Performance-First Mindset

Performance-First Mindset

The need to learn rapidly and continually in context of their workflow is more important than ever. The workforce needs solutions aimed at sustaining their high performance and continuous learning at the point of need, (when they are actually working). How do we design learning solutions that are integrated in an employee’s everyday work environment?

That’s where “Performance-First” design comes in.  It reflects a design mindset shift to transform learning solutions from designing “at the point of entry” to designing “at the point of work”. It prioritizes performance and productivity outcomes over training and learning capabilities.

A shift from a traditional “course-based” mindset to a “workplace-based” design mindset is necessary to helps us align more closely to the way people really think, learn, and live.  It meets the demands of the modern digital learner and replaces old-school methodologies that conflict with the realities of the modern world. The digital learner of today acquires and absorbs most of their knowledge through informal channels and platforms (e.g., scanning social media posts, searching the internet, reading articles online, watching videos, talking with peers and mentors, etc.)

We need to recognize the “learning drives performance” myth! The only thing training drives is potential and capability…maybe if everything is aligned in the universe…this intervention will positively impact their performance outcomes and business results. Training is not the only solution to learning and performance problems. Training is only “part of a performance solution”. Whether it’s bite-sized, repackaged, presented in MOOCs, or on a mobile device, training is still training.

We are not saying courses are not necessary. Course-based learning solutions are important but they should be used within a dynamic learning and performance ecosystem approach, born out of human performance improvement and informal learning disciplines.

To successfully support this new mindset shift, performance consultants and learning solution designers need to be critical thinkers who can navigate a very complex client landscape/context, analyze the tools and processes in place, and have the foresight of what type of solution mix is needed to optimally impact performance outcomes.

Traditional Learning Design

For decades training organizations had a monopoly on knowledge but with the arrival of the internet and its information explosion, knowledge is now available everywhere and created very easily by everyone! Training departments’ traditional role of the only provider of content is no longer true. Furthermore, it used to be that what a person learned was valuable for years, but now in a world of rapid change and volatility, knowledge and skills can become obsolete within months!

Unfortunately, traditional training requires learners to stop their daily routines in order to learn, whether attending a live class or taking an online course. Additionally, packaging courses for learners, which they will review once and never see again, and hoping for learning to happen is no longer an acceptable approach. These are serious concerns and gaps with the traditional model of teaching methodology which technology (unintentionally) helps to preserve or fails to help us move beyond.

Traditional classroom development or e-learning solutions are not transforming talent as quickly as organizations require. In fact, half of all learning is considered “scrap learning” and does not provide meaningful long-term impact. External training is often so standardized that it cannot be tailored to an organization’s specific needs. And many professional development programs fail to consider the application, sustainability, and measurement of learning outcomes.

It is also important to realize that technology is only a tool that supports a strategy/methodology (traditional or modern). If technology is designed using a traditional mindset then it may make the process a bit more efficient or less dreary but does nothing to challenge the outdated pedagogy. Many times technology is seen as “shiny things” which distract us from rethinking our approach to learning and giving us false reassurance that we’re already being innovative. There are serious concerns of the outmoded model of teaching methodology that technology (unintentionally) helps to preserve or fails to help us move beyond.

Here are some of the problems with traditional training solutions:

  • They are removed from the here and now, out of context.

  • They are NOT aligned with the learner’s patterns and learning preferences.

  • They are NOT easy to find, access, and keep up to update.

  • They are focused on “knowledge transfer” rather than “performance and application optimization”. (they leave application of learning in the real-world to chance.)

As a result, many learners view traditional training solutions as something to be endured and avoided.

Design Principles

Holistic Platform with Effortless User Experience. The central component of Performance-First Design is designing an underlying platform that is holistic and contextual to a group of people. The platform is designed with the latest user experience (UX) and performance support principles to ensure an easy to access, easy to consume, and easy to apply experience.

Highly Focused. A webpage, guide, video, or other type of deliverable is highly focused on answering a single question, describing a single topic, or training a single skill. Malcolm Knowles described the perfect teachable moment at the intersection of “a small question with a great small answer”.

Highly Contextual and Relevant. It’s about context and relevancy. We must understand the reality of the learner’s lifestyle and find the right times and/or locations to make learning opportunities available. It’s critical that the content and all its related activities are meaningful and relevant because all human memory is based on associations. Therefore as learning content shrinks to smaller and smaller units, learning contexts become even more critical. Just because learners could complete a module on the train or bus doesn’t mean they will. Stories and scenarios successfully grab a learner’s attention and achieve “instant learning”.

Speed of Access. Content is centralized and organized, searchable, and accessed within 2-3 clicks. Speed of accessing information is a premier asset when information is needed to make a decision, answer a question, or solve a problem. This makes the need to access information rapidly and continually more important than ever. We need an on-demand experience that allows learners to access information at the moment of need, quickly, efficiently, and painlessly.

Speed of Consumption. Once a topic is accessed, its content needs to be short, concise, and presented in digestible pieces. You only have a few minutes of the learner’s attention—don’t waste it on introductions! Let learners immerse themselves in the topic or activity as quickly as possible, and only use an introduction if it’s needed to set context. Maximize the amount of time you spend showing or asking learners how to do something, and minimize the amount of commentary you include. According to the blogging platform Medium, the ideal blog post takes about seven minutes to read. Longer than that, and readers start to check out.

