Wherever happened to performance support?

Where did the dinosaurs go? The most respected scientific speculation today suggests that most dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago when a massive asteroid collided with earth. One group of dinosaurs did survive the asteroid crash: Today we call them birds.

And what happened to performance support (PS)?

In the 1990s, many people expected performance to shove technical training into the shadows. Yet e-learning, blended learning, and virtual worlds seemed to have elbowed performance support into oblivion. Recent research finds that this is not the case. Performance support is stronger than ever; it simply hiding in plain sight, having taken on a new form.

Performance support is blossoming in organizations today under the Web 2.0 label.

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 online 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 to online help desks to best practices repositories.

We have given up the idea that competence must exist within the person. Competence exists
within our collaborators and within the ‘net. George Siemens and others have given up on the
idea that knowledge resides within individuals’ heads; it’s collective intelligence. The information, rules, and knowledge that used to be spread all over the place can often be found by the in-house Google appliance. What used to be out of reach is now a keystroke
away.

A powerful form of performance support is asking someone who knows. Expertise locators direct workers to the person most likely to have the answer they seek. Presence awareness software shows whether that person is online, mobile, in a meeting, or available by phone. Instant messaging facilitates swapping brief questions or asking if the person has time to deal with a more complex question. Overall, what are corporate blogs, feeds, aggregators, wikis, mash-ups, locator systems, collaboration environments, and widgets, if not performance support?

Ten years ago, at the Online Learning Conference in Anaheim, Gery declared that “Training will be strategic or training will be marginalized.” Most CLOs chose the second option and ceded PS to others. It is high time for CLOs to start looking at the entire learnscape. We are overdue to be mindful that in terms of effectiveness, performance support often trumps training. As Gery said, “Learning must be re-conceived to influence the primary purpose of organization: to perform effectively and efficiently. Good design puts what workers need to do their jobs within easy reach and shows how to use them to optimize performance.”

Here’s the full story of performance support.