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Training vs. Performance Support: When to use what and where? By Kristin Ford
DiversityBusiness.com Magazine Article/- I have a common problem. I need to know a lot in my job, but I don’t have a lot of time to learn it. I need all the quick tips and tricks I can get. I also have a need to gain a deep and robust pool of knowledge on various topics.

We are all familiar with that “blended” learning term that has been kicked about for several years now. Most recently, the “blended” label has been applied to a mix of instructor led training and eLearning.

Of course, we know that the truth lies in that we all learn every day in many different ways. We learn from friends and colleagues, we learn from the internet, we learn by reading, through webinars and podcasts and now the addition of wikis and blogs. Today, blended learning refers to the range of delivery options available, including classroom, instructor-led training; synchronous or asynchronous eLearning; portable technologies and on-the-job training. With so many options available – how do we determine the best possible mix?

Although my expertise is online and web based training, I have a confession to make. I personally like to learn via a mentor. If I know someone who is an expert in the topic I need to know about, I’ll call and ask. Cheaper, faster, more efficient and the way I like to learn. Okay, life is not quite so idyllic in most of our worlds. Sometimes my expert is frustratingly unavailable or I don’t know who is an expert in what I need to know about at that given moment – and I am impatient. Doggone mentors. Doggone impatience.

About six months ago I had the privilege of hearing Elliott Masie speak. One of his examples on the most revolutionary way that people currently prefer to learn is – Google. I found this both fascinating and extraordinary, until I gave it a bit of further thought. Hey – really – if you think about it, we currently go to the internet on any given topic to get information. Personally I “google” several times each day, whether it be to do research on a prospect or customer or to find a restaurant review or vacation spot. The real issue is how reliable is the source that the information on Google came from. Most of us are smart enough to determine if it is a sales pitch or if the source is “real”.

We could define Google very broadly as a form of performance support. It is information available upon demand – it just is not defined very clearly, nor is it necessarily quick or reliable.

Dr. Conrad Gottfredson of Brigham Young University determined the Five Moments of Need and divided them into two categories:
  1. Acquisition of Knowledge
  2. Application and Maintenance of Knowledge
  3. When Trying to Remember and/or Apply
  4. When Things Change
  5. When Something Goes Wrong


When to train
Put simply, we need to provide training for first time events or a detailed change event. In other words, when we are learning for the first time, or when we need to learn more are the two instances in which we want and need formal training, or the acquisition of knowledge.

When to support
When I would want support, or context-based learning, would be when trying to remember or apply knowledge, when things change, or when something goes wrong. The application and maintenance of knowledge.

Scary statistic
In an ongoing longitudinal study at Carnegie Mellon University, Robert Kelley analyzes how much information the average worker can retain when doing his or her job. He found that the amount has decreased from 75 percent in 1986 to between 8 and 10 percent in 2006. Where and how are our workers going to access the 90% of information that they need, but cannot retain in memory?

Electronic Performance Support Systems
There are now a couple of Electronic Performance Support Systems available in the United States that will work for you and your organization to set up your own google with your reliable, proprietary internal information and systems. The ability to manage knowledge and performance in between your “formal” learning events. Think of a Microsoft help that actually works.

The premise is “backwards” learning. In a formal event, we generally start with an objective, an outline, and a table of contents or agenda. We then go deeper to examples, perhaps simulations, perhaps even some actual on-the-job learning by doing and end up with quick tips and tricks.

In backwards learning we turn the model upside down and start with quick tips and tricks – then go deeper. Still need more information? Then let’s give you some more detailed knowledge and examples at the second level. Still more? Let’s insert a video or simulation. At the 4th level we can connect you with eLearning or other references for a formal event should you need it. In this way, we can support the novice to the expert within one system.

The other features that you should look for in an Electronic Performance Support System is the ability to reuse learning objects, to publish to multiple output sources and to imbed within applications. And of course, it is critical that the tool allows the content to be searchable, or it would defeat your entire “google” purpose.

It is not enough that documentation is available. People either don’t use it at all, or prefer to call the help desk. Which brings us back to how I like to learn? Even though I can look it up, most people prefer to call the help desk or call a colleague before utilizing online documentation. Understand that electronic performance support is not about online documentation. It is about the user’s requirement to get exactly what they need at the moment of need, which means:
  • embedded in the solution
  • searchable
  • specific
  • prompt
  • more compelling than calling a help desk

Earlier I mentioned a Microsoft Help that actually works. I don’t know about you, but I have tried to use Microsoft’s help approximately twice in my life. Absolutely totally and completely frustrated both times. I now never do that. I call a colleague, my “phone a friend” or sometimes I even ask the audience to help.

It is important when building your performance support that, like formal learning, you test that it works and that your users do actually learn and resolve their issues promptly and efficiently. My own theory on Microsoft Help is that the subject matter expert was too close to the problem – and thus left out steps, assuming that we all had the knowledge that the expert had.

Ideally, formal learning and performance support would be developed simultaneously. This way, both the “forward” or traditional approach to development, of the overview, objective, table of contents or agenda would be developed, along with the examples and quick tips and tricks – they will simply be flipped upside down, or “backwards” to support the performance of users once back on the job.

It is time to address the user’s needs at the moment of need. I want my own personal “google”, and I want it to be reliable, efficient and cost effective. I believe that it is here in the form of electronic performance support. I am relieved.

Kristin Ford is the Owner and President of PC Training Source, an independent consulting firm specializing in online and computer based products and services. The expertise of the firm is guaranteed at no charge to prospects and customers. The company is certified as an SBE and WBE.

About DiversityBusiness.com
Launched in 1999, DiversityBusiness, with over 50,000 members, is the largest organization of diversity owned businesses throughout the United States that provide goods and services to Fortune 1000 companies, government agencies, and colleges and universities. DiversityBusiness provides research and data collection services for diversity including the "Top 50 Organizations for Multicultural Business Opportunities", "Top 500 Diversity Owned Companies in America", and others. Its research has been recognized and published by Forbes Magazine, Business Week and thousands of other print and internet publications. The site has gained national recognition and has won numerous awards for its content and design. DiversityBusiness reaches more diverse suppliers and communicates more information to them on a more frequent basis then all other organizations combined. We also communicate with mainstream businesses, government agencies and educational institutions with information related to diversity. Our magazine reaches over 300,000 readers, a monthly e-newsletter that reaches 2.4 million, and website visitors of 1.2 million a month. It is a leading provider of Supplier Diversity management tools and has the most widely distributed Diversity magazine in the United States. DiversityBusiness.com is produced by Computer Consulting Associates International Inc. (CCAii.com) of Southport, CT. Founded in 1980.


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