Digital Performance Support: An alternative to formal e-learning

In my previous post I suggested there are better and faster ways to develop some types of skilled performance than full featured e-learning development.  One of those ways–particularly suited to procedural, task based work–is Digital Performance Support.

Digital Performance Tools
The performance aid has a long history in training and development but in the transition to “e” it has taken a back seat to its more glamorous e-learning cousin.  This is a shame.   In my experience a well designed performance support tool can reduce and sometimes eliminate the need for training (or e-learning).  Digital performance support or the more awkward label e-performance offers flexibility, immediacy and re-use potential that usually doesn’t exist in an e-learning program.   I’m talking about the use of digital tools and aids to directly guide performance, on demand, at the moment of need.  Although learning is always the byproduct of doing, learning as a goal is actually secondary to real time performance with digital performance support tools.

Benefits of Digital Performance Support
I’ve had many projects that start as e-learning development request but quickly evolved to performance support solutions.  The benefits I have found include:

  • Universally preferred by employees over e-learning
  • Quicker to develop and deploy
  • Easier to convert existing content and assets
  • Practice and application is less artificial more performance based
  • Testing and assessment, if needed at all, is more performance oriented and can often be a simple observational checklist
  • Tracking and usage data is more precise
  • Faster time to desired performance
  • Learning is embedded in the workflow

Not Just for Procedural Tasks
Digital performance support is most often used for procedure tasks, especially learning enterprise applications but they are equally useful for conceptual knowledge and facts. Quick access to crisp, well written concepts, definitions, principles, and processes are entirely possibly within a performance support tool.  And they can be enhanced through the use of media in the same way they are in an e-learning program.  Some examples:

  • Decision guides
  • Animated process flows
  • Checklists
  • Flowcharts
  • Worksheets
  • Practice scenarios
  • Demonstration media objects (flash animations, video, audio guides, illustrations etc.)
  • System task simulations

Some of the projects I have been involved that started as a request for e-learning but evolved to digital performance support solutions include:

Skill area Audience Industry
CRM Customer Service Reps Telecom
Performance management Managers and employees Pharmaceutical
Product knowledge Retail managers Retail
Medical knowledge Sales reps Pharmaceuticals
Process Improvement All employees Aerospace


Instruction-to-recall or Information-on-demand

Traditionally the key question to ask when deciding between e-learning (instruction-to recall) and performance support (information on demand) has been whether recall from memory is a key part of desired performance.  However, I have found that repeated use of a performance tool is the equivalent to practice exercises in an e-learning program.  With repeated use concepts, principles and procedures in a performance support tool are soon “recalled” without accessing the tool and the need to “look up” information gradually diminishes.  I call that learning.

To learn more:

Performance Support lab

Wikipedia definition

EPSS central

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