Training Versus Performance Support

The volume and complexity of information being generated is growing at an unprecedented rate. Knowledge intensity has become a standard part of our life and work on a daily basis. And a large part of managing performance has become providing access to the continually evolving tools, technology and information employees need to do their jobs well. In today’s workplace, the line between working and learning is disappearing.

What is a Performance Support System?

When the tools, technology and information employees need to excel in their jobs are combined into electronic systems specifically designed to support them at that task, a “performance support system” (PSS) or “electronic performance support system” (EPSS) is born. Researchers from Georgia State University and the University of Hosten-Clear Lake investigated the potential of these systems in providing learning support to employees in knowledge-based work environments and concluded: “Performance support systems could be a significant benefit to the next generation of training and educational technology”[1].

Why the Shift to PSS and EPSS?

There are a number of reasons why a performance support approach to workplace learning could be more effective than traditional employee training methods, including the following derived from a recent whitepaper published by the eLearning Guild[2]

  • Better processes, tools, and resources result in better performance.
  • The current focus on mobility encourages us to support employee learning anytime and anywhere they need it.
  • The social nature of work and the use of social media provide access to content and expertise as needed, via peers and broader online communications networks.
  • There is no single strategy that guarantees performance improvement. People pursue knowledge and skills in their own way, at their own pace. A performance support approach can help accommodate this
  • With the sheer volume of information inundating today’s workers, it’s important to personalize knowledge and skill access so they get only what they need, when they need it. Otherwise, our people may feel like they are trying to “drink from a fire hose”.
  • Well-designed technology can help us simplify, shorten, clarify and systematize much of the information employees need to succeed in their jobs.

The following chart from the same whitepaper compares traditional training and knowledge management with an ideal performance support approach.

What Defines an EPSS?

A wide variety of training and learning systems exist in the workplace, but a true electronic performance support system combines a number of important defining features. Key characteristics of an EPSSs that differentiate it from many other learning tools include[3]:

  • computer-based
  • provides access to the discrete, specific information and tools needed to perform a task at the time the task is to be performed
  • used on the job, or in simulations and job practice scenarios
  • reduces the need for prior training in order to accomplish the task
  • controlled by the worker
  • irrelevant information is excluded and access to external expertise is often incorporated
  • easily updated with the most current information
  • allows for different levels of user knowledge

Performance Support is Already Here

The shift from traditional learning models to a performance support learning model is already happening, all around us. From the YouTube video on assembling a barbecue, to the GPS system that directs us to the closest public library, and the “how do I get rid of the Babylon tool bar” query we type into Google. These are the tools and resources we need to navigate in “infobese” world. It’s time to start providing similar supports to our workers so that swimming in too much of the wrong information does not dampen their motivation and hamper performance.

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[1] S. Desrosiers and S. W. Harmon.  Performance Support Systems for Education and Training: Could his be the Next Generation?

[2]Rosenberg, M.J. PhD, At the moment of need: the case for performance support.

[3] Alpert Sleight, D. What is Electronic Performance Support and What Isn't?


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