The Next Great Challenge for Performance Support

By Conrad Gottfredson

I recently observed 12 highly experienced and committed subject-matter experts facilitate a three and a half-day course. They were parachuted in to provide this training not far from my home here in Utah.  They brought with them rich experience from their various areas of expertise which they shared with the class as they moved through hundreds of slides.  Some facilitators had stronger presentation skills than others. The nature of the learning experience varied by facilitator.  On the average, a third of the time was devoted to sharing real-life experiences with limited learner interaction.

There were 27 learners in this class from 10 different locations.  They represented 12 different divisions of the organization and were split between two different job roles. The work experience of participants ranged from one year to twenty.

 Throughout the course I worked closely with a most remarkable, highly-qualified, learning professional. He has deep experience with the subject matter but is also a gifted trainer. He is the course owner and this course is his “baby.” He is as committed to the course as any parent could or should be to a child.  And more importantly, he is totally focused on making the course a meaningful experience for its participants.

I have seldom observed a class of participants more committed to learning. Everyone was as engaged as they could be in their learning experience.  Why? Because the course addresses knowledge and skills where the critical impact of failure, for the most part, is significant to catastrophic.

Next week I will report to our client on the learning efficiency and instructional integrity of this course. I will certainly want to acknowledge the remarkably good things that I have noted above. But as I viewed this course through a 5 Moments of Need lens, it is anything but efficient and lacks instructional integrity.

Sadly, this is the case with most formal learning efforts. It’s not the fault of the trainers.  It’s what the course is lacking that diminishes its effectiveness. Failure to include the right level of performance support threatens the instructional integrity of any course. Formal training, at best, initiates the learning process. In these environments learners seldom learn all they need to know and be able to do.  And, what they do learn, they begin forgetting before the course finishes.  

Furthermore, without a performance support infrastructure in place, learners struggle to navigate through the badlands of “remembering and transferring” what they learned to their actual jobs.  This journey through the transfer phase of learning is difficult, time-consuming, and fraught with high probability of failure. And, the threat doesn’t end there. Once learners have forged their way through the transfer phase, they face the ongoing challenge of integrating and optimizing their newly acquired knowledge and skills in ever-changing work environments.  

So, no matter how engaged learners were in this class, and how effective their trainers were, the return on that instruction wasn’t even close to what it could or should have been. I say this because I happen to know how the discipline of performance support can exponentially improve the efficiency and effectiveness of courses like this. I know how effectively people can learn in their workflow, as they perform their work, with the help of an EPSS.  I also know how virtual synchronous learning can, at times, be even more effective than face-to-face learning when combined with an EPSS.

We face two challenges in order to develop solutions that accommodate all 5 Moments of Need. The first challenge, we’ve actually made great headway addressing.  We know today, how to design performance support solutions, including and especially an EPSS.   We have the know-how and technology we need to design, build, implement, and maintain solutions that enable effective performance all the time, anywhere. This has been the great challenge we’ve been pursuing rigorously for decades.  And we’ve cracked this code.

It’s now time for us to systematically take on the second great challenge. For many organizations, performance support is treated as an add-on to training.  But what they need to do is consider is how a performance support solution can influence how they go about training.  This is a game changer: taking advantage of the capabilities of a performance support solution to bring greater learning efficiency and integrity of formal learning solutions.  

Learning efficiency focuses on the investment time, resources, and efficiencies associated with the overarching solution approach. Learning integrity addresses the application and/or misapplication of instructional methodology.

Here’s the good news regarding our ability to optimize our formal learning solutions through the discipline of performance support.  We have a great deal of experience, already, doing this.  It hasn’t been our focus because of the heavy lifting required to get up and running with the right performance support infrastructure.  But if we want to cost-justify the investment in this infrastructure, we actually need to address this, sooner rather than later.

We have more than a decade of experience validating that, on the average, half of the skills addressed in formal learning courses, can be removed from those courses and pushed into the workflow for employees to learn as they do their jobs (with the help of an EPSS.) We also know, through experience, that the time it takes to achieve effective performance in the workplace can cut in half. Furthermore, an EPSS provides trainers the opportunity to focus their remarkable skills beyond presenting to higher skill development practices.

We have made great headway in developing and proving a methodology for designing, implementing, and optimizing performance support. It’s time to turn our attention to doing the same for the formal learning side. These opportunities and more are where we need to also turn our attention. 

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