What is performance support?

Susan Hurrell
Woman smiling slightly with brown, chin-length hair and glasses.
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Nothing worse than being thirsty and having to hunt for my water bottle. Did I leave it in the other room? I just filled it up – where did I put it? On the front porch? Is it upstairs? I’ll ask my spouse. If I can find them. Are they out in the garden? Great. Now I’m hunting for two things. 

Information can be like that – you know you need to know something, but you have to go hunting to find it.

For example – once in a while, I’ll run into a common industry term, and my brain, for whatever reason, is unsure of its meaning – often, when someone is using it, and the context doesn’t feel quite right. Given that I have a little computer in my pocket most of the time, it's easy to look up a word and verify its meaning. Google is my friend. But sometimes, I need to find someone who knows because, well, Google’s answer may not be specific to my job context. 

The same kind of thing happens while performing my work duties – I’ll need to remind myself of specific instructions for something - often a task component that I may not often do. Or a piece of software that I haven’t used in a while, and once I get past the login, I’m unsure of what my next steps are (like how to code my expense reports properly.) I could ask our finance person, but I hate to bother her. She’s busy enough.

Being able to find an online glossary (be sure to check out our eLearning glossary), a list of instructions, a two-minute microlearning course, or a one-minute video on how to complete an expense report – all these kinds of resources are examples of performance supports that I can access as part of workflow learning. Back in the day, we used to call them job aids – knowledge refreshment for the intellectually thirsty.

Let’s talk about how performance supports benefit your team as part of your eLearning strategy.

What is a performance support?

Performance supports are known by many names, including a knowledge base, a resource center, a learning hub, a document repository – all names for the place where files are stored online within a training management system for easy learner access. 

Performance support tools are most commonly short, narrowly focused training and reference assets, like:

  • Microlearning modules
  • Infographics and flow charts
  • Searchable knowledge bases and glossaries
  • Video tutorials
  • Audio files (important for training accessibility)
  • Chatbot software programmed to answer questions
  • Any other form of information your team may need
Header on image reads, "What is a performance support?" Below this are 6 blocks in a line, each with an icon and description below it. From left-to-right: Smartphone with a speech bubble that contains puzzle pieces, and text reads "microlearning modules"; Icon of a flow chart with a pie chart behind it, and text reads "infographics and flow charts"; Icon of magnifying glass over a folder and a piece of paper, with text that reads "searchable knowledgebases and glossaries"; Icon of laptop with a speech bubble that has a play button, and text reads "video tutorials"; Icon of headphones with a bubble that has a volume button and text reads "audio files"; Icon of a generic robot head with a speech bubble, text says "chatbot software".

Having immediate access to whatever references they may need to do their job is of key importance to your employees. Performance supports can be as simple as a glossary with a search bar or as complex as a detailed multi-page product manual. 

Having information at my fingertips also means I’m not hunting down a colleague to get an answer – and interrupting their workflow. Not that they mind – and some questions, of course, need a mentor or coach to help me walk through them – but a lot of the time, I should be able to find the answer myself and only interrupt someone else if that answer needs some additional context. 

And to be honest, as a senior person, sometimes I find it a little teeny tiny bit annoying when people ask me a question that I know they could easily look up and find the answer for themselves. Having said that, I’m always here to help – and that includes helping you – which is why I’m writing articles you can search and find online! And reach out if you have questions! Want some water? I got lots! 

Chart titled "Minimize your employee's workflow interruptions." There are three columns labelled, from left-to-right, Performance supports, colleague (peer-to-peer) support), formal training. Each column is separated in 2 to 4 blocks. Column 1 (performance supports) is divided into 2 blocks. Block one is "Have a question?" and the second, on top, is "Find the answer (mobile). Column 2 (colleague support) is 4 stacked blocks. Block one is "Have a question?", two is "Find a colleague", three is "Discuss/ask question" and block 4 is "Find the answer (mobile)". Column 3 (formal training) is also in 4 blocks. Block one is "Have a question?", two is "Access training (computer-based)", block three is "Search through modules", and the final block is "Find the answer (mobile)".

