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Learning at the moment of need

The great thing about life is that sometimes you stumble upon something, you get into the flow and it carries you away.

After hearing Bob Mosher's presentation about performance support at a conference and reading "How People Learn" by Nick Shackleton-Jones, I became obsessed with the idea of supporting people in their flow of work. 6 months ago, with a couple of colleagues, we signed up for the 5 Moments of Need certificate program starting in March. Just recently, we graduated from the program.

What are the 5 Moments of Need?

According to the 5 MoN framework, there are 5 different moments when learning happens:

  • New - When you learn something new for the first time

  • More - When you expand on what you have already learned

  • Apply - When you act on what you have previously learned

  • Solve - When you solve an issue because it didn’t work or turn out the way it should have

  • Change - When you learn a new way to do a task you had previously done because it is changing

We are very good at addressing the first two (new and more). We attend classroom training, follow e-learning, read books, and watch videos. But then we often struggle to transfer this knowledge to our own reality, to our own job, and to the problems we are facing. Failing to apply our newly acquired knowledge, we slowly forget what we learned in the first place. Following 5 MoN when designing learning initiatives ensures knowledge is transferred and sustained through performance support.

What is performance support?

With performance support, we support people in their flow of their work. It delivers immediate and tailored aid to the person at their moment of need and enables effective performance. It allows quick access to relevant knowledge (2 clicks, 10 seconds) and provides just enough information to complete a task, instead of providing too much or too little.

Why am I such a big fan?

What I like the most about performance support is that the focus is on doing instead of the content we want to deliver. Often we tend to focus too much on what we want to deliver instead of trying to understand what our audience is struggling with and how we could support them better in the tasks they are doing. For example, instead of (or in addition to) giving an hour-long presentation to first-time pet owners about the typical needs of their pets, it would be great to provide them with a task or checklist that they can follow as they prepare for the arrival of their furry friend. With this, we help to translate the theory into practice.

In the work context, sometimes the first instinct is to throw a classroom training or e-learning path at a problem (= not sufficiently performing people), hoping that they make the right conclusions and their performance improves. Unfortunately often that does not happen as people fail to effectively apply the knowledge and end up reverting back to their old habits. This makes classical training very time-consuming and expensive. While classical training has its place also in performance support, it is just one of the means for achieving on-the-job performance and, if used, is always supported by performance support.

From my own experience, I know that learning works the best when your motivation is the highest. And when is that? When you need to do something but are not sure how to do it. And that's the moment when performance support can come to help you out. When cooking something for the first time you are likely following instructions from a recipe you have open on the side. You probably do not try to learn it by heart the day before cooking (unless you want to impress someone). And later, with several rounds of practice maybe you no longer need the instructions. Completing new tasks and solving problems at work could look similar to this.

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