John Helmer reports from the Learning and Skills Group Conference and Learning Technologies Summer Forum. June 18th 2013, Olympia 2 London.
With the growth of m-learning opening up all sorts of opportunities for performance support this has become a popular buzzword. But rarely does anyone define exactly what they mean by the term.
With his background in performance consultancy, LINE’s Sean Nugent is ideally placed to supply this lack. He gave a fascinating presentation at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum this year about how mobile and can be used for performance support.
Performance support tools have been with us for a long while – think ready reckoner, sat nav, calculator, slide rule, etc, etc.
Most of these examples, which were once discrete, physical entities you carried around with you (or had mounted on the dashboard of your car, in the case of sat nav), can now be loaded onto your personal mobile device as apps.
So why is it that mobile has become such fertile ground for performance support?
- It’s commonplace – 60% of UK mobile phone users have smartphones. Ownership of both smartphones and tablets is rising, and is higher among professional users (eMarketer)
- BYOD (bring your own device) is breaking down the barriers previously created by corporate policy on IT systems
- Useful for field-based workers, remote consultants or anyone who is not completely deskbound at work or who cannot easily get to classroom training
- Easy to update, can be used offline and online
The fact that mobile devices not only provide a platform for usage of apps, but also a global market for their acquisition through the various app stores, has led to a profusion of useful applications in all sorts of niche areas. This means that architects, HR professionals, doctors, teachers, engineers, and all manner of working people can find tools to help them in their daily work.
Sean showed some examples that can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and which are free or low cost. Apps which can help you do safety audits, help you decide what a suitable dose of nuclear medicine is, help you analyse x-rays or gun trajectories … The list just goes on!
This is a fantastic development, but it presents challenges for those within organisations who are trying to get their workforce to develop and undertake tasks in a particular way. It is not only important to get the job done, which these apps can help with, but to get the job done right. In these cases, some curation probably needs to be put in place.
Training or performance?
This raises the question of what is training material and what is performance support. Sean expressed the opinion that the distinction between these two things has been slightly lost. Sometimes the traditional focus on training and learning and development can take away from what should be a much better focus: namely, how do you help people perform in their jobs more effectively and more efficiently.
Sean showed the following table, that points up key differences between the two.
Role of L&D
This raises the question of whether L&D people feel it is their job to provide the people in their organisations with performance support tools – and if they don’t, who does? Sean’s straw poll of the audience confirmed what his conversations with L&D have tended to suggest; that there is a good deal of uncertainty about this question.
One reason perhaps is that providing performance support tools can bring crossover into other areas of the organisation. Performance tools tend to link strongly into business systems (e.g. safety checks). Where product-based content is used there will be a link to marketing and maybe company policies and procedures.
The work that LINE has done with mobile has showed how it can help to make the link between these areas. Sometimes you may need to cover all three – learning, business systems and marketing – to improve performance. And there may be other areas as well.
Sean showed a number of examples of LINE’s work using mobile for performance support.
1. EPSS vehicle maintenance
LINE created a vehicle maintenance support system on the iPod Touch for a Defence client. The programme provides ‘point of need’ information for the service engineers of armoured support vehicles. The system involves both diagnostic tools as well as regular maintenance checklists. Furthermore, the checks and actions for all vehicle maintenance programmes can be relayed to the central system for general monitoring.
2. Automotive: vehicle presentation guide
LINE has created tablet applications for automotive clients aimed at showroom staff in dealerships. These can be used in three ways:
- For learning
- Check your own knowledge: teach yourself to perform tasks
- With the client, in the sales situation
More information can be found here.
3. Data collection forms
LINE is producing data collection forms for collecting data, signatures, etc. from customers. This work crosses over strongly into business systems and is also useful for instances such as safety audits, where people can also see content that helps them complete the task correctly while they are actually going through the process – a mix of a business system and learning.
4. Tour guide app
Produced on tablet, this is a tool that was developed for factory tours, which can also be used as an aid for induction. It could either be used by an instructor, or tour guide, within the tour to show extra video content, or used by the person investigating the factory for themselves – a new starter, for instance.
5. Brake assembly tool
A step-by-step tool that helps workers through a particular technical task – showing the equipment in 3D graphics. It can be used in advance of performing the task or while performing it, as a reference.
6. Business dashboard
This application is another example of linking in to business systems. It pulls data in and displays it on a smartphone to help you make decisions about, for instance, what products to put on display in a retail context. It also allows you to see the effect of those decisions. This powerful tool is probably closer to the business systems end of the spectrum than to learning.
7. Turning on a Challenger tank
Produced in response to a particular learning need within Defence, this Augmented Reality (AR) app walks the tank driver through a procedure that is more complex than you might think – turning on a Challenger tank – and which is something the tank driver might not be called on to do that often, so could be subject to ‘skill fade’.
8. Language reference
LINE created language tools for use by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (read the case study here).
Getting the tools to the people
Sean then covered the sometimes tricky business of getting the performance tools out to your workforce and also tracking and measuring. Learning management systems and SCORM were not really designed for this sort of use, and even Tin Can API, the latest update to SCORM, remains very learning-focused. LINE has found it often makes more sense to use Google Analytics than SCORM tracking for performance measurement.
It is for the particular needs of mobile, including performance support, that LINE developed LINEstream, its mobile enterprise platform. This enables you to create, publish and update dynamic mobile apps quickly and easily across your organisation. Read more about it here.
He also recommended that performance support tools need to be designed at an early stage into your learning architecture.