Training and Performance Support: What’s the Difference?

Performance support, or contextually-embedded tools and content provided at the moment of need, is an excellent addition to your learning and training program. All of the friction that your employees typically face when trying to complete an unfamiliar task—Googling the answer, flipping through training manuals, or asking a manager—can be reduced to simply running through a checklist or pulling out their phone. With the right resources, they’re back on the job in no time.

But while performance support certainly has its advantages, that doesn’t mean that you should use it as a replacement for all of your existing training initiatives. Both formal training, such as classroom-based or virtual courses, and performance support serve important purposes in your employees’ overall learning journey. If you can strike the right balance between the two, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re not wasting time in classrooms nor relying too heavily on performance support to fill the learning gap.

In this post, we’ll explain how to conceptualize performance support in relation to conventional training, and how that affects which technologies you should choose.

How to Think About Training & Performance Support

Employees typically use performance support to remind themselves of knowledge that they’ve already learned, such as new software, but that’s not always the case. Performance support may include minor details that employees never needed to memorize or information that’s continually updated, such as product specs.

On the other hand, employees receive formal training when they need to gain specific skills, such as a leadership training, or meet certain compliance standards, such as completing a sexual harassment course. These skills are often imperative to performing their job, and something that employees shouldn’t have to reference. Put more simply, The eLearning Guild has created a helpful chart for thinking about training and performance support in their white paper, “At the Moment of Need: The Case for Performance Support.” We’ve re-created it below:

  Training Performance Support
Purpose Instruct Perform
Workflow Postpone work Do work
Value of Learning Learning is structured Learning happens incidentally
Goal Gain skill & knowledge Accomplish work tasks

The most notable difference is between the two is “postponing work” and “doing work.” As you map out what learning needs to happen when, ask yourself, “Is this material complicated or important enough to postpone work, or can my employees reference it on the job?”

Choosing the Right Technologies

Deciding how to distribute your material is as important as deciding where in the learning process your employees should receive it. Within the realm of content, that typically boils down to two questions: 1) Should you create digital content or stick with paper-centric formats, like binders? and 2) Is mobile-optimization a priority for your employees, or will they be satisfied with desktop consumption?

To answer these questions, think about your own organization—your budget constraints, where your employees will access each type of content, and if they need enhanced interactivity. But first, let’s start with purpose: what purpose does each training component serve, and how does that align with the technology that you’re using?

Formal Training

Formal training, which is typically guided by a classroom instructor or online simulation, is often delivered through slides. This requires laptops and projectors, both of which are simple, but effective for a classroom setting. While it’s easy to imagine that your employees will make use of those slides outside of class, simply because they’re on their mobile devices, slides and phones aren’t naturally aligned. First, slides were designed to supplement instructors’ lectures and teaching, not to be used as stand-alone content. Second, phones aren’t typically used for deep-dive reading (e.g. pouring over slides) but rather for quick bursts of activity. In general, consider repackaging your slides if you’d like to take formal learning mobile.

Performance Support

Since performance support needs to be accessible where your employees are, it makes sense that most modern performance support is going mobile. However, just because you’ve made your content “mobile-accessible,” it doesn’t mean that the content is truly mobile-optimized. For example, if your employees have to pinch and zoom around a PDF on a small screen to read the text, they’ll likely end up frustrated. Instead, make sure that your content is bite-sized and searchable, so that it imitates the best qualities of the web.

The Bottom Line

Both formal training and performance support are important to a well-rounded training program, but it’s important to consider how they should be used, and with what. As mobile learning becomes more and more popular, make sure that you’re maximizing the technology’s capabilities, instead of simply putting your content on a mobile device.

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