Tag Archives: performance support

performance support in the real-world

My laptop crashed a couple of weeks back.  All was working perfectly the night before, and when I shut down and was prompted to install Windows updates, I did.  The next morning, I was met with this…

Windows 8 Error

I found myself stuck in an endless loop of sad face.  After the initial panic subsided, I worked through some diagnostics and error codes, and with the help of Google, found that I needed to do a system refresh, to take me back to a simpler time of pre-update harmony.  I was reassured by the on screen advice that my files and settings would be preserved, but I may need to reinstall some software and apps.  Sounded great to me, so I did what I was told, and all appeared to be well.

Unfortunately, once I got going again, I found that some of my Outlook data files had not restored properly.  I’ve long been a user of the Notes feature in Outlook to store useful info, including the usernames and passwords for my many subscriptions to sites and services.  And like a numpty, I had not backed them up anywhere.

After Googling and then searching through my system files, I found where Outlook had stored the archive file that contained the Notes and Contacts.   The trouble was getting Outlook to recognise and open the file. After much interweb searching and experimentation throughout the day, I found similar tales of woe, but no successful advice on what to do.  So  I ‘phoned a friend’ – a web chat with the Microsoft Technical Support crew, and started a late night discussion with a lovely fellow in another timezone.  He remotely logged on to my laptop, I showed him where the file was, and together we tried several ways to bring it back into Outlook.  He got his colleagues involved. We tried a few more things, but the upshot was that my Notes were apparently gone forever.  Paraphrased: ‘So sorry Mairi.  This new version of Outlook will never open that file.  It’s a bug that we’re aware of and will try to rectify in the future.  But this will not help you. Thanks for calling Microsoft.  Is there anything else I can help you with today?’

Not being one to easily give up on anything, let alone the mini-passports to my increasingly digital life, I kept searching for a solution to recover them, or at least a way to open them so I could copy the information into new notes and back them up.  I found a few Outlook recovery tools that looked promising, but I wasn’t prepared to pay the big bucks their creators were asking.  But then I stumbled across a free demo that suggested maybe all was not lost.  I downloaded it, ran the extractor, and my heart skipped an excited beat when all my Notes, with clickable access to their precious content, appeared before me.  I opened up Outlook, and set about creating a new set of Notes files, singing a happy tune as I went.  And then I set a click-speed record backing those little gems right up!

In the spirit of sharing good fortune (and great learnings), I initiated another web chat to my friendly Microsoft Tech Support Crew fellow, told him the good news, and gave him the lowdown and links to how I’d solved the problem.  He was grateful and I went to bed a very happy girl. 🙂

Over the following days, I got to thinking about how this was a good  real-life example of Performance Support in action.  All the ingredients were there:

  • I had a wicked real-time problem that my tacit knowledge alone could not fix.
  • I had a clear view of the performance goal and was motivated to achieve it.
  • I had a network of technical experts available to me to bounce ideas off that might help me fix my problem.
  • I had easy access to a rich array of information generously shared by others that helped me understand more about my problem and contained guideposts to potential solutions.
  • I had an experimental mindset and I persisted until I achieved my goal.
  • When I finally achieved my goal, I paid the learning forward.

Performance Support is a valuable tool for learning in any sector.  It’s a fancy name given to something that has happened as a matter of course in nature forever – a problem is presented, available  resources are used to solve it, and life goes on.  This natural approach resonates with the relatively recent use of the term ‘Learning and Performance Ecosystem’.  I just love the mental imagery this conjures up of the world of learning – one of connection, collaboration, adaptability, responsiveness, creativity, persistence.  All wonderful attributes, and all very natural for humans of all ages everywhere.

The more we can foster, create and support learning and performance ecosystems, particularly in our workplaces, the less we will need to rely on traditional training models, where we attempt to predict all possible performance problems, and inject the knowledge to fix them ahead of time.  Now more than ever, the world doesn’t work like this, and neither do people.

what L&D could learn from other education sectors

L&D Managers: could you improve the performance and impact of your workplace educational practice through learning from other sectors?

