The 5 Learning Models: Performance Support

| Comments

Last week I introduced the concept of the two primary learning patterns corporate L&D exhibits while operating: Information Dissemination and Skills Development. Organizations that spend the majority of their resources in the Information Dissemination pattern under very short time frames are likely working in the Performance Support learning model.


What I Want to Know, When I Want to Know It

Performance Support is the learning model most intertwined with the speed and urgency of modern business. It involves providing information to people on demand, often times embedded within their natural workflow. Common examples would include an intuitive search function for a product knowledge base, a social networking collaboration tool, a help button in a point of sale system. The delivery of useful content at the moment of need, rather than repetition and development of skills, is at the center of this model.


To keep up with the speed of business, L&D units operating in the Performance Support model must often provide content through automated systems that can respond immediately to feedback. Additionally, consumer expectations for on-demand experiences have been set so high, the Performance Support model must deliver content seamlessly and unobtrusively. In retail, this might mean providing an employee with an estimated date for a new shipment of an out-of-stock item. In the medical field, pharmacists’ systems might automatically identify dangerous interactions between prescribed medications.


  • Performance Support provides answers exactly when a person needs it. Employees won’t need to think back to an online course they took months ago; content will be at their disposal when convenient and relevant.
  • Rather than forcing employees to adhere to a set training style, Performance Support allows for self-personalization to fit their own pace and needs.


  • Because of the automation required to implement this model, L&D needs a deep understanding of the workflow systems and processes, and strong IT support to integrate content and delivery.
  • Budget requirements for this model may be higher as it can mean developing, updating, and maintaining community tools and workflow systems in perpetuity.


To operate in this model, organizations need a deep understanding of workflows to insert content where it will be most helpful without being intrusive. This requires insight and metrics on how an organizations’ employees actually learn and perform. Without this information, L&D can’t automate the information dissemination process and will always be a step behind their customer.

The model is also dependent on strong relationships with IT. This is both to capture learning metrics, and implement the Performance Support systems themselves. With time frames in this model being so short, any delays can threaten the effectiveness of an entire program.

Connection to the Learning Revolution

Speed and technology have killed traditional corporate learning, and it’s more evident under this model than anywhere else. The workforce can no longer wait for L&D to provide structured training for every business contingency. Rather, people are taking control of the process by directing their own path, which includes supporting each other through social collaboration tools. But it is still L&D’s responsibility to ensure the development of knowledge and skills, and the mechanisms are in place that will allow employees to perform their best.

As I’ve implied while describing the learning revolution, in general, L&D will find its Information Dissemination activities focused more on curating content, rather than creating it. While learning leaders and IT will continue building and monitoring information sharing, they will be freed up to concentrate on deeper skills-centric training. Going forward, the speed and agility of Performance Support may be what keeps it relevant, in contrast to the model I’ll be covering next week.

Questions to Qualify if Operating in a Performance Support Model

  • Do people have access to the information they need within their workflows?
  • Are learning resources available on demand?
  • Do all stakeholders have the ability to add or update learning resources?

If you recognize that your organization follows the Performance Support model, you should be asking these questions constantly to ensure your workforce is getting information when and how they want it. In next week’s Saltbox Savvy, I’ll introduce the traditional learning model that Performance Support is rapidly displacing, Mass Distribution. Keep following along as I cover more learning models, as well as transitional strategies to move your L&D organization in the right direction.


Sometimes, predicting people’s needs means finding out where workflow processes are currently failing. In such situations, error reports can be a good source of feedback. If a Point-of-Sale (POS) system keeps generating an error message for a step in a process, providing additional information for resolving the problem at this moment automatically will elevate the performance of every employee that would have been inconvenienced by it. You can get similar feedback by monitoring peer-to-peer social learning tools, to find out what questions employees are asking each other. By keeping track of failures, you can turn errors into learning opportunities that impact business performance.