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How performance support technology boosts elearning success

10th Feb 2014
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How effective is your elearning strategy? Walkme's Jason Silberman turns his sights on performance support.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen two major shifts in the strategy and delivery of employee training.

  1. The shift from classroom training to training to computer-based learning, or elearning.

  2. The evolution away from looking at training as a 'one-time event' at the start of a new employee’s role (or a veteran employee taking on a new project, new software, etc.), followed by he/she performing everyday work, to a more long-term, continuous learning strategy, one characterised by learning as the employee continues to perform his/her regular work. This is often complimented by social and informal learning, not part of any official manager-led program, but increasingly seen as integral part of any continuous learning plan.

Elearning offers several advantages, both to the employees themselves, and to the organisation in which they are employed. First, elearning helps to create a more global workforce, and contingent workers have increased dramatically too as a result. Moreover, elearning reduces travelling costs and is much more flexible than traditional courses. Just-in-time learning is facilitated, and updates and tools are also much more feasible. Furthermore, due to increased flexibility in the schedule of learning as opposed to set classroom sessions, elearning empowers employees to learn more at their own pace, if necessary. At the same time, elearning generally is shorter than traditional classroom training times, enabling employees to start their work more quickly.

In fact, a relatively small percentage of employee training is being carried out in traditional classroom settings nowadays. Recent reports by Towards Maturity showed that elearning courses were the most popular learning technology in recent years, and the percentage of computer-based learning as opposed to classroom training has increased each year.1

Yet it’s important to recognise that simply converting face-to-face courses into online formats isn’t enough. Organisations that do this are missing the point, and are still faced with very similar challenges as before. There is still the issue of knowledge retention, the ability to return to and access learning materials if needed later on, and the time spent waiting by employees waiting for assistance, either from the helpdesk or – even worse in some way – from fellow team members, slowing them down as well. The fact is that looking at learning as a one-time event – or at the very least an activity that is separate from 'work' – fails to grasp the way that contemporary 'knowledge workers' prefer to learn: continuously, within the flow of work, and immediately.2

"As we’ve seen more companies adopt a BYOD policy, such devices allow employees to work, and learn as they work, both at home and in the office, on the move wherever they might be."

The second shift referenced above, toward a more continuous learning strategy, is the natural next step in looking to meet those needs. Sometimes referred to as micro-learning, or as learning of demand, the basic idea of performance support is to provide employees with specific assistance to a problem, in the exact moment of need. This learn-as-you-go approach does not eliminate the need for initial training entirely; on the contrary, it frees the initial sessions to focus more on 'big picture' issues, and frees them from having to focus on small technical details. Blended learning, which combines both classroom time with online learning, very much transitions easily into the performance support strategy as well. In other words, combine both initial learning with continuous learning.

There are several different types of performance support technologies in this day and age, and the role of a training manager is to find ways which will facilitate the use of learning materials at any time, accessible from anywhere and on any device.

Mobile devices, primarily smartphones and tablet computers, have seen a more prominent role within a performance support system in recent years. As we’ve seen more companies adopt a BYOD (Bring Your Own consumer Device to work) policy, such devices – if the learning materials are accessible through the cloud – allow employees to work, and learn as they work, both at home and in the office, on the move wherever they might be. Training managers must strategise how they can make performance support software available and user-friendly in the mobile era.

No matter what device they are on, performance support technology can, for example, find an answer to a question without having to leave their desk or work area. The fact that the employee is able to do this, also brings about a sense of empowerment, since now the employee does not have to go asking around and wait for assistance. She/he can help themselves and work more seamlessly. This helps to increase motivation levels, and of course also improves productivity.

Choosing the right performance support tool is of utmost importance as the effectiveness of the support system will depend on it. The training manager needs to consider different options so as to make comparisons based on task complexity and duration. The availability of job aids, tip sheets and quick reference guides is usually the foundation of a support system. Online help, social media forums and discussion groups are also quite popular. Learning portals are also used by many firms.

The impact performance support on elearning success is truly dramatic. In the workplace, you can almost consider online performance support as 'Elearning 2.0', as it empowers a more mobile, social, and continuous online learning experience. I think we’ll see more of a focus on mobile in the next few years, but whichever platform or device an employee learns on, the key thing is to focus on the now, to provide direct assistance at the right moment.

Jason Silberman is Marketing Director at WalkMe, an interactive online guidance system and engagement platform, which reduces training times and costs, while raising performance levels. He is also the lead author and editor of Training Station, a blog devoted to news and ideas on training, learning and employee performance. Follow him at @tstationblog

2 See Jane Hart, “5 Characteristics of How Knowledge Workers Want to Learn at Work” - http://c4lpt.co.uk/new-workplace-learning/5-characteristics-how-knowledge-workers-want-to-learn-at-work/

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