Even though some of these approaches, like microlearning, can deliver new information, the purpose of a performance support is to provide manageable sips of immediate refresher training for knowledge that the learner has already been exposed to – but may have forgotten. The purpose or intention of performance supports are NOT to introduce new knowledge but to reinforce knowledge already acquired. 

How can I deliver performance supports online?

Back in the day, we used to have binders full of job aids, wall posters, or PDFs on our hard drives. Some of us took a DIY approach and created a box of recipe cards with resource information or a tabbed notebook where we’d try to keep track of info we knew we’d need “later, maybe.” 

Online tools have changed all that, and the rise of mobile devices, like cell phones and tablets, has revolutionized knowledge sharing. Today’s performance supports are often created to be mobile-first or mobile-friendly and have robust search capabilities. They look and feel familiar – with easily understandable interfaces that may resemble popular streaming service homepages or e-commerce sites where we spend hours browsing and searching for movies or products, not “knowledge.” 

On the left is an illustration of many stacks of paper, binders, and boxes. Next to it, on the right-side, is an arrow pointing (to the right) to a separate illustration of a character standing and holding a smartphone. Behind her is a simplified version of a tablet and smartphone with a mockup performance support home screen with multiple tiles that represent content.

This user-experience-first approach helps your team make brief knowledge refreshment moments into their normal workday. They don’t have to leave their jobs to attend and complete in-depth training; they likely won’t even have to leave their desk or workbench. Think of it like knowledge hydration – performance supports are a self-filling water bottle on the corner of the desk. There for you when you’re brain is thirsty for a fact.

Why should I move my performance supports online? 

A good learning platform will allow you to store all kinds of files within it, should be searchable, and have a permissions structure, to ensure that the right people have the proper level of access to materials. Ideally, these resources would be available on mobile devices like cell phones and tablets to allow your learners to answer their own questions and reinforce learning wherever they are. 

Performance supports don’t introduce new concepts – they reinforce existing information – which is likely already in your eLearning course content. It is very cost-effective to extract that information and create your performance support files. You can even poll your learners to find out what they would like to see to ensure you will be meeting their expectations and providing them with the information you KNOW they need. 

Digital performance supports can be easily updated, so every employee always has access to the current version of the information they need – no more outdated binders on dusty office shelves or multiple outdated PDFs squirreled away on countless hard drives. Having one source of digital truth reduces stress, conquers the misinformation monster, and saves your team time every time they need to look something up.

The symbiotic relationship between performance supports and workflow learning

You generally can’t have one without the other. If your company has adequate performance supports in place, then you are able to experience workflow learning. If you want your employees to work as efficiently and productively as possible with minimal big interruptions for training or knowledge transfer, then you need to provide performance supports. Training becomes part of the job every day. 

The 70:20:10 model for L&D. Separated into 3 donut charts, all of which slightly overlap each other in a straight horizontal line. The first chart says "70%: On-the-job training and experiential learning". Chart two is "20%: Social learning, peer learning, coaching". The final chart is "10%: Formal training, certifications, and conferences".

Immediate access to information empowers employees and helps them “feel” productive and be productive. And it's an approach that most learners already use – because they know how to use Google, Siri, and Alexa to find information or check a fact.

Meeting the needs of today’s workers

Today’s web-savvy employees are self-directed learners who are used to searching for and finding the information they need when they need it. Why break their workflow by making them hunt down “someone who knows” or putting them into a training course? You can use online tools to deliver the knowledge they need – when they need it – right where they are. 

When it comes to the needs of your modern workforce, our introduction to online training guide covers many advanced training strategies and concepts you can use to help your employees achieve more. In our article “Improve your performance supports with microlearning and workflow learning,” you’ll learn how these specific styles of learning can bolster your performance supports. 

Help your learners be more productive. Put the knowledge they need at their fingertips. Make it easy for them to saturate themselves with the information they need to do their jobs, and they will thank you for it. Stay hydrated, my friends!!

Woman smiling slightly with brown, chin-length hair and glasses.
Susan Hurrell

With 15+ years of online marketing and online learning experience, Susan loves to share insights about where these two ROI-building practices can intersect and complement each other for your business or organization.

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