A New Face for Training: From Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere

From One Place to Everywhere

Long ago humans squinted at cave walls for guidance on hunting and cooking. Then we gathered together in rooms to hear the word from an authority. Now we peer into mobile phones, personal information managers and desktop computers to boost performance on just about everything. From product knowledge to closing a sale to securing data to retirement planning, dieting, dating and coping with organizational culture, we are not alone anymore. Lessons, advice and support are here and there, where and when we need them.

This is very different from the training we know so well today. Even with the best instructors, the classiest rooms and the freshest ground coffee, training is not on demand: for example, when a system goes down, a question comes up or a customer goes ballistic.

The most significant thing going on in training and development today is that we have punched through the walls of the classroom to allow experts and peers to bring their messages closer to the work. This happens in many ways, via e-coaches, knowledge bases, blogs, wikis and performance support tools. What all have in common is that they are happening where we work and live.

Performance Support Tools

The best way to appreciate performance support is to look at examples showing how performance support solves problems and elevates practice.

I remember twiddling my thumbs while waiting to do laundry in my dorm at college. When I wanted to do the wash, the washers and dryers were almost always busy, causing frustration, late nights and early mornings. When I did get to it, the room, with scattered piles of laundry, wet and dry, disgusted me. This was the result of aggressive launderers who chucked wash on the table if you weren’t there to claim it.

Enter e-Suds

e-Suds is civilizing the process by introducing information and technology. USA Technologies installed Internet-based laundry systems on several university campuses. The system tracks the use of washers and dryers and then alerts students by e-mail, cell or PDA to the status of their laundry and the washers and dryers in close proximity. Imagine the benefits of knowing the "wash cycle is complete" on your load, or that a washer and dryer is available in Chavez Dormitory, floor 3, north end.

My baby boomer life cries out for performance support. The Wall Street Journal (Greene, September 26, 2005, R1) described what Intel found when researching digital entertainment preferences. To their surprise, boomers did not want another way to watch TV. They wanted help with their aged parents—especially support in dealing with dementia. This led the company to create a system to cope with not recognizing faces and voices, and not remembering what was talked about during the last conversation. Their system, "caller ID on steroids," responds when the phone rings, with a photo, name and topics covered during the last interaction, so that the senior can engage with more certainty and comfort.

Those are problems solved by performance support. But what about elevating performance at work? As a doctor approaches a hospital bed, radio frequency identification (RFID) can notify his or her PDA about the patient’s condition, history, medication and recent test results. Of most interest in this example, the physician is also alerted to a new publication relevant to this patient’s disease. Standing beside the bed, the admittedly well-trained doctor can scan the text to determine how these finding affect the patient.

As you can see from these examples, performance support is immediate, present and targeted. It earns its place by adding value as representatives, doctors, supervisors, seniors and auditors respond to tasks and challenges. Performance support tools go where they need to go—where an expert instructor typically cannot.

A Blend, Really

Annual studies by ASTD and TrainingMagazine confirm the slow and steady trend away from classroom delivery and towards more technological and independent approaches.Blended approaches are increasingly favored—resulting in programs that include face-to-face events, augmented by on-demand assets. It grows ever less unusual to encounter a training program that is primarily online and on demand, with instructor time reserved for selected challenges and topics.

When work and learning occur at different times and in different places, as is the traditional way, there is good reason to worry about transfer. Will the skills, knowledge and attitudes picked up in class in June help with responding to customer inquiries in July or September? If you have worried about transfer, struggled with scheduling classes, lamented that what was taught, now eight days later, needs to be updated, you are already inclined
beyond the podium. Don’t you think it is time to do more than consider it?

This article is adapted from Rossett & Schafer’s book, Job Aids and Performance Support in the Workplace: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere, San Francisco: Pfeiffer/Wiley Inc. (2007).