Performance support isn’t just-in-time learning. But people learn.

At LT2016 I picked up a quote attributed to Clive Shepherd that
experiential learning = experience plus reflection.
I can’t verify the quote but I’d been thinking during the day about performance support. I see performance support as a tool, not necessarily a form of learning.  You use it because you need to know, or be reminded,  how to do something right now.  The organisation you work for should provide it as a tool, just as it provides furniture, equipment and software. Or let you get access to the online sources we take for granted in our ‘real’ lives.

Checklist with last item 'memorise me, there's a test'Is performance support learning?

I’ve often seen performance support described as ‘just in time learning‘.  What does that mean? Does it just show that the performance support is produced by the same people that create training material? Or that they expect people to learn from the performance support? If they expect that people will feel motivated or duty bound to memorise what they see in performance support and thus make it part of their repetoire (i.e. learn it) they’re on a hiding to nothing.  That’s not the point of performance support. You use it, retain the information for as long as you need it to complete the task. Working memory might be enough, or referring back repeatedly to the task list. But you don’t try to learn it.

But people do learn from it

Yet, people do learn, do become experts. This in spite of the worries about people failing to develop expertise because they’re constantly using reference information. How does that happen?  The answer, I think, is that the ones who learn are the ones who care enough to reflect and to make some effort to bring the knowledge into their repertoire through repetition.

Care – the affective context

I’ve talked before about Nick Shackleton-Jone’s Affective Context model, and how there’s a clear difference between training people who care about the topic and those who don’t. For the latter, the training has to try to make some emotional connection to create caring if it is to be effective. That’s why nobody really learns from compliance material, which is routinely presented in a way calculated to remove any concern or interest (‘Your Quarter 4 compliance training is now due.’)  But for the former, the person who cares, who has an interest in the task, will reflect on it, on what it means to their work, on whether it’s the best way to do it. This mental processing (called ‘rehearsal’ in old-skool instructional design) moves it into long term memory. Or maybe they find as they refer repeatedly to the performance support that they’d like to learn this, so they use the repetition as ‘effortful learning’ to take it on board.


Performance support is not there for learning. Just-in-time learning is a bad name for it. The majority will, and should, use it and forget it. But it’s caring and reflecting that means some people learn from performance support and build expertise.
(I’ve only scratched the surface of Nick Shackleton-Jones’s model – get the full picture here.)

1 thought on “Performance support isn’t just-in-time learning. But people learn.”

  1. Just in time learning is a terrible name for it, BUSINESS conflateS support & learning all the time, l&d should make the distinction.

    If the support covers a pRocess that a person uses repeatedly they will learn, through repitition and reflection. If its a process they carry out raRely who would we want them to learn it?

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