One of the clear winners from the accelerating rate of technological change is performance support (PS). Not so much because of the technology itself, but because of what this rate of technological change is doing to content. Our new state of mobility has created demand for shorter content lengths and personalized learning experiences, and this is leading to the creation of content that fills gaps in the learning content continuum, gaps that form in learning initiatives between instructor-led training, module-based eLearning, and performance support.

When we look at content across a landscape of changing technologies and the new behaviors they produce, we see trends in general are shifting toward the long-held tenets of performance support: content is being contextualized for the learner’s environment, device, and moment of need; it’s becoming shorter in length; and it’s being made more easily accessible.

Our content habits

Media providers successfully compete for our attention across increasing numbers of devices and media channels by offering smaller pieces of content that deliver quicker payoffs to the viewer. With the level of search technologies and digital curation tools available today, content that is chunked into shorter lengths and made more interactive loses unnecessary bulk and becomes easier and quicker to find. Today, we walk around with yesterday’s mainframes in our pockets, connecting instantly to a world of answers. And we’ve developed new habits for finding information we need when we need it. These habits have followed us into the workplace, potentially resulting in a performance support renaissance, of sorts, where practically any worker can now be a know-it-all.

But while accessing much of the world’s information from the workplace can have an impact on business, it’s not always an impact for the better. Learning departments face challenges in creating and structuring performance support solutions that offer the best possible, most up-to-date content on a subject that is available at the moment someone needs it. And these solutions need to remain integrated with broader training initiatives while supporting learners’ device and environment preferences.

In next-generation performance support solutions, including adaptive and personalized learning technologies, we’re beginning to see with greater frequency the effects social media are having in enabling learners to evolve from passive media consumers to active contributors; we’re seeing content created through collaboration among learners as well as content curated in partnership between performance support audiences and their learning departments. As adaptive and personalized learning technologies allow us to tag specific pieces of content with an increasing taxonomy of meta data, those pieces of content become discoverable within performance support systems that instill in their users an engaging sense of serendipity.

Our content habits are trending in the direction of performance support, and at the same time, our device and environment preferences are pushing performance support solutions to slip timely information more seamlessly into our workflows.

PS content and mobility

There is little disagreement that HTML5 and the browser have become the mainstream enterprise application development environment, as Gartner documented in their top-10 strategic technology trends last year (see the references at the end of this article).

As such, the interoperability between learning environments and work environments continues to improve, blurring the lines between the two and fulfilling the notion posited over 15 years ago by Tony O’Driscoll, currently regional managing director at Duke Corporate Education. “Training, as a distinct function,” he said in an ISPI publication, “will no longer be the primary learning vehicle for many types of jobs” as workers instead use on-the-job information systems.

Moreover, training initiatives are now designed with the assumption of mobile audiences. Because of the hyper-portability of tablets and smartphones, mobile devices are used more often and in more places than PCs, according to Forrester Research. In 2014, mobile usage of the Internet exceeded PC usage for the first time, as documented by Search Engine Watch. Until recently, mobile devices were treated as end points for learning, where today they are key access points to a growing array of learning interactions. This opens up the playing field for performance support, allowing workers on the job to access multiple sources of useful just-in-time information.

The “single solution” eLearning module is a good example of how HTML5 and mobile devices have helped close gaps on the learning content continuum while also giving workers the on-the-job content they need right when they need it. A single learning solution can be created as a 30- to 45-minute formal learning module housed on the LMS and taken in one or more sittings, either on a computer or a tablet. The same learning module can be further contextualized to become a performance support tool when viewed on a smartphone. It’s the same module that appears on the computer and tablet, but it appears differently. HTML5 media queries identify the size and orientation of the smartphone screen and deliver only performance support content, eliminating assessment screens and gating, resizing images, replacing the navigation system, and reformatting text to create a sub-set of job-aid-only content. Now, when a worker on the job pulls out her smartphone to access the module, what is delivered to her is a performance support app and not the entire formal training module.

Shorter how?

Shorter content doesn’t mean less content. In this new age of learning—the big bang, if you will, a time of expanding learning ecosystems—learning has seeded itself in practically every environment encountered by today’s worker. It has propagated beyond the LMS, beyond the classroom, and beyond performance support tools. Successful content strategies must take into account not only traditional formal modalities and SME-generated content, but also our increased mobility; online collaboration and the content that is created there; and online community and content that is curated there. These shorter, particular pieces of information are each a small picture that when pieced together create the mosaic of learning we idealize for the learner.

Assembling that mosaic is the key, and so we must look at performance support both in terms of the many ways it can now be embedded into the work process and how its content can now be curated and piped in from multiple sources. Because performance support can be served up in increasingly new ways, PS content strategy has gained a new priority in eLearning.

Successful managers of change

Learning managers will face significant challenges throughout the remainder of the year as they endeavor to re-engineer performance support content strategies across a landscape of rapid technological change. As organizations begin to apply mobile-first and cloud-first strategies to learning, the successful organization will remain focused on a content-first approach in crafting performance support content for various media. This will require taking advantage of new media as they emerge without allowing learning content to be eclipsed by them. And these content strategies will further scale to include not only traditional approaches, where content is created to solve known problems, but also new approaches that connect learners to existing content through careful curation and that make that content readily available on their various devices and in their chosen environments.


Gartner. “Gartner Identifies the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2014.” 8 October 2013.

Tony O’Driscoll. Achieving Desired Business Performance: A Framework for Developing Human Performance Technology in Organizations. International Society for Performance Improvement, 1999.

Gownder, J. P. “Tablets Hold Their Own—and Then Some—n Work-Related Application Usage.” Forrester Research. 28 March 2013.

Murtagh, Rebecca. “Mobile Now Exceeds PC: The Biggest Shift Since the Internet Began.” Search Engine Watch. 8 July 2014.

Editor’s note

The Performance Support Symposium offers you an opportunity to explore the strategies, practices, and technologies being used to deliver 21st-century performance support. As the speed of business continues to accelerate, the ability to deliver information to workers quickly, when and where they need it, is becoming critical. This business need, combined with the increasing number of technologies that enable support to be embedded directly into the flow of work, has fueled a renewed interest in performance support in the workplace.

Join the conversation June 10 – 12 in Austin, Texas, and discover how you can enhance your training efforts by putting information in the workflow!