Learning vs performance support tools – 3 questions L&D should ask

Does your Learning and Development (L&D) Team have the finger on the ‘business pulse’ when they decide whether to use a learning course or performance support tools? Do they ask the right questions before they suggest the best option for workplace outcomes?

Why do we ask?

We often receive requests to develop an eLearning course, when, in fact, performance support tools should at least be considered as an additional, if not THE solution.

In working with our client partners, there have been quite a few projects which benefitted from us spending a little extra time to get to the bottom of the business need that led to the learning request. In many instances, we were subsequently able to help develop something better geared at solving the business problem, and all it took is to ask some questions and innovative thinking.

Learning or performance support tools – or both?

The terms’ learning’ and ‘performance support tools’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but this takes away from their different, but equally important, functions in successful workplace skill development.

If there is a need to develop skills and knowledge, the first reaction is typically to address it through formal learning interventions like workshops, courses, and classes (or during this COVID period, webinars and virtual classrooms). It means time away from the job for the duration of the learning intervention, which is often a one-off event. This type of solution is related to the individual’s memory recall capacity, with the knowledge often needing to be recalled from the memory-bank months afterwards.

Learning’s often overlooked and underestimated cousins are performance support tools, which individual learners use on the job, at the time and place needed. Performance tools can stand alone or act as an additional mechanism after the formal learning is complete. They increase learning retention, as well as removing the need to rely solely on one’s memory for knowledge recall.

How can L&D find out what the business needs?

Here are three questions learning teams could work through, together with the business area:

1. What is the business problem you want to solve?

For example, let’s consider an organisation that wants to roll out a new business ethics policy for their management, with a new, anonymous way that anyone in the organisation can self-assess, and receive support.

The business problem to solve in this case is to
a) raise awareness of the policy,
b) explain the new content and what it means for every manager, and
c) facilitate access to the anonymous self-assessment and support channel.

2. How often will the learner need the new knowledge or skill in their role?

While this kind of policy may not need to be accessed often, it is essential to educate everyone in the organisation about the principles, expectations, and main topic points of the new policy and how to access the self-assessment and support system. However, there is little benefit in, say, learning it off by heart, to have every word of it retained in their head at all times. Instead, a short and sharp eLearning piece can achieve the education part – through creating a solid awareness of the key principles of the policy (and certainly not reiterating the policy online with some multi-choice questions at the end). More important in this case is that everyone can access the self-assessment and support tool when they need it – so it is a just in time, just for me, and just enough solution.

3. What is the consequence if the learner cannot access the knowledge when they need it?

Now, imagine a manager on business travel invited to a business dinner with a supplier. She subsequently needs to decide if a planned business interaction discussed over the dinner could be a break of the policy. It is unrealistic to expect the manager should be able to remember the eLearning piece from several months ago, or practical to expect them to go back into the learning artefact and find the list of criteria to make the right decision. This is the time when a performance support tool (or electronic performance support system) comes in. What if the manager had a company app on their phone or the Intranet that allows them to go through a set of self-check questions to self-identify whether certain components of the business dinner are within company policy boundaries, together with links to the policy and supporting documents for fast retrieval if needed?

It is easy to see how the consequence of not being able to access this information reliably and fast could be potentially catastrophic for the business. It is also easy to see that an approach like the above will save the business hours, and therefore money, on training the managers.

Liberate have experience in developing performance support tools

For example, here is a performance support app we have developed for Monash University.

If you would like to learn more about the power of performance support tools, contact us today: rod@liberatelearning.com.au

Learn more about Liberate Learning here.