As a keen follower of what’s happening across all areas of education, I’m always interested in how advancements or areas of focus in one sector could be applied to another. So here’s my take on a couple of things from each sector that could have some useful transferability to L&D and workplace education.

Pre K & Early Childhood

One thing that Pre K and Early Childhood educators do exceptionally well is focusing on the importance of learner centredness and maximising the power of play.

Learner centred instruction is based on the constructivist principles of Piaget, where learners use their prior knowledge to construct a mental model of the world, which forms a foundation for future learning based on experience and discovery.

A play based curriculum supports the constructivist theory of learning, by giving learners the space, time and scope to explore and experience a range of activities that lead to meaningful learning. Physical, emotional, social and academic development occurs through the learners participating in activities that provide the opportunity to:

  • Develop fine and gross motor skills,
  • Practice positive behaviours by engaging in and resolving conflict,
  • Use communication and negotiation tactics to advance their needs,
  • Develop curiosity, openness and creativity, and
  • Build resilience, optimism and empathy for others.

The academic requirements of the early childhood curriculum are oriented to be achieved in parallel, through the educators constructing and maintaining the appropriate environment, resources and activities required to provide a rich range of learning opportunities.


The K-12 sector is the broadest educational sector, due to the age range of learners and the highest engagement levels, and because it’s compulsory! Not surprisingly given their scope, this sector excels at maximising the engagement of school communities, encouraging collaboration between learners and educators to experiment and innovate to improve learning outcomes, and increasing learner self-responsibility through building social and emotional maturity.

Building learner, parent and community engagement to improve the focus on learning outcomes has a positive impact on student achievement. Increasing the transparency and communication of school-life, including target curriculum areas and results, behaviour expectations, decision making processes, current areas of challenge and progressing the creation of school-community partnerships all combine to create an atmosphere of joint responsibility for successful learning.

Collaboration, experimentation and innovation is also a major focus area, both within the implementation of school curriculum to build learner-learner relationships, but also between educators across the world. School based teachers are an incredibly generous and collaborative bunch, focused as they are on improving the quality and effectiveness of their individual and collective practice.

In addition to the more established opportunities for peer-to-peer collaboration, there are hundreds of regularly occurring Twitter Chats where teachers share ideas and resources with each other, and spark countless projects for innovation and experimentation that transcend school, specialisation and geographical boundaries. The exciting thing about Twitter Chats is that anyone from any sector is able to follow along and join in the learning fun.

Self-responsibility is also of increasing focus in the K-12 space. The sector recognises the importance of implementing strategies that create an environment for students to learn the social and emotional skills of self-awareness, self-management, building and maintaining relationships and making good choices. One small example of this is from direct experience – my local school has had a fantastic program in place since my daughter’s first year there, which support students to manage their own behaviours. The Behaviour Management Framework clearly and simply articulates five levels of behavior, complete with examples of the acceptable (and not acceptable) behaviours aligned to each level. Consequences are also clearly articulated, and consistently implemented across the entire school.

From a student’s point of view, it provides them with the transparency and guidance they need to understand what good and bad behaviour looks like, and what will happen to them if their behaviour causes them to move up and down the levels. From a parent’s point of view, there is no subjectivity or confusion about the implementation of rewards and consequences. It also instils greater confidence that the students who have experienced this self-managed-behaviour model in practice may be that much more prepared to function in the world outside of school. And perhaps most importantly, from an educator’s perspective, shifting some of the responsibility and ownership for behaviour management from teachers to students allows more time, energy and focus to be redirected towards creating a cohesive learning environment.

Vocational Education

The vocational education sector has long been focused on macro-level requirements to build workforce participation and productivity through skill development. The dual challenges of unemployment and underemployment, set against the background of the imminent retirement of baby boomers, is a situation facing many countries, including Australia.

What the vocational education sector does well is building and maintaining a long term view of labour force requirements, and focusing investment and funding to incentivise skill development across industry. The government architects of the vocational education sector are adept at creating a macro view of current and future trade-based geographic influencers on required workforce productivity and participation.

The establishment of evidence-based targets for achieving long-term skill development priorities provides certainty for employers and market providers, and by extension, navigable career paths for prospective students and employees.

