Instructional Design Basics


Family Secrets

Back in the day, I use to enjoy watching a little Jerry Springer. Hearing about dark and twisted family secrets, was a nice escape from my quiet life.

As I have gotten older I have realized a couple of things: the Jerry Springer show is terrible; and we all have our family secrets.

Today I’ll talk about a family secret that instructional designers and other learning professionals don’t like to acknowledge.

Performance Support

As learning professionals we like to talk about changing behaviors and measuring learning. To us this is what matters and what allows us to justify our existence.  Here if we can demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge then we have done our jobs.

However, there is an area in our field that doesn’t care about changing behavior or mastering skills. This area just wants you to perform your given task at hand.  And if you learn or master that task then good, but it isn’t really necessary. After all, if you need to perform that task again you can always refer back to that resource.

The area I am talking about is Performance Support and the following story helps illustrates what this is:

A reporter once asked Albert Einstein if he could have his phone number.  Einstein agreed and proceeded to grab a phone book to look up his number.

The reporter was intrigued that Einstein didn’t know his own phone number and asked about it. Albert’s response was, “Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it.”

As the story illustrates, performance support tools are mechanisms that are designed to bypass the learning function.  Here you can perform your duties without having to internalize a chunk of content.  These tools often show up in the form of job aids, handouts and help files but can also take other forms.

A performance support tool that I have grown to love and depend on recently is my Garmin navigation system. This tool allows me to get to my destination without having to study a map and plan a route. It does all the work and as such I think Albert would have been a big fan.

The Secret

These tools are often easy to produce and distribute but that’s not why we don’t like to talk about them. Our secret is that they are very effective and can be used for a variety of knowledge types.

Now you may see why it’s our dark and twisted family secret.

As instructional designers and learning professionals we know that performance support tools are effective; however, they are not on the formal side of training. And how are we supposed to justify our existence if we don’t track the mastery of skills and knowledge?

Why We’ll Talk About It More

There have been some recent technologies though that might get us talking about these tools.  One I am excited about is the use of QR codes to augment the users immediate environment.  Here we can project 3d images onto a computer screen that the users can interact with and or observe.

With such abilities we could create better job aids that our users could access when needed.  Job aids that allow our users to:

  • View all sides and components of an object
  • Zoom in or out to pick additional details
  • Watch an animation of how a task is performed and
  • Interact with the animation to trigger certain actions.

Given the rising prevalence of smartphones, this is a technology that people will soon have ready access to.  And given the sophistication of smartphones, tracking usage should be an option that can be incorporated into our job aids.  So maybe those formal folks can quit worrying about justifying their existence.  Maybe they will even start to acknowledge our dark and twisted family secret.

Me though, I’m not so concerned with all of that—I just want to play with this stuff.

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