What are Performance Support Tools (PSTs)?
Organisations worldwide face the dual challenge of enhancing performance and increasing productivity. Clearly, learning and performance gain are inter-linked. On account of this, L&D professionals are on the lookout for measures that can increase application of learning at work.
Training has long been the traditional approach to improve performance. Digital learning in particular has been extremely effective in providing this “anytime-anywhere” support to learners. However, formal training is often not enough to ensure that the acquired learning indeed gets applied at work.
This is exactly where PSTs fit in. These are just-in-time learning aids that are available to learners within their workflow.
How are PSTs different from trainings?
As we know, trainings are designed after carrying out the Training Needs Analysis (TNA) and identifying a need or gap. They are structured to meet the defined objectives and provide people to pick up or master a specific knowledge and skill. Trainings can be rendered in a classroom or online. In contrast, PSTs are just-in-time learning aids that help people accomplish tasks so we are not looking at learning objectives but support to get the work done. Unlike trainings, they are not disruptive and are available to learners within their workflow.
When exactly would the learners need Performance Support?
Designed by Dr. Conrad Gottfredson, a leading expert on Performance Support, “Five Moments of Need©” is a very effective framework that can be used to map varied learning and performance support needs in any organisation.
According to him, learners seek support in “Five Moments of Need©” as indicated here:
- When they are learning an aspect for the first time
- When they want to deep-dive and learn more
- When they want to apply or remember something
- When they need to solve a problem or fix something that has gone wrong
- When something changes
If you review this model “Five Moments of Need©”, a couple of important aspects emerge. The first two moments focus on knowledge acquisition and hence map to formal training (classroom or online). On the other hand, the next three moments focus more on Performance Support. They are aligned to help learners apply their knowledge within their workflow.
So, an effective learning and performance strategy must factor for both measures that are necessary to acquire learning (through formal training) and more significantly, apply this learning (through Performance Support intervention).
On account of this, an effective Performance Support Solution will have a direct bearing on the gains for business; thereby impacting the ROI on digital learning positively.
How do PSTs improve application of learning?
Unlike formal training that tends to be disruptive (pulls the learner away from work), PSTs can be easily embedded in the learners’ workflow. The key is that they provide the right amount of support and guidance that the learners need at work (and within their workflow). These can be provided in varied, interesting formats ranging from Mobile Apps to eBooks, Interactive videos, eBooks or Interactive PDFs.
The typical PSTs focus on checklists, ready reckoners, guidelines and so on and can be designed to complement or support formal training. They can also be provided as stand-alone learning aids focusing on performance enhancement. The key is that these aids are available to learners exactly “when and where they need” it.
A case study
Let us look at a case study that illustrates how a PST (as a checklist) that complemented an online course enhanced the application of learning.
Audience: Instructional Designers
Formal training: An online course on “Writing Effective Storyboards”
PST: A “checklist” summarising the workflow to be followed and the key aspects to conform to during storyboarding available as a video featuring Kinetic text/Text animation
Outcomes of the online course
The aim of the course is to ensure that the learners imbibe the basics of storyboarding and gain an insight about the key focus areas of a storyboard creation.
The gaps (in application)
When we rolled out these courses to our internal Instructional Design team, we found that the conformance to the prescribed workflow to develop storyboards was rather patchy. Since the team had individuals with varied backgrounds and with different proficiency levels, they tended to use individual approaches that they were most comfortable with. We needed to ascertain how we could instill the discipline of following the prescribed approach.
How did we bridge the gap?
We developed a PST (a micro learning object) that served as a “checklist” for the Instructional Designers. This just-in-time learning aid was designed as a video featuring Kinetic text/Text animation with audio that provided a precise and sharp input on the workflow to be followed.
The checklist is now available to our Instructional Designers on their desktops/laptops as well as tablets/smartphones. Access to this aid within their workflow increased their probability of using them and applying them at work. We see an increased focus in conformance to the mandate now.
The business impact is on account of gains due to:
- Improvement in “first time quality”
- Reduction of review time
- Reduction in time to turn-around each storyboard
How can PSTs improve ROI in digital learning?
As we saw in the case study, having an effective training program is often not enough to meet the organisational mandates of enhancing productivity and reducing errors. Using Performance Support to complement or supplement formal training will certainly impact the “returns” for the organisation positively and increase the ROI on digital learning. There would be a direct gain on account of competence gain that will translate to higher performance and productivity levels (as compared to training alone).
It is important to note that Performance Support may not generate all the “returns” but is an extremely effective contributor in enhancing them and improving the ROI on digital learning.