How competent do learners need to be?

That significant question ought to be answered, thoughtfully and thoroughly, before instructional designers get to work.

Why? Because sometimes training isn’t needed—or learners are successfully completing training but failing to meet learning or performance goals. For some performance goals, performance support in the form of job aids or just-in-time learning tools might be preferable to a more formal training module.

One example is safety compliance training. Molly Petroff is an education specialist at Saint Vincent Health System in Erie, Pennsylvania. She designed—and her team created—an online tool that makes a strong argument for replacing some safety and emergency training with performance support.

Hospitals are big, complicated places. “Safety” is a huge umbrella. Employees need to know how to deal with myriad situations: how to evacuate patients during a fire or other emergency, how to handle a spill of a dangerous substance, where and when to use emergency resuscitation equipment, even how to locate and use a fire extinguisher. Every department has different policies and procedures and a different layout—meaning that equipment is stored in different places—and staffers are likely to encounter different types of emergencies and safety issues. To top it all off, some staff, like nurses and techs, might rotate among departments.

It’s just not practical to expect every staffer to learn and master—memorize—every potential procedure. But safety training is mandatory, and the hospital can get dinged on accreditation and other required inspections if staffers can’t demonstrate knowledge of safety or emergency procedures. And it’s just common sense to want staffers to feel comfortable and competent when faced with an emergency, an accident, or any safety-related incident or question.

At Saint Vincent, staffers were consistently meeting training goals, but sometimes showed deficiencies in performance. “The problem was people did not remember everything in the training that surveyors chose to ask about,” Petroff said in an email conversation.

Asking the right questions

Petroff said that her team approaches instructional design projects by asking the right questions. “Our first question is always, ‘Is this a performance issue? Do you want this training because people are not doing something they should be doing, or are they doing something wrong?’” she said.

If they determine that the issue is performance, they respond by planning and designing a performance support tool. If not, then the next step is deciding whether there is a need for education—eLearning—or information dissemination.

The team might determine that the solution demands both training and performance support. In that case, Petroff said, they develop an eLearning solution, “being sure to incorporate the performance support into the education, so people know how to use it when they return to work.”

When the hospital had performance citations in a safety inspection, they decided to develop a performance support tool to address the problem, rather than continue with the training that wasn’t working.

Deploying Safety GPS

Petroff’s solution, Safety GPS, is available on all computers and tablets, everywhere in the hospital. Every staffer has access and learns how to use Safety GPS.

“The Safety GPS is intended to be an immediately accessible resource with answers to any emergency or safety related performance challenges that staff may have,” Petroff said. “Resources available in the Safety GPS are tailored to staff role and ‘just enough’ information for people to get back to their performance as quickly as possible. Additional information is available if the user decides they need it, but the initial assistance served up to the user is as concise as possible.”

The flexible design of Safety GPS puts control in the learners’ hands. Safety GPS offers detailed procedures for every department and any type of safety or emergency situation, but in a format that makes it easy for users to access as much (or as little) information as they need. Need to know how to use a fire extinguisher? Find the instructions in under a minute. Need to know the evacuation procedure for the cardio wing? That, too, is findable. Terms are defined, step-by-step instructions are available, and maps are linked. Users can quickly drill down to the level of detail they need. Robust search capability and clear design place all the needed information at employees’ fingertips—while leaving them free to ignore procedures that are irrelevant to them, and not demanding that people memorize vast amounts of information that they may never be called on to use.

Safety GPS replaces thick manuals that no one ever read and that could require considerable time to search through for the correct process or instructions. Training on using Safety GPS replaces mandatory compliance training that people completed mechanically—and promptly forgot. Best of all, instead of dull training that makes people roll their eyes and look for ways to escape, employees get to do short “scavenger hunts.” They meet safety training and performance requirements by demonstrating that they can quickly find any piece of information, no matter how arcane.

“The surveyors are actually OK with people not knowing an answer right away, as long as they know where to find it within a reasonable amount of time,” Petroff said. “That was not the case when we relied on policy books and procedure manuals.”