What, Why and How: Performance Support

There’s been some buzz in the learning industry lately on the combination of performance support and mobile learning in the workplace—sometimes referred to as “mSupport.” Performance support is simply putting the right information – and access to that information – into the hands of your workforce, right when they need it. This type of training provides on-demand, just-in-time external resources that can be referred to as needed and is usually used simultaneously (or closely) with the task or challenge at hand.

Why performance support?

In 2007, the New Yorker magazine featured an article written by Atul Gawanda describing the power of checklists in medicine and commercial flight (check it out here). No matter the length and quality of the training, it is virtually impossible for one person to remember all that is required for a given situation. If we could remember everything, then this type of training support wouldn’t be necessary! Because of the limited capacity of our short-term memory, and because moving data into long-term memory demands resources for repetitive practice over time, there is an opportunity for aided performance through support such as memory joggers or checklists. In fact, even Albert Einstein relied on performance support. After being interviewed once, a reporter asked if he could have Einstein’s phone number so he could call in case he had any further questions. “Certainly” replied Einstein, as he picked up a phonebook and looked up his own number, wrote it on a slip of paper, and gave it to the reporter. Dumbfounded, the reporter said, “You are considered to be the smartest man in the world and you can’t remember your own phone number?” To which Einstein replied, “Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it?”

What type of performance support do you use professionally? How about personally? Are any of these resources mobile? Examples of mobile performance support may be as simple as a text message that reminds you how to make the Thanksgiving turkey or a smartphone that reads the QR code on a prescription and warns you of a negative drug interaction. From an instructional design perspective, when considering performance support, you have to address the five “moments of need.” These include:

1. When learning for the first timeimage1
2. When wanting to learn more
3. When trying to remember or apply
4. When things change
5. When something goes wrong

Mobile approaches can be especially helpful with the last three situations. For example, consider a few examples of mobile performance support in the form of apps that could be used on-the-job:

  • HVAC Calculator app
  • iBartender (cocktail recipers) for a restaurant server
  • “Chord,” a guitar chord app finder for a music teacher
  • Leafsnap, which uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves for use by a nature guide, for example
  • In Case of Emergency, an app that stores helpful information used by first responders and hospital staff

Performance support can deliver valued assistance as-needed, and presenting this information in mobile form can offer even better, more convenient on-demand support for users.  So how are organizations using performance support in mobile forms to deliver just-in-time support to their employees? CTI has developed a prototype of a mobile performance support tool intended to be utilized by students after instructor-led facilitation to help maintain retention and give students just-in-time information regarding crew resource management (CRM) skills covered in class.

A multitude of other organizations are going mobile with their performance support, too.  In particular, SONIC Drive-In’s performance support for new products has been showcased recently in the eLearning image2Guild’s study of how mLearning is benefiting organizations around the world. SONIC offers a variety of menu items (including nearly 400,000 drink combinations!) and staff members are frequently learning how to prepare new “limited time” menu offerings. They needed to train staff to prepare their extensive and rapidly evolving menu without taking time away from the workplace to log in to their eLearning training materials. As typically done in mobile learning, the training was designed to complement rather than replace existing training offerings, so SONIC’s in-house development concentrated on delivering small bites of information via mobile devices. This was promoted through a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiative targeted mainly to Apple and Android devices, meaning the employees were not supplied devices to access training but were encouraged to access it as-needed on their own devices. The solution took the form of condensed information in the format of PDFs and demonstration videos. Since they wanted to reach out to multiple devices, SONIC opted to use mobile web as opposed to a native app, making it viewable across a range of devices via web browsers. The two initial pilots proved a huge success with great enthusiasm for the material and requests for more, notably for more video content.

While there are a number of challenges to overcome when deploying performance support via mobile learning, perhaps the biggest is the plethora of options to consider. How you decide to deploy the learning should be guided by your decision on what you are aiming to achieve and what will meet the best needs of your learners. The BYOD principle is here to stay, so you must consider the different operating systems and screen size options of your users. Lastly, a marketing strategy for your recent development is imperative – your users need to know it’s out there and ready for use. Studies have proven great enthusiasm from users of well-designed mobile learning – It’s a brave, new, exciting world out there for both learning professionals and end users; the possibilities are limitless!

Interested in digging deeper? Check out these articles related to performance support:






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