true believer. But after graduate school, when I awakened to the realities of workplace learning, things changed. As I looked at learning objectives through a “performance-first” lens, I recognized that I needed to rethink their role.

Fast forward to more current times, when our team was asked to help an organization restructure a key course to meet the requirements of all 5 Moments of Need. It was a traditional 5-day course with over a thousand slides and 270 traditional learning objectives. Focused on safety, this course had the overall performance requirement of enabling participants with the skills they needed to safely secure information, facilities, and people.

The first thing we did was conduct a Rapid Workflow Analysis (RWA). We identified 56 job tasks that participants needed to perform in their security roles and the 51 supporting knowledge topics they needed to understand as they performed the various steps within those 56 tasks.

We also conducted a Critical Impact of Failure Analysis with key stakeholders to rate every task and knowledge topic using a modified version of the following rubric:

To check the instructional health of the existing course, we mapped the 270 learning objectives to the tasks and knowledge topics that our SMEs identified during the RWA. Here’s what we found:
  1. More than 80% of the learning objectives were focused on knowledge rather than performance. Only 52 of the 270 learning objectives related directly to actual job tasks. 
  2. Significant workflow performance areas were missed. The existing 52 performance-focused learning objectives addressed only 30% of the job tasks we identified through the RWA.  
  3. There was a significant imbalance of learning objectives for knowledge topics. Although the remaining 218 objectives only missed 15% of the 51 supporting knowledge topics, objectives were micro-focused and contributed to cognitive overload: 20% of them included 10 to 25 learning objectives per concept.
  4. The most significant indictment of the course design was that 70% of the high-risk job tasks (where the critical impact of failure was significant to catastrophic) had been missed entirely (one of which included the potential for loss of life).
  5. Lastly, we determined that 40% of the 270 learning objectives could be met exclusively within the workflow – as people worked – rather than during the 5-day course.
In our experience, these kinds of differences aren’t anomalies. A performance-first approach to solution design doesn’t even consider learning objectives at the outset. They may or may not come later in the design and development of activities that support knowledge and task-skill development.  

There are four realities of performance-focused design that should guide how we approach writing learning objectives:

1. Knowing doesn’t guarantee performing.
2. Job performance is best developed and supported at the job task level.
3. Effective performance must be supported with knowledge.
4. Real learning requires experience.

Knowing Doesn’t Guarantee Performing

My sister taught me how to kiss. I want to be CRYSTAL CLEAR here: she didn’t train me. She gave me some helpful pointers that I thought I understood. But the night I made my first attempt to move from simply understanding to actual application, I learned the vital lesson that Sophocles taught more than two centuries earlier:

Knowing about something doesn’t guarantee that effective performance will follow. We have no certainty of the ability to perform until we have actually acted upon what we have learned.   At the moment of my first kiss, I gained absolute certainty that knowing about kissing doesn’t guarantee successful performance.

The requirement to write “measurable” learning objectives has pushed designers to use verbs that lean heavily towards knowledge acquisition rather than on-the-job performance. Why?  Because it is easier to measure knowledge acquisition than performance. Only one of the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy proports to directly address performance (i.e., application). Even then, many of the recommended verbs are limiting when it comes to describing true on-the-job performance.

Job Performance is Best Developed and Supported at the Job Task Level

Here’s what we have learned during our past 40 years of focusing on performance first:

We learn best at the job task level.
We remember best at the job task level.
We perform best at the job task level.
We measure best at the job task level.

A job task has a set of steps that, when followed, lead or contribute to a specific result. Those steps can be procedural or principle-based (for soft skills). The following table provides examples of both procedural and principle-based tasks.  

Procedural Workflow Tasks

Principle-Based Workflow Tasks

Contact the injured or ill employee.

Establish performance expectations.

Arrange for a case management meeting.

Align employees’ goals.

Hold a meeting.

Develop employees’ job descriptions.

Engage in and communicate about your treatment plan.

Set company expectations.

Document ongoing management in the employee health record.

Set educational goals. 

Maintain connection with an employee off work (manager/supervisor).

Conduct one-on-one meetings.

Gather case information from the manager/supervisor.

Conduct annual performance appraisals.

Request medical documentation.

Discuss employees’ impact on workplace and culture.

Provide medical documentation.

Provide quarterly goals updates.

Receive medical documentation.

Conduct department meetings.

Send reports.

Promote learning.

Report injury, illness, and/or challenges for remaining at work.

Provide support and resources.

Conduct a triage assessment.

Monitor employees’ progress.

Determine the appropriate EDMP stream.

Assign mentorship opportunities.

Enroll an employee.

Review comparative reports.

Make a triage report.

Plan job shadowing opportunities.

Identify barriers to returning to/staying at work.

Set employee development plans.

Obtain medical assessment and/or treatment.

Motivate employees.

Resolve wage and benefit issues.

Provide networking opportunities.

Assemble the case team.

Empower employees.

Refer to healthcare services.

Celebrate employees’ success.

A critical initial step in a performance-first approach to instructional design is to identify the job tasks that a work team needs to perform in their flow of work; then, organize those tasks into workflow processes that represent how the work is done. It is at this job task level that the work is performed. These tasks should become the performance targets we adopt in the solutions we develop.

Effective Performance Must be Supported by Knowledge

A performance-first approach doesn’t ignore the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge and experience are fundamental to effective performance in the flow of work. We know that knowledge is best retained and retrieved when it is anchored to specific areas of performance (e.g., job tasks). And in a performance-first approach, a specific skill is the combination of a job task with its supporting knowledge. 

The following example is excerpted from a Learning Experience and Performance (LEaP) plan. It shows a set of skills that regional sales directors need to grow their markets via external activities. The supporting knowledge topics are mapped to each of the tasks. For example, the skill of “network in your region” requires performers to complete the steps of the first task with an understanding of the first four supporting knowledge topics in the lower half of the table.

The point here is that although a performance-first approach focuses on the ability of a work team to successfully perform job tasks, effective performance also requires each task to be performed with an understanding of the key knowledge that supports it.

Real Learning Requires Experience

The learning solutions we create (synchronous or asynchronous) – whether eLearning, virtual learning, micro-learning, instructor-led or any other type of learning – represent just the beginning of the learning process. Real learning occurs in the flow of work, over time, where experience is developed. Expertise requires experience. When I had my heart valve replaced, I wasn’t concerned about the classes my surgical team members had taken. I wanted to know about their experience: how many surgeries they had done and their success rates.

Ask yourself, “Do learning objectives that are written upfront (to guide the design and development of the solutions we create and implement) truly address the continuous development of experience in the flow of work? Do they naturally lead us to skill development that is task-based and reinforced with supporting knowledge? Do they ensure that we address the full range of performance requirements?”

It is our responsibility to constantly challenge our traditions against the backdrop of the here and now. I know this blog is questioning an area of instructional design that is a long-standing and deeply held practice. Please know that my intention here has been to provide a view for you to consider. We have found what we believe is a better, faster, and more reliable way: Rapid Workflow Analysis (RWA). It provides us a prioritized view of the job tasks and related supporting knowledge that work teams need to do and understand to perform effectively. More to come on this RWA process in another blog.    

Learn More.  

Copyright © 2022 by APPLY Synergies, LLC 

All Rights Reserved.