We’re often told that performance support can be used in lieu of training. True enough, but training and performance support are not always conflicting. Sometimes one can enhance the other. If you are an instructional designer considering using performance support to augment your learning solutions, and you should be, let’s move past what it is … assuming you know that, and consider six scenarios where training might be helpful in fostering performance support adoption and use.

1. Training to support new performance support

Performance support tools are not always as intuitively obvious to use as they should be, especially to novice users. Some training may be needed before people can use the tool effectively. If this is your challenge, first consider building learning resources right into the performance support tool itself. If that’s not feasible, investigate exactly where the training is needed. Based on your findings, you might want to consider short, on-demand eLearning modules specifically designed around the tool, along with practice during any related classroom sessions.

2. Use performance support before coming to training

Sometimes, users must be able to use performance support before coming to training, as it will be a significant part of the classroom work. In this case, first determine whether users already know how to use the tool; you don’t want to waste your efforts on a problem that’s not there. If they don’t know how to use it, develop pre-course assignments specifically focused on using the tool so that learners will be ready to go when they get to class. Throughout the class, especially when they arrive and before they leave, exercise application of the tool to assure proficiency … and be sure to use real-world applications.

3. Use performance support immediately upon returning to the workplace

If users are required to immediately use the tool back on the job, follow the same suggestions as in #2 above, but, if necessary, create job aids or other usability resources for using the tool in the workplace and introduce them in the course. You can also provide for user certification in the use of the tool, especially if the performance is critical.

4. Users can’t figure out how to use new performance support in the workplace

In this scenario, it is probably unlikely that you can bring workers back into the classroom to alleviate this or to teach work-arounds to the problem. However, if the tool was originally introduced in the course, you might be dealing with ineffective instruction, so reexamine what you are doing in the training. On the other hand, the tool itself may be the issue. Examine it to see whether a redesign is in order. If users are having problems, and if those problems are similar across the user base, what needs to be done should be apparent. You may also want to look at the job aids and other resources that accompany the tool in the workplace; perhaps they can be improved. Finally, be sure to look at how actual work processes (the workflow) and the tool interact; there may be a disconnect there.

5. Users are forgetting how to use the performance support solution

Forgetting how to use a tool might be the result of a reduced need to use it. Perhaps the user has moved past a dependency on the tool. In such cases, you probably don’t have to do anything. On the other hand, sometimes the tool is used infrequently, but when it is used, it’s critical. People can forget something, even if it’s important, if they don’t use it often. If forgetting how to use the tool has serious performance consequences, you need to take action. Here you might introduce (or reintroduce) short, on-demand eLearning modules specifically around the tool, improve your job aids and other support for the tool (improving the support for the performance support), and, simultaneously perhaps, build and deploy a communication plan that reacquaints users with the importance of the tools.

6. Build new performance support solutions to replace some training

While instructional designers must be aware of the first five scenarios above, it is this sixth scenario—using performance support instead of training—that provides both a unique and challenging opportunity. Decisions to replace training with performance support should not be taken lightly. It is important to first determine where such a strategy best fits. Not all training can or should be replaced by performance support, so where you target such a change is critical. Once this is done and verified, you will have some important steps to take, including making a build-or-buy decision; constructing and testing prototypes; assuring that the solution fits into the workflow; redesigning the remaining training, both classroom and online; and deploying a change management and communication plan to help learners and users adjust to this new approach.

Rethinking training

Performance support is not the harbinger of the end of training. Those who suggest this are not considering the synergies these two approaches bring to the world of learning and performance. But performance support does compel us to rethink how we use training and suggests that combining the two can often be more effective and much more cost-efficient. And for those of us who have experienced resistance to performance support, integrating it smartly into a training program is a great first step to getting it noticed, without ruffling too many feathers.