How did you learn the “ABC’s”? In the United States, many of us learned our letters through repetition and singing a song. And the song just happens to also be the same melody as another song that many children learn and sing often, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” (“The Star,” Rhymes for the Nursery. Taylor, Ann, Taylor, Jane. 1806). This was likely your introduction to using mnemonics to learn.
Think back to the ways you helped yourself learn in school. What sort of things did you or your teacher craft to help pass spelling and math tests? You might have created cheat sheets, flash cards, mnemonics, rhymes, or set the information to a melody. It is likely that what worked in elementary school carried forward, in some fashion, into high school and then into college. And if we’re honest, we probably use some of these techniques in our working life, too.
It is ironic that we don’t really learn while we’re learning. Learning takes place later when our brains can apply it to familiar circumstances and contexts. Then, it is through repetition that we embed the learning. This is the process of our brain moving the newly acquired information from our short-term memory and into our long-term memory. Linking the new learning to context and repetition helps our brains determine how best to file it for easy access when needed—whether in the short term or far into the future. It is for this reason that the learning content design plan takes planning performance support into account: If it is important enough to expend resources to build and deploy, it is also important enough to craft a solid performance support plan up front, as well.
Enter Performance Support for Learners AND Managers
At its essence, our role as Learning and Development (L&D) professionals is to remove barriers to learning so everyone can be more successful in their work. People are busy. And distracted. During the learning, their brains are busy trying to make sense of the content, and the part of their brains that rationalizes things may not yet believe this is something they need to know, know how to do, and retain. Why make them memorize something they have yet to fully accept they need?
Enter performance support. This comes in the form of a tool(s), sometimes referred to as “job aids,” like the one you crafted to get every state capital correct on the social studies test. And the way(s) employees and team members are coached to success in their work. These include tools for supervisors and managers as they coach to the new process, procedures, etc., on the job. Please don’t assume the supervisors or managers know how to coach this learning content. (Nooooo. Never assume this.) The tool is likely to include things such as:
- Language to use and talking points
- Key success metrics
- Realistic milestones that reflect progress
- Best ways to recognize achievement of the goal(s)
- Potential remediation strategies for circumstances when results don’t meet expectations
Now for the actual tool or tools people will use in their work. It might be well to think of these as works in progress. This is true because what is conceived early in the design process may work well right after people complete the learning content but isn’t what they need in their day-to-day work. How do you know? Make a plan for asking them and observing them in their work at specific intervals post-learning.
What Makes Something an Effective Job Aid?
A gazillion things hold potential to become performance support tools and job aids. The only limit is your imagination! Don’t lament if you don’t have a software application or skill. Think of creative ways to use what you already have and know how to use. It will be enough.
A few examples:
- Low/no-risk “real-world” challenges
- Scavenger hunt-type activities
- Digital escape room
- QR code ideas
- Reference tools such as look-up tables of codes or terminology in systems
- Guided Learning for Users
- Chatbots and other types of artificial intelligence (AI)
- E-mail or text message “Did you know…?” reminders provided across time
- Location for users to share lessons learned, tips, and best practices
As the saying goes, this is more art than science. Keep the following in mind, and add your own as relevant to the circumstances:
- Whenever possible, observe people doing the work.
- Read the sticky notes and cheat sheets in people’s work areas.
- Don’t just take one or two opinions as to what people need and need to know or know how to do. Instead, ask those who do the work.
- Ask many open-ended questions.
- Ask what would have been helpful after onboarding? Or, post-learning new job skills.
- Try to discern what is/was most difficult for people new to the job or when using new skills in their existing jobs.
- As people develop the learning content, what issues do the developers run into often?
- What are users reporting to and contacting the support desk for? Note: Make it a point to check in on this often.
- What else?
Let’s strive to make effective performance support the goal instead of just completing development of another e-learning course or facilitating a full calendar of classes.