Decision support tools, performance support systems and just-in-time learning
September 08, 2009
Elearning | Information Architecture | Medicine | Must Reads | Science | Usability

Where is the best spot for an educational (or other) intervention?

When there is a workforce performance or knowledge gap to fill, trainers understandably think first of using training to fill it. But is more training really always the best answer? Depending on the skills involved and the characteristics of the audience, process improvement, usability improvement, training or performance support may all be worth considering.


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Posted by ellen at September 08, 2009 06:48 PM

Root cause analysis and ADDIE

As instructional designers, when we are given a new project to do, we assume that training is the deliverable that we are supposed to create. Many of us are familiar with using the ADDIE proces to develop training: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation. However the ADDIE model has an emphasis on training as its goal, and typically the analysis pretty much assumes this as a starting point.

The system of root cause analysis is a process used to determine the underlying causes of a problem or performance gap, and what kind of intervention might be best to resolve it. Root Cause Analysis answers questions like "What's the problem? Why did it happen? and What can be done to prevent it?" It may become apparent that the best solution is something other than training, such as process improvement or redesign, or perhaps the tools used in the process made more usable.

There are often several possible points of intervention to improve outcomes. One point which is increasingly the focus of attention is the actual point of performance of a task. This is the point where Performance Support comes in.

Performance gaps and nature of intervention

-- From The Use of Manual Job Aids by Health Care Providers: What Do We Know? a white paper by Elisa Knebel of The Quality Assurance Project.


What is Performance Support?

Performance Support is anything that helps you get the job done, right at the point of action. Job aids, reference cards, checklists, documentation, help systems, GPS systems, and even post-it note instructions are all examples of perfomance support. Performance support tools differ somewhat from a wiki or knowledgebase in that they are narrowly focused on the task at hand. Precisely the information that is necessary to be successful at a particular task should be within easy reach with little searching. In the right situation, performance support systems or tools can work as well or better than traditional training.
  • Planners are in our lives just before or after the challenge.
  • Sidekicks are at our side during the task.


The role of Performance Support

David Metalf of Tyco uses a blended Learning and Performance Support model to combine the strengths of both, as modeled in the diagram below. [LINK]


Benefits of Performance Support

  1. Makes work simpler Performance support can take the complexity out of work processes and tools. Mobile devices that can receive up-to-date support or step-by-step procedures enables already trained workers to perform faster and more effectively.
  2. Provides High Scalability As digital data, performance support can be deployed to a few people or to thousands of learners. Using the wireless Web as well as 3G technologies updates in both content and features can be distributed quickly and securely. For example, an organization can pilot a mobile application to a small group of workers for UAT, and roll it out across the business (once it has proven itself) with relatively little additional effort.
  3. Provides a known baseline of competencies Performance support can reduce variability in the way workers perform tasks, which improves activity performance by underpinning an individual's judgment and decision-making abilities.
  4. Allows non-experts to perform closer to the level of experts Performance support can enable individuals to perform with a similar pace and limited error rates as if they were more proficient than they actually are. Performance support can enhance the competence of an employee beyond the level of their training.

  5. - from Gloria Gery: At the Moment of Need: Directly Supporting Doing, Learning, Referencing and Collaborating and Building a Performance Support Architecture. Moving Beyond Pilots [--view PPT]

Performance support tools

Performance support tools allow people to perform as experts without being experts. They typically give people exactly what they need when they need it, with nothing extra. They are more focused to give support for a specific task (without searching around) than a knowledgebase or wiki.

Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS)

Electronic Performance Support systems are usually online or desktop applications that are "structured to provide immediate, individualized on-line access to the full range of information, software, guidance, advice and assistance, data, images, tools, and assessment and monitoring systems to permit job performance with minimal support and intervention by others."

--from Electronic Performance Support Systems by Gloria Gery
Website: introduction to EPSS concepts

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Great definitions and links to sources. I particularly appreciated the ADDIE discussion. Performance Support can certainly become an integral component within the ADDIE model, but is often not considered.

Another challenge is that performance support solutions do not fit into the traditional learning measurement strategies used in large organizations. I am very leary of placing performance support into the LMS, because it has the potential of getting lost. When I'm in the mode of getting the job done, I don't have time to search the LMS to look for training.

Thanks for the insight,

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