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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Performance Support

Great post by Jay Cross that uses the history of performance support to set up the need for what Jay calls Learnscapes. I've been a long-time believer in EPSS and ePerformance. Jay tells us:
Performance support is blossoming in organizations today under the label of Web 2.0.

Remember the original premise of PS, making information available to workers instead of forcing them to memorize it? That’s how we use Google and corporate wikis and instant messenger.

Gloria [Gery] sought easy, immediate, individualized on-line access to information, software, guidance, advice and assistance. Learnscape architects have implemented miniature versions of the internet behind corporate firewalls that provide all of these things, from peer-rated FAQs to wizards, on-line help desks, and best practices repositories.

This is an interesting take. I actually don't think that Gloria would consider external resources (which we've had for years as reference systems that go along with software) as a form of Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS). Gloria always liked to use TurboTax because there was a nice interface (the interview) and then the complex interface with lots of forms, etc. EPSS was the interview - easy to use and understand forms layered on top of the software application. Jay does speak to this in his post, but I'm not sure that the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 really gets you performance support.

Jay tells us the early definition of Performance Support was:
Performance Support empowered novice employees to get up to speed rapidly, to perform with a minimum of outside coaching or training, and to do the job as well or even better than experienced workers. Gloria’s goal for EPSS was to enable people who didn’t know what they were doing to function as if they did.
He later asks:
Overall, what are corporate blogs, feeds, aggregators, wikis, mash-ups, locator systems, collaboration environments, and widgets, if not performance support?
I don't think that having these things constitutes performance support - or at least not performance support as originally defined. I would say that they come closer to knowledge management than performance support. Or maybe this is all definitional and we are talking about the next generation of what I called ePerformance back in 2003. These resources are rich information bases, expertise locators, learning enablers, etc. But, not really performance support - at least not as Gloria defined it. There will need to be another layer to make these things performance support.

In fact, I would claim that because of general lack of skills around the use of these things - as we discuss at work literacy - that they are far away from being performance support. Instead, they enable new kinds of solutions, but they don't make a novice proficient.

All that said, I agree with Jay's most important point -
Today, the greatest leverage in corporate learning comes from building on-going, largely self-sustaining learning processes. This process orientation focuses on the organization’s architecture for learning, a platform a level above its training programs and regulated events. The learnscape is a foundation for learning that is self-service, spontaneous, serendipitous, drip-fed, and mentored as well as the formal training that will always be with us.
I completely agree that we should be looking for ways to reduce the amount of training we develop and deliver and enable people to have the skills to be able to do it from there. Put most of your material in a reference solution (Wiki).

I don't think that the Gloria Gery style performance support is going to come back anytime soon, but I completely agree with Jay that these tools make up a new kind of learning landscape and that they represent the true responsibility of a learning organization.


Harold Jarche said...

I remember reading Gloria's book when it first came out and it set the standard. Yes, things have changed but finding differences between EPSS and KM doesn't help our clients or the end-user. Rossett & Schaffer's more recent "Job Aids and Performance Support" has a better (IMO) working definition for performance support:

A helper in life and work, performance support is a repository for information, processes and perspectives that inform and guide planning and action. (p. 2)

Anonymous said...

Tony, your comments and excerpts from Jay Cross highlight a point that I'm currently living.
There is no real hard and fast definition that defines everything that may be a valid performance support tool. I agree with Harold that Alison Rossett's approach is more in line with a good working definition because it's more open to interpretation that is shaped by the context in which the work is being done. Her concepts of "side-kicks" and "planners" are as much detail as I need, because the true definition of the most impactful performance support tool is a function of the work that must be done effectively. I've given up defining what is and what isn't...

Is it performance support or is it a just-in-time knowledge object? Quite frankly,who cares? If the "tool" provides the right learning to the right learner at the right time in the right amount in the right format and to the right device...whew...I feel good about whatever we choose to call it.

...and that would be my $.02

Best regards,

Gary Wise

jay said...

Gloria was ahead of her time, and her definitions came from hard-coded mainframe days. I think of links as loosely coupled performance support. Programmed help pop-ups and workflow-generated learning prompts are more tightly coupled. Not that definitions are a big deal. The important thing is recognizing that there's inevitably a choice about embedding knowledge in work or trying to stuff it into the worker's head. That's a distinction classic ISD often overlooks.

john castledine said...

I also agree that we should be primarily be looking for ways to enable the workforce to efficently apply knowledge.

Leveraging the link between Web 2.0 tools and Performance Support is clearly something that needs further consideration.

ASTD T&D Magazine (August 2008) provides further comment on Performance Support - I recently posted my reactions on this thought provoking article:

brownm279 said...

I would like to build some of these for our own software applications. Could you tell me what EPSS author-ware is available? I tried a search on EPSS software and it yields very little information. Oracle UPK comes up over and over again but there seems to be very little choices.