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The Future of On-The-Job Training: How Electronic Performance Support is Changing the Way We Learn at Work

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Stop: information overload. No Parking: the fast paced, dynamic business environment is stopping for no one. Give Way: a new generation of tech-savvy, independent, multi-tasking employees is coming through. Yes, the corporate learning environment is at a crossroads, and all signs are pointing to a need for change. Businesses are looking for new ways to manage modern learning requirements, and "electronic performance support," a new knowledge management concept, is providing many businesses with the "roadmap" they need to navigate through unfamiliar learning territory.

The following Q&A will help give you a deeper understanding of electronic performance support, its application to modern learning, and its viability as an alternative or complimentary tool in learning and performance-building strategies.

What is an electronic performance support system (EPSS), and what characteristics distinguish it from more traditional methodologies like classroom learning, paper manuals, or e-learning?

An EPSS delivers pieces of context-specific information to each employee at the exact moment he or she needs it in the course of his or her job. The self-service and embedded nature of the support allows employees to take charge of their own working and learning environments with limited interruption to job workflow. Learning is brought as close as possible to the point of use, maximizing its ability to directly improve performance.

How is electronic performance support addressing changes in the learning environment?

A trend report released by Forrester Research in February stated that a new generation of learning is upon us. This new era is described as a coming together of knowledge, learning, and work as learners demand immediate learning that takes place in the context of their job. While learning in the classroom or through structured e-learning courses is still critical, the needs of employees can no longer be met solely through traditional education programs in the workplace.

There are two main factors driving the changes in learning, and electronic performance support (with its mantra "train less, support more") is addressing each challenge in its own unique way.
  • Information explosion and the dynamic nature of business:

    The information available to humans is growing at a mammoth rate each year, and operating in this environment is the modern and continually evolving business which experiences constant changes to applications, processes, product/service information, and compliance requirements. This creates issues for the most commonly accepted training model which focuses on building up an employee's mental "bank" of knowledge. It's simply no longer possible to mentally store and edit this quantity of information, and according to Carnegie-Mellon University, we've slowly reduced the amount of job-related info we memorize from 75% in 1987 to less than 20% today.

    An EPSS reduces the need for heavy-training courses that require employees to memorize large amounts of information because it puts the most up-to-date information at learners' fingertips. Businesses suddenly have a responsive tool that can communicate changes to the entire organization as soon as the new information or processes are relevant. An EPSS also allows employees to maximize its relevance by feeding tips and experiences back into the system for the benefit of their peers.

  • Generation change:

    Never before have trainers had to manage so many different generational groups in one workplace. From Veterans (born between 1922 and 1945) to Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000), each generation has its own characteristics, likes, and dislikes, including a preferred approach to learning. Some employees like formal classroom learning, while others will turn to the Internet or instant message a peer to find the answers to their questions in real time. And as a new wave of young employees moves into the workplace, their innate uses of technology, abbreviated communication styles, and informal, fast-switching methods of operation must be taken into consideration when designing learning strategies.

    The aim here is not to stereotype employees by their birth date but rather to recognize that different groups have different learning preferences, whether this is in relation to their ages, backgrounds, or simply personal preferences. A single method or narrow-minded approach will not guarantee optimal learning. The right answer is a skilful blend that includes new approaches like electronic performance support to appeal to those who prefer a more unstructured and independent learning environment. By offering alternatives at the informal end of the learning continuum, as opposed to "leaving it to the employee," organizations also maintain some degree of control over the accuracy of information their employees access and share. This results in better-informed, more-productive staff.
How does an EPPS differ from an on-demand simulation?

Simulations are targeted at helping employees step through a specific task in a specific system. They are less able to assist with cross-application support, support related to business rules and best practices, or providing context around the process - many of the things that are just as important to the end user. Watching a video simulation can also be time consuming and is an unrealistic option for those dealing directly with customer requests in real time.

Are there situations for which electronic performance support is most beneficial?

Electronic performance support is particularly useful for workplaces where time-sensitive or complex tasks must be completed or where users are accessing multifaceted systems. For example:
  • Heavily regulated environments, such as banking, insurance, and healthcare.

  • Large and mid-sized organizations with CRM and ERP/financial systems.

  • Environments that require a high degree of accuracy or competency.

  • Organizations with a large number of new hires who require fast time-to- competency.

  • Organizations that suffer significantly by having staff take time away from the field to complete training.
How does an EPSS affect classroom or e-learning training strategies?

Having an electronic performance support system doesn't eliminate the need for structured training tools, but it does reduce the reliance on long and detailed training sessions. Rather, training can focus on providing context and soft skills, as well as equipping employees with the skills to find the information they need when they need it—thereby encouraging a more informal learning approach.

What's the key point trainers and documenters need to know about content for an EPSS?

For documenters and trainers, the key is to create content that's actionable. In practice, this means the content must be in a distilled form that's highly structured and prioritized so the end user can go from searching for knowledge to finding that knowledge in the shortest timeframe possible.

What benefits should electronic performance support contribute to businesses as a whole?
  • Reduced training time.

  • Fewer help desk and support calls to training and subject-matter experts.

  • Greater user adoption and compliance to new systems, processes, or regulations.

  • Greater on-the-job productivity, with less rework and higher accuracy.

  • Faster acceptance of new products.

  • Faster time-to-competence and productivity for new hires.
About the Author

Ted Gannan is CEO of Panviva, a leading developer of performance support solutions. Panviva's flagship product is SupportPoint. For more information, visit

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Popular tags:

 compliance requirements  classrooms  on the job training  applications  generations  information overload  procedures  environments  employers  business environment

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