Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

10 July 2013

Performance Support Second?

Clark @ 5:21 AM

I previously argued that social should be our first recourse in addressing performance and learning needs.  Does that mean courses are then second? Let me suggest otherwise.

Once we’ve determined that social isn’t a solution to meeting the need, why wouldn’t we think of a course first?  Partly, because courses should be expensive.  But also, unless we absolutely need a course, we should look to performance support next.  Frankly, the learner ideally gets the minimal amount of help to get past their current gap, and if it’s a bit of information or decision support help, why would you make a course if you can avoid it?  It’s the least assistance principle (or “what’s the least I can do for you” :), only providing what they need to get back to work.

Another way to look at it is to think that we’d rather put as much information in the world as possible.  We don’t want to try to put information into people’s heads if we can avoid it.  It’s hard, and we’re not really good at it. We’re great pattern matchers and meaning makers, but really bad at remembering rote information or executing against rote procedures.  At these times, a job aid or wizard is just the ticket.

Job aids should be easier to keep up to date, and wizards too ideally are editable.  Eventually, they may become social too, as the Community of Practice takes responsibility for keeping them up to date, but I think that will likely always benefit from L&D facilitation.  Facilitation increasingly will be the role of L&D, I claim, and this is part of that path.

If you can’t find a way that the network might provide the solution, and you can’t find a performance support solution, then you should consider a course. If it’s a skill shift that’s needed.  But for agility, efficiency, and effectiveness, performance support should trump courses.  Done right.

So, I’m claiming that our design process in many instances should be social first, performance support second, and formal courses last.  What say you?



  1. I appreciate the post, but it makes me wonder whether organizations will bother with paying L&D professionals to conduct the social aspect and create the job aids. The temptation will likely prove too great to simply give over this work to some other employees who look like they have some free time. That will then present two problems: 1) If L&D professionals are retained by their company (despite the fact that others have been entrusted to handle the first and second lines of the company’s learning offensive), they will be left to create courses that correct others’ mistakes, and 2) As implied by the first problem, companies might simply not bother to employ L&D professionals if they feel other, less skilled and lower paid workers can be made more efficient by handling what is seen as simplified tasks. This will be a tall hurdle to clear.

    Comment by Chad L — 10 July 2013 @ 7:32 AM

  2. Couldn’t agree more Clark. Its probably accurate to say that from executive to employee all would agree that they “come” to work each day to work, to perform, not to learn. The first two options you present align to this desire and are on the path to least resistance to getting stuff done, built, sold, etc. That’s the path everyone wants to be on. The other path “can” get them there of course (although more slowly and with a monetary, productivity, and possibly morale cost) but one better be sure its absolutely required before heading down that way.

    Comment by Mark Britz — 10 July 2013 @ 9:23 AM

  3. Hey Clarke,

    On the nose again Clarke!

    I’m wondering though if there needs to be any distinction between ‘social’ and ‘performance support’. If ‘social’ provides that the ‘performance support’ then what do we call it? (I’m not suggesting the industry come up with ANOTHER term by the way!)



    Comment by Craig Taylor — 10 July 2013 @ 2:49 PM

  4. Clark.. Totally agree! In fact, I would add that if done correctly, Social is one of many tools that Performance Support enables. Why separate the two? They can be so much more powerful if united into an overall Performance Support Strategy! We see too many look at these disciplines in silos and then limit their potential. They take a checkbox approach in trying one and then moving on to another. I would argue that if we took a more “blended” approach enabling social in a PS framework as part of an overall strategy we may have the “secret sauce”. Too many of these tools don’t work because they are approached as a single solution trying to do too much, but like any one tool they have blind spots/weaknesses and are rarely able to cover the full spectrum that is informal learning.

    Comment by Bob Mosher — 11 July 2013 @ 6:43 AM

  5. Thank you again, Clark for your insightful post. However, like Craig and Bob, I am having difficulty distinguishing Social from PS as steps in a response sequence. Some definition here would be helpful.

    Comment by Richard Morris — 15 July 2013 @ 9:17 AM

  6. Clarke, I think you’re right that immediate performance and learning needs should be addressed first socially and secondly by performance support. And if we focused on this approach we could liberate alot of resources currently tied up in delivering ineffective training. Here’s a question: what about long term capability development? If we want skilled engineers, IT technicians, project managers, linguists – do you believe there is a place for courses to develop these capabilities? I ask this not to disagree with your point but simply to reframe the debate to include both social learning, performance aid AND longer term capability and development.-

    Comment by Ara Ohanian — 16 July 2013 @ 7:05 AM

  7. Thanks for the feedback!

    Chad, I think as L&D professionals we will have roles to fill, but new ones: the occasional course (see below), well designed aids, but more and more facilitating others in their learning. As well as experimenting, measuring, exploring. And we do have to carry that value proposition forward that there are significant skills required (as I was reminded this morning, many folks think designing effective learning is easy, “why does it take 30 hours to develop 1 hour of learning?”).

    Mark, exactly. We want them to know that a course is needed, and why, before they can take it, not force it on them.

    Craig, as I recall in Australia, “on the nose” meant something else (an ‘off’ smell), not hitting the mark, so you threw me there ;).

    Craig, Bob, and Richard, I do think social and performance support are part of a continuum of support. I do think users can create resources and share them that are performance support we *haven’t* designed. However, I do want to be careful about the things we develop: courses, job aids, from what others develop (and we facilitate): social. As I’ve blogged before, from the users’ perspective, social and performance support both feel like informal/pull, and courses are push. From the L&D perspective, however, the job aids are something we design, like courses, so it’s more formal. I eventually want a seamless ecosystem of performance support from courses, through job aids, to user-generated help.

    Ara, I do think that there are times we need full courses, for significant skill shift, but we too often use courses as our only hammer, instead of the full suite of tools, and I’m erring on the side of emphasizing the things we miss.

    Comment by Clark — 16 July 2013 @ 2:02 PM

  8. Hi Clark,

    Cool article and blog, and I agree with performance support higher on the list than courses. I think that in addition to the expense of courses, they serve (or at least they should imo) serve a different role than that of skill training or how to perform needed tasks. I think they should focus more on the bigger picture and context, while in-work job aids and performance support are more effective in employees learning how to perform tasks successfully.


    Comment by Jason Silberman — 21 July 2013 @ 2:32 AM

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