Social and Continuous. Real-time conversations with experts and fellow learners within the context of a topic, real-time curation and updating of content, access to latest blogs and social media resources, ability to share ideas and links, etc.

Anywhere on Any Device. Using latest responsive Web design (RWD) and mobile application software and web technologies such as JavaScript, CSS, HTML5, AJAX, etc.

Designer Qualities

Use creativity as a driving force. As a designer, you use your creative talent to come up with original ideas, conceptualize these ideas and find the right form for your design. Creativity is not only the spark, it’s also the fuel for the design process.

Let go of conventions and create truly innovative experiences. Educational professionals can be quite conservative when it comes to changing the way we learn. Letting go of what you already know and of what you believe to be true enables you to free your mind and not limit yourself.

Put the learner at the center of his work. Human centered design is a big part of being a true designer. Researching your target audience and engaging with them during the design process through co-creation and user testing is what puts the learner at the center of your design.

Incorporate (neuro) scientific insights into your work. Understanding how our brain works and how we learn enables you to create designs that are effective in helping the learner reach his goals. You have to be able to communicate with (neuro) scientists and to incorporate their precious insights into your design.

Be both practical and imaginative in problem solving. A Performance-First designer pushes boundaries and tries to find innovative and elegant solutions for complex problems. At the same time, you want to keep things as simple and as practical as possible for your design to works in a real life situation.

Lead a multidisciplinary team through a design process. Performance-First design brings together a variety of professionals and experts like teachers, scientists, software developers and many others. The designer has a leading role in combining the different perspectives, qualities and ideas into a well-balanced design.

Choose the right medium or technology for a specific purpose. Learning is less about technology and more about people and their goals. The medium or technology you choose is based on what would best enable the learner to reach their desired learning outcome.


Three Dimensions of Learning

If our goal is to improve execution in the workplace (Immediate Performance dimension), then we need to design performance improvement solutions. If our goal is to support job growth, then we need to design competency and skill-specific learning solutions. If our goal is to support career advancement, then we need to design leadership development solutions.

Seeing everything as instructional in nature can result in missed opportunities in all three dimensions. The most effective approach is to first start with performance improvement solutions (for Immediate Performance), and when necessary provide supplemental skill-specific training solutions (for Job Growth) and leadership development solutions (for Career Advancement).

Maturity Model

Below is an L&D maturity model (by Marc Rosenberg & Steve Foreman) to help organizations understand where they are in their transformation to a performance-first design organization.

Stage 1: Traditional – Organization is stuck in a traditional L&D mode.

Stage 2: Advancing – Organization is experimenting but still held back by L&D legacy.

Stage 3: Strategic – Organization is moving to a performance-first design paradigm.

Stage 4: Transformational – Organization is applying the performance-first design paradigm.

Below are techniques of how to move up to each stage of maturity.

From Stage 1 to Stage 2 (Expand offerings and solutions)

Evaluate the content in your courses and curricula. Think about ways to make the content more direct, effective, and instantly available. Ask: What content can be better delivered to users, in real time, outside the bounds of the courseware?

Work with IT to find out more about how you can begin to use technology platforms that are already deployed in your organization to support more informal components such as social networking, knowledge management, performance support, and access to experts.

Develop the performance analysis and performance consulting skills of your L&D staff. Give them opportunities to apply those skills in high priority projects.

Experiment with solutions using other informal components in addition to structure learning. These can be integrated into your courseware or stand-alone. Conduct initial pilots using these solutions. Showcase the results.

From Stage 2 to 3 (Re-engineer organization)

Identify your key internal or external sponsors/clients – those who request and fund your products and services. Ask: what are sponsor/client priorities, concerns, goals and challenges that could be addresses via informal performance and learning solutions?

Develop the capabilities of your staff to integrate more informal learning and performance solutions into their work. Assemble cross-discipline project teams with subject matter, job task, performance analysis, instructional design, knowledge management, content curation, social media, mentoring/coaching, user experience design, and technology expertise. Integrate IT into your teams.

Expand your design and development processes, beyond instructional design, to support more informal components.

Expand your technology architecture, beyond learning technology, to incorporate more informal components.

Choose several high priority projects as pilots for trying out cross-discipline project teams, processes, and technology platforms, and showcase the results.

Implement new measures of usage, feedback, and value for each informal component.

Develop and implement a comprehensive xAPI strategy to enhance your ability to measure impact and continually improve your broader-based informal solutions.

Establish strategies and methods to ensure adoption of your ecosystem solutions in the field. If people don’t know about or use your solutions, they can’t have any impact.

From Stage 3 to 4 (Integrate into business processes)

Design primarily for the way work actually gets done. Ask: what do users/performers need to do, rather than what do they need to learn?

Build learning and performance solutions directly into the workflow. Interrupt workflow only as a last resort.

Focus informal solutions on helping the organization implement and succeed at its strategy as your primary mission.

Focus informal solutions on organizational change (beyond individual performance) where appropriate.

Focus informal solutions on the same metrics as your sponsors/clients – those who request and fund your products and services.

Extend your xAPI tracking mechanisms into workplace systems and applications to support performance and productivity metrics. Showcase the relationship between informal solutions and productivity.

Continue to analyze, adapt, refocus, refine, and expand your learning and performance solutions.