Methodology Matters: A Performance-Based Instructional Design Methodology

By: Dr. Conrad Gottfredson

I completed graduate school in 1984, with a Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology. That was when I began my professional career in organizational learning as an “Instructional Systems Designer.” I was working for Standard Oil of Ohio at the time. During that first year of real-world work, I discovered that there were 5 Moments of Learning Need – including the critical Moment of Apply. This realization was a pivotal time for me as an instructional designer. It forced me to ask myself a question that changed the trajectory of my career: “What is the end purpose of instruction and learning in a non-academic organization?” The answer shifted my full attention to enabling and sustaining effective performance in the workflow. This mindset shift led me to the realization that, in practice, the prevailing traditional approaches to instructional design in corporate learning programs were primarily focused on knowledge rather than performance. And although gaining and retaining knowledge is an appropriate primary focus within academic institutions, it was absolutely clear to me that the real world of organizational work called for a performance-first approach to Instructional Systems Design (ISD).

Focusing first on job performance doesn’t mean that adequate attention shouldn’t be given to providing knowledge support. But this support naturally becomes a subordinate effort. In a performance-first approach, knowledge requirements are based on what people need to do: not the other way around.  

This shift in focus has fueled four decades of a united effort to evolve traditional ISD practices into a performance-based instructional design methodology that:

  • Addresses all 5 Moments of Learning Need. As mentioned, there are five fundamental moments that comprise the full spectrum of learning and performance support requirements. These 5 Moments of Learning Need provide an overarching framework for helping employees become and remain competent in their individual and collective work. Specifically, they are the moments of: 


Unfortunately, traditional approaches have primarily addressed only two (New and More) of the five with some afterthought attention to the remaining three (Apply, Solve, and Change). Obviously, a performance-first approach must intentionally begin the analysis and design process at the moment of Apply and then work backwards into the moments of New and More.  

  • Is rapid and agile. During my first year in the real world of work, I was confronted with the reality that the traditional ISD models I had mastered in graduate school were too lethargic, time-consuming, and costly. Experience taught me that the response time from request to implementation needed to be rapid with no wasted effort. This is a challenging requirement because a 5 Moments solution is broader than one that focuses only on learning New and/or More. As such, in our pursuit of a performance-based methodology, we have worked to consistently streamline practices by consolidating them, removing redundancies, and embracing more rapid, iterative approaches. We have worked to develop agile practices that are highly structured but also adaptable through the application of governing principles and defensible decision trees.
  • Enables learning while working. A performance-first mindset naturally leads to the workflow with the realization that developing effective work skills requires learners to safely apply what they’ve learned as they perform their jobs. The workflow is where context is clearest and present. The workflow fuels engagement (intrinsically and extrinsically) in ways that are difficult and expensive to approximate outside of the workflow. Learning while working continuously reinforces and immediately validates success. And the workflow is where experiential learning thrives by facilitating the integration of knowledge, skills, and context.
This pursuit of workflow learning methodology led us to Gloria Gery’s game-changing work on the development of an EPSS. An EPSS, what we now refer to as a Digital Coach, enables the workflow to become the exceptional learning environment it can be, where performers can learn while actually working. It has been our experience for over two decades that, on average, half the curriculum of traditional formal learning courseware can be safely and solely learned without stopping work (with the help of a Digital Coach). 
  • Can be readily defended with applied research. No methodology is worth its salt if it doesn’t adhere to defensible research. Every practice developed as a part of this workflow performance-based methodology adheres to principles from Cognitive, Behavioral, and/or Experiential research. For the past forty years, these practices have also been honed through application in hundreds of organizations, across every sector.   
  • Facilitates partnering with the business. Extending learning and support into the workflow requires Learning and Performance Development (L&PD) teams to forge a working partnership with the business. After all, the workflow isn’t L&PD’s turf: it belongs to the business and is overseen by key stakeholders. The need for speed and the broader scope of 5 Moments of Need solutions requires solutions to be co-developed and co-maintained. There isn’t a more significant methodology challenge than this. Our responsiveness to the speed of need and keeping solutions current with continuous optimization requires developing tactical governance plans for: 
    1. Developing content and the learning and performance solutions around it.
    2. Keeping content and resources within the solutions current and meaningful. 
    3. Keeping the functionality of those solutions relevant to the changing needs of the business.  
This can become labor and time intensive unless there are clearly defined, shared roles and responsibilities with processes that are automated as much as possible. Today, thank goodness that none of this is uncharted territory. Process management technologies exist to help do this. And EPSS authoring software is now available with capabilities that can leverage knowledge and content management systems to build, maintain, and continuously optimize these solutions. 

