Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Performance Support vs. Training

The August edition of the ASTD Training & Development magazine includes a thought-provoking article (page 23) titled 'Training is Broken'. The authors Bob Mosher & Frank Nguyen state "with training's limitations under scrutiny, it may be performance support's time to shine".

to expand further ....

"The problem with our information age is that even with the most successful of formal learning experiences, the amount of information needed to be effective, combined with the rate at which that information changes, makes many well-intentioned training efforts flawed before they are ever released."

Performance Support is defined as providing the right people with the right information at the right time. In other words: expanding just-in-time 'coaching' to replace (where appropriate) just-in-case training. For example, relying on the Microsoft paperclip comes to mind vs. seeking to learn up-front the full functionality of MS Word.

The authors advocate creating a 'total learning culture', and in particular:

"It is impossible to add PS (performance support) to your array of learning options without it affecting how you design and deliver training. PS enables competency in the way that training enables mastery. The two should not be kept exclusive"

My reaction to this is twofold:

Firstly: further thought needs to be given to the sequencing of training & performance support.

  • Depending of the learning objectives for the individual, it may be sufficient to rely on performance support to generate competence ... equally, it may be appropriate for a smaller segment of the workforce to be subsequently formally training to a higher level of mastery (which will in itself create a further channel of performance support for the rest of the workforce).
  • To minimise the costs/complexity of creating performance support, it may be more cost effective to provide a cut-down training intervention 'up-front' (to help all learners navigate how to find the support available, rather than relying on automated software). In this case training may be positioned to 'top & tail' performance support.

As the authors state "Changing the strategy from one of knowledge gain to one of knowledge application is the first key step".

Secondly: I'd suggest that consideration should be given to the consequences of different learning styles when creating performance support (as well as for formal training).

Honey & Mumford's work is generally accepted as a helpful model of categorising learning styles.

  • For Activists - it may be most appropriate to develop maps ... avoiding performance support (PS) adopting a 'telling' approach, but accelerating skill building by providing structure to the information required to be assimilated. For example: to accelerate networking skills - championing the value of organisational structure diagrams (e.g. linking such graphics with a company's 'yellow-pages' database of employees & their interests).
  • For Reflectors - it may be appropriate to link the guidance provided through PS with typical questions that would lead to expanding on the core 'answer'. For example: to accelerate networking skills - providing a report of the 'top five' colleagues citing a particular qualification within a company's 'yellow pages' together with a prompt to consider if additional key words may help refine the data.
  • For Theorists - it may be helpful to link the guidance provided through PS with sources of background information. For example: to accelerate networking skills - providing easy to access links to e-learning modules, books & articles from within a company's 'yellow pages' database
  • For Pragmatists - it may be helpful to ensure there are rapid e-learning modules / video clips / subject-matter-experts that can demonstrate the steps required. For example: to accelerate networking skills - providing video clips of accelerating a task through effective networking.

If we look to Performance Support (PS) to build a certain level of competence (and thus reduce the need for some forms of formal learning) do you agree that different learning styles matter ?