Workplace Education

Workplace education has always been about skilling people for the work they do with whatever company employs them. There is some crossover between workplace and vocational education, but for the purposes of this exercise, workplace education is considered to be the internal strategies and frameworks an organisation puts in place to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities of their workforce.

Workplace education is one sector where there has been more variability in how effectively and efficiently employee learning and development has been implemented. Maybe this is because it’s the least regulated of all sectors? Or perhaps because it has been, and still is, highly dependent on company priorities and budgets, and more easily influenced by management, leadership and HR fads? That’s a topic for another post…!

The 70:20:10 model of learning, introduced in the mid 90’s by McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger, proposes that learning best occurs in the ratios of 70% experiential, 20% through other people, and 10% formal training. This model has been adopted as a guiding framework for workplace education by many organisations. However, observers would say that it has been slow to get real traction, as many less progressive companies are yet to truly capitalise on the benefits and impacts of informal and experiential learning, and fall back on formal training as the basis for much of their focus and investment.

What is encouraging is the slow but steady shift towards improving the practical application of learning for higher performance. Strategies that focus on the measurable transfer and application of knowledge, skill and experience are being implemented in Learning and Development functions the world over. The adoption of performance support tools to support or even replace a more traditional learning process is on the rise. Think of performance support as processes, tools or systems that help people learn what they need to perform the job, or solve the problem that is right in front of them, in real time.

The broader learning and performance ecosystem of people, processes, content and technology, is increasingly being recognised for the important influence it has on the success and sustainability of workplace education initiatives.

Higher Education

With education as the core business and high levels of competition to attract prospective students, my observation is that higher education invests more than any other sector in the development of research, systems and infrastructure for successful graduate outcomes. There is a high focus on understanding and improving the impact that physical and virtual campus spaces have on learning, and the adoption of flexible technologies to maximize student engagement.

The higher education sector is also focused on increasing the accessibility and flexibility of learning by improving pathways for students from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and regional areas, removing educational barriers for students with disabilities, and targeting gender balance across areas of study.

Adult and Community Education

The community and adult education sector is a broad one, based around a learner centred approach to providing the necessary skills and abilities to improve lifelong and lifewide learning and participation.

With such a broad focus, the sector is excellent at recognising and working to remediate the challenges facing adult learners across all stages of life, with a focus on developing the underlying skills and abilities to improve access to learning and participation. Literacy and numeracy is one of the most significant barriers, with an estimated seven million adult Australians currently lacking the literacy and numeracy skills to effectively function in modern society.

The successful adoption of flexible and innovative learning approaches, in collaboration and partnership with community based organisations, councils, state and federal governments and adult learning practitioners is also a strength of this sector, as they work towards closing the gap for unemployed, underemployed and underskilled adults, and breaking the intergenerational impacts on children, families and communities.

Education Services

The education services sector encompasses all private providers who provide a learning-related services for a profit. This is another broad sector, ranging from small one-person operations, to large corporations operating across entire countries or internationally.

Operators within this sector have built their business by targeting areas of learning need not adequately met by the other education sectors, and/or creating a market for their services. Many providers focus on the ancillary or support areas of education, including the systems and technologies that are increasingly required to implement, manage and track learning in the digital age.

Not surprising for a sector at the mercy of market forces, the education services industry as a whole excel at predicting the future requirements of their own and other sectors, and by tailoring their services to meet the needs of their clients.

Open Learning

While open learning as a concept to enhance or extend opportunities beyond formal education has been around since the 1970’s, it is only really in the last decade that technology has enabled it to progress to what could be considered a sector. The rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has seen existing and new players provide free or inexpensive content, courses and qualifications that can be easily accessed by anyone with access to the internet.

The standout achievement of this fast-moving sector is the low or no-barrier-to entry nature of the learning it provides. It enables learners to experiment and engage with an increasingly broad range of topics, with no risk and often no cost. The use of learning badges is also a reasonably recent innovation, which provides a learner-centred approach to collecting evidence and external recognition for their efforts, and allowing people full control to create personalised learning pathways to career or professional advancement.

In a nutshell – what could L&D teams adopt from each sector?