  • Enables ongoing performance measurement. Measurement has been a critical requirement in developing a comprehensive performance-first methodology. The good news is that enabling learning in the flow of work with a Digital Coach (EPSS) allows ongoing gathering of work performance data. This can be done with a precision that has always been missing from traditional learning approaches. Here are a few examples of this measurement opportunity.


Developing this performance-based instructional design methodology hasn’t been a singular effort by any means. Bob Mosher joined in early on and has been a true partner in this. He has contributed his vision and experience and helped keep things pragmatic. He has also evangelized this performance-first methodology and its transformative mission at a global level. Second only to Bob, Sue Reber, a gifted and exceptionally experienced ISD, who has been on this journey with us for over 30 years, has pushed, challenged, and adjusted the details, documenting and eventually overseeing the full scope of the methodology. Beth Daniels was one of the first senior learning leaders who helped vet the methodology based on her perspective and ultimately led the initial development and implementation of the 5 Moments of Need certificate program. Carol Stroud jumped in with both feet fifteen years ago. Her deep experience as a 5 Moments of Need practitioner and strategist has influenced every practice. Alfred Remmitts, an early performance support innovator, opened our eyes to the vital role of technology in operationalizing the 5 Moments in the workflow. Many hundreds of others have contributed from their various organizations and become implementors and elite champions, not only of the methodology but of its critical mission: to develop solutions for organizations that enable workforces to learn and perform effectively in the flow of work at every changing moment.   

If you would like to better understand this performance-first methodology that we call EnABLE, download our newly launched white paper that provides greater detail. Also, please don’t misinterpret the intent of this blog. We’re not launching EnABLE. We did that many years ago. I’m just introducing it here as a springboard to a series of methodology articles to follow. I have wanted to do this for some time and sincerely hope it will spark important discussions to come. For example, the next blog I’ll be posting is titled “Rethinking Learning Objectives”. So, thanks for reading and stay tuned.




Leadership Matters | Challenges and Opportunities of Leading Learning

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast. In this episode co-host Dr. Conrad Gottfredson sat down with Honora Whitfield, Meta’s Global Director of Learning and Katie Coates, McKinsey & Company’s Director of Learning, to discuss how they are working to shift their organization’s thinking around learning.

Conrad Gottfredson (CG): It's my honor to be joined by two of the most remarkable learning leaders on the planet. For years, I've had a front row seat to watch you both lead your learning teams and transform your organizations from a traditional learning mindset and focus, to a performance first approach.

You know, I’ve also read that about 29 to 30% of senior management roles globally are filled by women. I'm wondering what advice do you have for other women looking to grow their careers and abilities to lead learning?

Katie Coates (KC): I think what's really helped me over the years is just having the right mentors and sponsors to help guide me in the whole journey.

And I've had many. In my undergraduate I connected with a university professor who took me under her wing, she said, “You have no idea how much potential you have, right?” And she just started looking for opportunities for me. And through the years we stayed very close.

In the mid-90s I started working with another leader. He, again, just provided career guidance, opened up opportunities for me, coached me through difficult situations, and really just took a personal interest in me.

And one more, when I came to McKinsey it was a different operating model and way of working than I was used to. I met this woman that I connected with and I'm like, “hey, I need some help trying to navigate.” And she of course was happy to help. She has been someone I talk to monthly, for the past six years.  

The point is, find various types of mentors along the way and don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask for someone to mentor you. People are generous.

Honora Whitfield (HW): When I think about this role, and I think about what it takes to be successful and effective in this role, I think about three dimensions.

I think about understanding and having a deep expertise in the discipline itself, I think about the leadership role and that hat that you wear, and then I think about the operational aspect of the role.

To have a chance at being an effective learning leader, I think you have to have all three of those in spades. Sharing from my career path, I've probably done each and every role within my organization over the past 25 years. And I think that has made me the leader that I am today.

Just being able to understand and have empathy for the work itself, because I’ve been in those shoes, really resonates with my team. So, my advice to others who want to be a learning leader, no matter where you are in your career, is to really gain a deep understanding and appreciation for all the depth and breadth of the work. Being a well-rounded learning leader has been my path, and it’s worked well for me.

CG: Just brilliant advice.

So, let me just share an observation that I've made about the both of you. I find that you are caring leaders. That is, you care about the people with whom you work, those that you lead, you champion them, and you are really genuine.  Katie, you talk about being lifted up, but you lift others, I just would like to know your thoughts about that element of leadership, that connectedness and the caring side.

HW: Yeah, I think it's important that I feel personally committed to caring for the whole person—not just the work side of the person, but their people, their mothers, their fathers, their families. Over the course of the pandemic we got in touch more with this personal side because we were all working from and seeing firsthand their children, their struggles, and their day-to-day lives via Zoom.

