Wisdom in the workflow: give your learners performance support they can use

As learning professionals, we have a responsibility to support learners. How can we do that to the best of our abilities? The answer lies in a blend of learning science and modern technology.

First, the science.

Learning strategists Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson identified five situations in which learners need performance support, known popularly as the Five Moments of Need. These are the moments they present:

1. Learning for the first time
2. Learning more
3. Applying what you’ve learned
4. When things go wrong
5. When things change

Those moments are not equal in significance. In fact, science suggests that some moments are more optimal for learning and retaining information than others.

In the 1980s, researchers, and authors Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert A. Eichinger introduced the 70/20/10 principle. It claims that 70 percent of the average person’s knowledge is learned and retained by doing. In comparison, 20 percent of the average person’s knowledge is retained from coaching and mentorship, while only 10 percent comes from formal learning. Therefore, learning professionals should channel their performance support directly into the workflow — when learners are doing and are more likely to retain information.

If we apply the 70/20/10 principle to the Five Moments of Need, we see that moments three through five (application, when things go wrong, when something changes) are the situations in which learners are active. Those are the moments we should reinforce.

Thanks to modern technology, we can do so with efficiency and effectiveness.

Attached to our smartphones, we live in an unprecedented age of immediate access to knowledge. Performance support pairs perfectly with this innovation, as the best performance support is immediate, intuitive, and intentionally tailored to aid learners in their time of need.

So, the next time you’re brainstorming ways to support your learners — whether through digital job aids or other online resources — shift your focus to non-disruptive, on-the-job performance support. Science suggests that’s how your learners will benefit the most.

B. Mosher & C. Gottfredson. (2011) Innovative Performance Support: Strategies and Practices for Learning in the Workflow. McGraw-Hill Companies.

Closing the performance gap through needs analysis

When a performance gap is identified, a critical error that professionals often make is to automatically assume that it’s a training issue. As a company that focuses on training, even we can admit that training isn’t always the answer.

To properly address a problem, it’s important to identify the root cause. To do so, you must examine both the individuals and the environmental factors. This may seem like a daunting task. However, it’s easier than you might think.

Start with the environment. An environment that is conducive to success is made up of information, resources, and incentives. Here are a few steps to understand and improve your employees’ environment.

Step 1: Do your employees have the right information?

Determine if the roles and expectations are clearly defined. Most people inherently want to succeed – to be successful they must understand what the goals are and what is expected of them. Therefore, timely, relevant feedback is vital.

Step 2: Do your employees have the resources?

Determine if the individuals have the necessary resources to succeed including:

  • Proper training,
  • Tools to properly do their job (up-to-date software, working tools, etc.)
  • Readily available resources (job aids, manuals, etc.),
  • Clear and accessible policies and procedures,
  • Realistic deadlines, and
  • A safe, clean workspace.

While this list is not exhaustive, it’s a good starting place.

Step 3: Do your employees have the right incentives?

It’s not just about the money. Determine if there are non-financial incentives in place that help to make a positive work environment. Measurements should be in place to reinforce positive performance and address performance opportunities. If the environmental factors are not the problem, move on to the individual. The next set of steps focus on factors that equal success for individuals: motivation, capacity, and knowledge.

Step 4: Are your employees motivated?

Determine if the individuals are motivated to do their work – is this what they want to be doing? Are their goals aligned with the organization? Are they a “right fit” for the role and the company? Remember, it’s not just about earning a paycheck. If individuals are engaged in what they’re doing, then the success becomes inherent.

Step 5: Do your employees have the capacity?

Determine if the right people are in the right roles. Does the individual have the capacity to learn and do his or her job? Are there emotional limitations that will prevent him or her from being able to do a job successfully?

Step 6: Knowledge and Skills

Last but certainly not least, determine if the individuals have the knowledge and skills to be successful. The environmental factors are typically the easiest (and cheapest) to address while the behavioral factors are more difficult and costly. In most cases, if environmental issues are resolved the individual issues typically work themselves out. It’s important to note that even if the behavioral issues are addressed, lingering environmental factors can still impede success and create a performance gap. The greatest pilot can’t fly a plane if it has no fuel.

So, before you jump to the “it’s a training issue” conclusion, take the time to identify the root cause. Save yourself time and money by exploring the environmental factors first, then move on to the individual factors. Once the root cause has been identified, you can then determine the appropriate action steps to close the performance gap.

Gilbert, T. F., (1978). Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. New York: McGraw-Hill. and (1996). Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, Tribute Edition. Silver Spring, MD: International Society for Performance Improvement.

Designing effective training objectives

Instructional Designers are tasked with designing training objectives that influence operational effectiveness. Ensuring that those objectives are strong and business-centered is the foundation for organizational success.

To build your foundation, ask these questions.

1. What are the accomplishments that define exemplary performance?
2. What are the requirements for exemplary performance?
3. What are the standards that make up exemplary performance?

It might seem pretty simple, but it’s not always the case…Let’s explore. Is it an accomplishment, and not just a description of a behavior? Describe performance objectives as accomplishments, avoiding behavioral terms.

  • Can we observe the thing we described when not actually observing the performer or when the performer has gone away?
  • An example of an accomplishment could be a list of sales prospects.

Do those assigned to the performance goal have primary control over it? Or does good performance principally depend on others?

  • If there are external factors that affect the outcome, it cannot be an effective objective.
  • Drill down the performance objective to maintain control.

Is it a true overall performance objective or just a sub-goal?

  • A performance objective is just the overarching objective of a goal – if we can ascribe more than one goal to a role, they are sub-goals.
  • Does perfect execution equate to perfect performance? Would anything more be desired by the performer?

Can this objective be reconciled with other goals of the institution? Or is it incompatible with them?

  • Does proper completion of the goal enable other goals to be completed effectively?

Can a number be put on it? Can it be measured?

  • Does something observable/measurable remain after the performer has left for the day?
  • Examples of observable measures include: errors detected, the average time to complete the task, list of contacts, completed widgets, etc.

When developing objectives, remember ACORN:

  • Accomplishments should be the focus, not behaviors
  • Control – ensure the individual has control over the factors contributing to the success
  • Overall Performance Objective – ensure it is a goal and not a sub-goal
  • Reconcile – ensure objective aligns with other organizational objectives
  • Number – ensure that a number can be assigned so that progress can be measured

Reference: Gilbert T. F. (2007). Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, Tribute Addition. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.