Sector Standouts What L&D could do with it
Early Childhood Learner centredness and the power of play Deconstructing the curriculum to create more self-directed opportunities for learning, and building experimentation, discovery and fun into course design
K-12 Community engagement, collaboration and increasing learner self-responsibility Build greater engagement with learners and leaders to build the learning-through-work community, and develop learner self- responsibility for managing and monitoring learning transfer and performance impact
Vocational Education Macro-level workforce participation and productivity through skill development Improve long-range evidence-based forecasting of workforce learning and performance requirements, to prioritise focus and investment, set targets and smooth or remove implementation roadblocks
Workplace Education Practical application of learning and use of support tools for higher performance within the learning ecosystem Re-imagine the role of L&D within the learning ecosystem, and elevate the importance of performance support systems to optimise practical application and reduce off-the-job learning time
Higher Education Learning research, systems and infrastructure investment to improve student outcomes Invest time and effort into researching, designing and creating the capabilities, spaces and systems for L&D to support current and future learning and performance outcomes
Adult and Community Education Identifying and addressing underlying challenges of learning and working within and across communities Identify and analyse the underpinning challenges and individual differences of the workforce, and enable the creation and maintenance of communities centred around needs and interests
Education Services Predicting future requirements and customisation of services to client needs Work closely with internal customers to diagnose learning and performance problems, plan and deliver solutions, and track successes and failures
Open Learning Lowering or removing the barrier to entry and putting full control in the hands of learners Open up non-traditional cross-company learning opportunities, and encourage the collection of externally achieved badges for company recognition of learner-achieved knowledge and skill development


Have some ideas?

Please share your thoughts below and contact Open Access Learning if you’d like to continue the conversation about the opportunities for your L&D team to learn from other sectors.

Resources and further reading












Printable PDF: what l&d could learn from other education sectors

give your compliance learning program a shake up

L&D Managers: is your compliance learning program increasing risk, wasting time, money and employee brainpower, and damaging your internal brand?

Most organisations, particularly large ones, usually have a comprehensive compliance-based learning program covering the legislative and regulatory obligations of employers and employees. Course topics generally include health, safety and environment, corporate ethics, information and systems usage and employee conduct.

Getting compliance-based learning right is a critical risk mitigation process for organisations, and for many employees, these courses will probably be the most regular and predictable training they undertake across the course of their employment. But if the content is overloaded, irrelevant, and not immediately applicable, it might also be the most boring training they will ever do!

L&D departments have an important role to play in ensuring that the learning process doesn’t take a back seat to ‘butt-covering’. If you feel that there is room for improvement in how your organisation does compliance training, then read on for some handy tips to set you up for success before you design your new program.

1. Develop a current state view, including costs

Start by analysing your entire compliance learning program, and quantify everything you can. Put together a table capturing summary info on each course: topic areas; learning objectives; modes of delivery; completion timeframes; reaccreditation requirements and completion rates. To get to a deeper level of analysis, include the relationship between each course and the specific legislative, regulatory or risk elements they are designed to address. Going back to these first principles of what and why is particularly important to understand and capture, especially if you have a legacy program that has been in place and/or added to over a long period.

Make some assumptions about what the overall program costs to implement on a recurring annual basis. If you have access to standardised hourly labour rates across your company, and can apply this to the number of learners completing the programs in any given year, then use this calculate the exact costs. If you don’t have standardised rates, get your calculator and work out an average hourly rate for all learners and use this. It’s important to understand the true costs of your total compliance learning program so you can make informed assessments about impact and value.

This overall current state analysis will be very useful throughout the process of engaging stakeholders and informing review and future state design considerations, and later as a baseline to evaluate your new program against.

2. Know your stakeholders

There are many people who have a stake in the process and outcomes of compliance programs. The most obvious ones are the people who are responsible for organisational compliance. At the highest level, your CEO and/or Board are the people who are ultimately accountable for ensuring that all employees know what they need to know to keep the company out of legal trouble.

Depending on the size and complexity of your organisation, you may have a legal, risk or compliance team, who have assumed some delegated responsibility from the CEO and/or Board for managing the overall compliance program.