So, you really, as a leader, must focus on doing what’s best for them from both the personal and business perspectives. And when I’m mentoring individuals on my team, I'm mentoring them not for the job that they're doing today, I'm mentoring them for the job that they want to do tomorrow—whether that's on my team or on another team, whether it's in our organization or within another organization. I just find that you get the most out of people when you care for them on a personal level.

KC: I kind of look at it as my obligation to now help the next generation of learning leaders get there. So, I spend a lot of time mentoring some of my dear colleagues. In fact, I just helped one of our specialists get promoted to manager, and I'm so excited for them and for the opportunities that are ahead for them.

I've even helped people kind of figure out, do you want to stay kind of where you are? Or, do you want to look at other opportunities outside of where you are? You know, what's the right role for you, as a professional and as an individual?

So again, it's this obligation to build the next set of learning leaders, and how do I set people up for success.

CG: I have a good friend who had said to me, “You know, it's not the role of a leader to maintain the status quo.” And both of you have been challenging the status quo as it relates to learning, by moving to performance. As you've been shifting and helping your organizations move from being learning focused to a performance first focus, what are some of the barriers you have faced and some successes that you found in that journey?

KC: Yeah, so I think you know, in-person learning is still a very traditional, very loved method of learning. It really is. And our organization is no different, in-person learning meets a really big need for us in terms of community connection, celebration, transition, the leadership mindset, and it's what our people really love. And it's what they think about learning.

I think performance support, there are so many different definitions of it, and there are misconceptions about what it is, and what it can and can't do. So that's some of the things we've been kind of working through. How we’re doing it is by talking through the speed of change. You can't possibly learn everything you need to in an in-person classroom setting, you just can't right?

And so, we are trying to open up the organization to other ways of learning, such as learning in the workflow.  We found a couple leaders that are really willing to take a risk and that liked this idea. We talked to them about it, and we started with a project! We picked something that wasn't, you know, too high profile too high risk, and we're like, “let's do this, let's learn from it, experiment!”

And we did it and we had great success with that project; we learned a lot from it and it had a lot of high results. Other teams and people saw what they did, and the results that they had, and they're like, “we want that”. So, we just worked with another group to build a digital coach for a group of 3,000 people to provide consistent processes and access to learning in the flow of work.

So, I think it's that experimentation, finding the right projects, and showing success that is helping us alter the status quo.

HW: So, I think that the barrier often with implementing performance support and workflow learning is that some senior leaders have just never heard of it before. You know, “What is this Five Moments of Need thing? What is workflow learning?”

And even some of our internal team members have never heard of it before, right?

So, there's this huge change management effort that you're really embarking upon, once you sell them on the benefits, they get it, and they want it. And they want it yesterday.

It also comes with a price tag and is not something you can do it overnight. So those are other barriers, right?

How do you get the funding? How do you prove the ROI for it, once you are able to get the funding? And then it's trying to set realistic expectations on what it's going to take and how many resources you need and how much time you need before you're going to have it in place.

And you will reap the benefits of it, so I think that those are just things that you have to be really explicit about and really take the time to do and do right.

So, again, how we’re changing the status quo is by selling them on all of the benefits, setting realistic expectations, and then choosing one project at a time to implement. That's how we’ve approached it and we are focusing on basically one project per year, get it done really well, and get the adoption that we're looking for before we move on to the next solution.

For Con, Honora, and Katie’s full performance-first discussion, listen to the full episode.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up to date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.

Experience Matters | Do Something!

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast. In this episode host Bob Mosher sat down with Doug Holt, the Executive Directors of the Training Institute at the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), to talk about their approach to learning and how Doug is getting others to join the party!

Bob Mosher (BM): I am extremely excited for today's podcast as I get to spend time with a dear friend, one of my heroes in the space, and a learning leader of great stature in our area. Mr. Doug Holt. It's great to have you here. Doug, welcome.

Doug Holt (DH):  Thank you, Bob. I'm really glad to be here excited to have this chat.

BM: We’re kindred spirits around our strong feelings about the direction of L&D and that it should be all about performance. We both bang the drum around this shift—shifting away from training-first and instead putting performance-first. What was your “aha” that changed the way you view training?

DH: I vividly remember it; it was at an ATD event. And you were the presenter. This was maybe eight or nine years ago at this point, but your comments really filled in the answers to some of the major questions I was asking myself about the L&D profession as a whole. For example, “if training works, why doesn't it work?” “Why is it that we always must make a circumstantial case to demonstrate ROI, if I can use that term, instead of a direct evidence case?”

