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Just for you: enough and in-time

Performance support is about enabling you to access the right information as and when you want it, in order to help you do your job effectively and efficiently.

The materials that help you do this – these days, often delivered electronically and, so, known as electronic performance support (EPS) materials – are related to but are not online learning materials. That’s because learning materials are structured to help you learn new things and usually include assessments – to see if you’ve learned it.

Those who produce EPS materials assume that you’re not a novice and you don’t need to learn how to do your job: you merely need some extra information instantly in order to help you do it better or quicker – or both. These producers of performance support materials may also be learning and development specialists and even instructional designers and developers but, in this case, they have other priorities on their minds than devising online learning materials for you.

Many people claim that humans learn by doing. If this is so, then the learning aspect to any piece of EPS is coincidental. Although, EPS is a component in the spectrum that is ‘blended learning’, at this end of the spectrum, the ‘learning’ component is small compared with other factors. EPS, like any other element on that spectrum, has its place – and its value.

People who design EPS materials need to consider issues such as:

  • the context in which you’ll want to have access to this information;
  • the technology (or range of technologies) you’ll use to access this information
  • the amount and type of information you’ll want

Consequently, EPS – sometimes also known as workflow learning – has focused on systems for embedding just-in-time knowledge provision, along with procedural hints and tips. At the very least, using EPS avoids taking people into classrooms for ‘just-in-case’ learning – which wastes resources and everyone’s time.

Making extra knowledge provision available in the workplace – increasingly via mobile devices – benefits not only the self-motivated worker who wants to find underpinning information in order to get that extra ‘edge’ but also the less motivated worker who merely wants to ‘get by’ but doesn’t want to make costly mistakes. In addition, leaders and senior managers enjoy having access to EPS materials because they hate ‘being told’ by other people and don’t like showing their ignorance in public.

Yet, while simple EPS materials can help you recall a specific procedure or process, being a ‘high performer’ is all about using judgement to make the correct decision and applying effective behaviour in specific situations. EPS materials that address this ‘high performance’ end of the market tend to contain more elements of an online learning programme – and so the distinction between ‘EPS’ and ‘learning’ becomes blurred. At this level, the EPS tool has to show you what you need to do and, simultaneously, show you how to do it.

Thankfully, the technology now exists to begin to contextualize and personalize the delivery of EPS and online learning materials. Nonetheless, in terms of content and design, this is a major challenge for those producing these materials. It includes identifying existing high performers, distilling their ‘best practice’ and then turning that into EPS materials that will not only inform but also engage the users – and motivate them to emulate this best practice.

By Bob Little

Bob Little has been writing and commentating on all things to do with corporate learning – especially learning technologies – for about 20 years. Based in the UK, his writings are published around the world. You can find out more about Bob Little at www.boblittlepr.com and you can contact him via bob.little@boblittlepr.com

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