There will likely also be subject matter experts, who are the key authority for a particular topic. These people can be the trickiest to manage, as they will be neck-deep in the specifics of their focus areas, and may not be able to see ‘the wood for the trees’.

Managers are also stakeholders, from the perspective of the amount of time it takes them and their team members to complete the program of courses, and having to manage the application of what has been learned to daily business operations.

The most important stakeholder group are the learners themselves. With compliance programs, this is everyone, from the boardroom to the frontline, including everyone in the above groups.

3. Ask for feedback

Whether you want to gather feedback formally via focus groups or surveys, or informally via observation, anecdotal evidence or random interviews, it’s important to understand what people across all stakeholder levels think of your current program.

To get a richer level of feedback, try to construct questions that go beyond content and delivery, and gather information about the relevance, application and effectiveness of the learning. Look for examples of where the programs may have failed, and dive into why that could be. Your earlier analysis of costs, along with feedback gathered, will be important information to use if you decide to proceed with a project to revamp your program.

4. Research and create the overarching principles for your new program

Compliance programs can historically be dry and boring, and are often overloaded with content, so don’t fall into this trap with your new design. A good guiding principle is to include only that content that ‘everyone in your organisation needs to know every day.’ This in itself may sound like a recipe to include everything, but it’s not! You should aim to elevate the content to just the absolute basics. Many employees may not need to apply their learning very frequently, so it’s important that the content covered is relevant, delivered appropriately and immediately useful, to make the knowledge as sticky as possible.

Where more detailed information needs to be included, consider the performance support options available to your learners. Your program principles should then include how to best build your employee’s understanding of when and where to access this additional information e.g.: via your company policy and procedure manuals, intranet/portal sites for further information or key contacts for specific expertise or help desks.

It’s far more important that learners can identify and understand when and where to seek further information than it is to attempt to build a program that imparts an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything. It will cost a fortune, it won’t work, the learners will hate doing it, and your compliance risks will skyrocket.

5. Reference best practice and standards wherever possible

When considering the principles for your new design, refer to best-practice wherever you can. It can be very helpful to reference external research or published standards for compliance programs, particularly if you find yourself dealing with stakeholders who want to include reams of unnecessary content at the expense of the learning process.

There is a new ISO standard (19600:2014 – Compliance Management System Guidelines) that goes into some detail about the competence and training requirements of compliance programs. Copyright restrictions prevent me from including the full reference, but in nutshell it suggests that organisations should make sure that employees are competent via education, training and work experience, and that results would be evaluated for effectiveness and evidence of competence records should be retained. It also suggests that training should be tailored to company and employee obligations, be based on an assessment of knowledge and competence gaps, practical, relevant and easily understood, and flexible enough to allow for different needs.

For those of you with programs that have a never-ending cycle of reaccreditation – i.e.: some or all courses need to be redone at regular intervals – the ISO standard has a section on what the triggers for considering retraining should be. These include when there is a change of positions, responsibilities, policy, procedure, structure, company obligations, or issues arising from program failures or recorded non compliances. So unless any of the above have occurred, or you are subject to a piece of legislation that specifically mandates a training frequency, the courses in your compliance program should not need reaccreditation.

Your stakeholders might think that repetition = learning, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Do we really still believe that a person who needs to repeat a course on an annual basis understands everything on day 364, and on day 365 the knowledge just falls out of their head? It’s a ludicrous proposition, and if you can’t appeal to your stakeholder’s better judgment by referencing your feedback analysis and/or adult learning principles, the ISO standard might just help you to prove it.

Click here to purchase the full standard if you’re in Australia, or here for the rest of the world.

So what are you waiting for?

Compliance based learning programs get a bad rap in the world of work. And if they aren’t designed and reviewed properly, they probably should. If you’ve gotten this far, the next steps are where the fun begins – design, development, implementation and measurement!

Need help?

Contact Open Access Learning if you’d like more information or support to review and redesign your compliance learning program.

Further reading

Andrew Gerkens has published a great post on compliance training on LinkedIn Pulse – you can access it here

SAI Global have developed a useful and free illustrated guide to effective policy communication and training – you can access it here

Printable PDF: give your compliance learning programs a shake up