So, as you were sitting there going through your methodology and general thoughts about the L&D field, suddenly everything made sense and I think I went up to you right after and said, “Hi, I'm Doug, and I want you to come talk to us.” That was it.

BM: We did, and so the journey began. But why do you think our industry finds this shift so hard?

DH: Well, I think there are a number of factors that come into play. I'll list a few, but I'm sure there are more.

First one is we're shaped by our experiences and our collective experiences. Learners in the K through 12, or K through college model, or slight variations thereof, it's what we know. And you can look at most of what happens and see yep, that's the K through 12 model really. One of the things that I used to do at DIA when I was trying to make the point that we need to do things differently is I would put up an image of learning in the Middle Ages. It was a guy standing at a lectern talking to rows of people who were just kind of passed out because they were so bored. In my presentation I’d say, “you see much difference between this and what we do today?” And of course, the answer was always “no, it's largely the same”. In my mind, we've been doing the same thing the same way since the Middle Ages. So that's some pretty significant shaping, that would be number one.

Number two, in my experience, most people enter the learning field as a collateral duty, to fill some kind of role that they don't know much about. That's how I got into it. They learn what to do from those who preceded them, who learned from the people before them, and so on and so forth. It's sort of a hand me down, here's what I know. And I'm going to teach you what I know, there's no right way to do it. There's just lots of flavors of the month that we encounter, and people run to this one or that one. But there's no sort of central standards that people tie to, or body of research that people know about, or whatever, you know what I mean, it's just kind of like we’re all winging it.

Number three, and this is a big one—administrative convenience. It is much easier to do Monday through Friday, eight to five, I just bring you in, do the teaching thing and then turn you lose and you go back to work the next week. As opposed to, I have to figure out a way to chunk your learning to bring you in for a couple hours here, a couple hours there, maybe make some virtual kind of things. And you know, that’s really hard to do. And so, we default to the thing that we know. I also think that practical reality really does work against us in a lot of ways and that it's often hard for learners themselves to engage in ways that research might tell us they learn best.

So, it's that combination of things, and others, but it's a pretty steep hill to be pushing this rock we’re pushing up.  

BM:  Well, I think that plays perfectly into my next question. For those listening, who are going to make this pivot, what challenges lie ahead for these learning leaders and their teams who want to embark on this performance-first journey?

DH: You have to first understand that you are the outlier, you are the heretic, you're the different one and you have to get comfortable with that. I love it.

Second would be resistance and that could be from within your own team. They may not be comfortable with it; they may not understand it. You are going to get some resistance from your team and it's not personal. It is just different. Some people within the team will gravitate right to it, others will not. Then, some will be in the middle, but you have to be okay with it and work with people over time, meet them where they are and grow together until you get to a point where everything's working.

Third, unlearning and relearning. And this, I mentioned up front, that I was originally hired because I didn't know anything. And I found myself saying the other day, from here on out, I'm only hiring people who don't have a clue about anything to do with learning so that we can work with them; it's much easier to work with a blank slate. I then thought, oh my gosh, you know, I have become the person that hired me. I reflected on it, they were hiring me to do traditional things, maybe in nontraditional ways, but traditional things. And the struggle previously, or the struggle that they were fighting against, was applying traditional learning in a nontraditional format, but it was still traditional.

So, it's a lot easier to work with people who are starting from knowing nothing than it is to start from a base of people who have really worked in this field for a long time and have deeply ingrained beliefs or are simply just accustomed to doing it this way.

That brings me to another one—the ability to maintain strategic patience. This is probably the hardest of all the challenges because you run into so many delays and roadblocks and frustrations. So, it's just maintaining a view of the North Star. Therefore, this is one of those things where you want to involve everybody upfront. But the practical reality is, you can't, you have to work with a smaller team. So, then you have those folks who are in and those folks are out and managing the relationships becomes very challenging. And then when do you bring them in? You know, there's a point where you have to expand the circle here, but when and how and have you burned bridges by that point that you know, they don't want to be in your circle anymore? Because you didn't let them in at the beginning? Yep.

And then the last thing, once you've seen it, you can't unsee it. Once you've seen the flaws of the traditional and the goodness of the new. It's just going to be the thing that gets under your skin. So, if you're not prepared to have something under your skin that's pushing you forward every day and making you crazy that you haven't fixed it yet. Don't get into it, because it will absolutely do that.

BM: Perfect. So, appreciate you've always been so willing to share the good, bad, and the ugly of what you've been through. So, appreciate your candor and directness about the whole thing because like my dad always said, “there's good things in everything”. And as L&D professionals, there’s never been a better time than now for us to support performance in this way. 

For Bob and Doug’s full performance-first discussion, listen to the full episode.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up to date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.