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What a Cookbook From College Taught Me About Improving Performance Support Tools

Oct 12, 2018

4 minute read

Miranda Carls
Learning Designer

A few months ago, while on site with a client, we worked to map out a solution architecture for their large learning initiative. As we talked through things, it became evident that a few performance support tools would greatly enrich the overall effectiveness of the curriculum.

It isn’t uncommon to come to this conclusion as we collaborate with clients and seek clarity on the best approach. When it comes to performance support tools, we start at the same place as we do with other learning solutions — with solid objectives and carefully crafted content. But, we know that the value of a tool also rests upon its usability. As learning designers, we need to deliver performance support tools that can and will be used by the target audience. These conversations and decisions made with clients spur a lot of reflection on how we, as a society, typically seek out and access information.

I remember leaving home for college. I was gifted a big, hardback cookbook. When my college roommates and I wanted to whip up a home-cooked meal (like the ones we missed from home), we’d look the recipe up in that book and follow along in our apartment kitchen. I still have that cookbook, but it is now collecting dust on a shelf. Nowadays, when I want to try out a new recipe for my own family, I bring my iPad to the kitchen and watch a quick video. Sometimes, I even put my phone on the counter and say, “Hey Google, find me a crock-pot friendly recipe for Italian beef.” It doesn’t even cross my mind to pull that old cookbook off the shelf and search the glossary for the recipe I want (Which may or may not be in this particular cookbook!). This shift in accessing information goes beyond our recipes. From looking up how to fix the broken dishwasher to exploring what tomato seeds might do best in our Midwest garden to mapping out a route for a family road trip, the way we access information has changed.

What does this mean for us as we are designing performance support tools? Well, in short, we have to keep up with the times and respond to changes in the learning culture of society as a whole. We have to acknowledge that our learners have access to a seemingly infinite amount of information at their fingertips. With a search engine, they can quickly hone in on the exact information they are looking for (you know, to cook the meal, fix the dishwasher, or plan their vacation route). From there, they can often watch a short video or read a quick article that tells them what they need to know in that exact moment.

Expectations of learning and the accessibility of information are rapidly changing.

The value of a tool rests upon its usability

When we work with our clients, we use a few specific strategies to provide learning opportunities that are not antiquated and respond to the demands of today’s learner. Check them out below.

1

Consider ease of access
We use one-touch and voice-controlled searching on our devices because it’s easy. Consider this: If logging onto your site and finding the tool takes three or more steps, it’s unlikely a user will actually bother to access it in the moment of need. After investing time and resources into a performance-support tool you are really proud of, it’s almost cringe-worthy to think that it may be underutilized because of the route required to access it.

2

Think about the mode of delivery at the moment of need
Remember Veruca Salt’s famous, “I want it now!” attitude from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"? When it comes to performance support tools, we all have a little Veruca Salt in us. When accessing a tool in the moment of need, a lot of text isn’t useful. Large images or infographics, quick videos, and simple text are your friend.

3

Offer search options
The level of accessibility we experience today is largely a result of robust search engines available through our devices and the web. With a keyword or two, we can find what we are looking for. When we create performance support tools, it’s important to acknowledge that tools requiring a lot of navigation won’t get used. It's important to make it easy for a user to quickly get the support they need. When we add a search feature to a larger learning offering, learners can hone in on specific information if they don’t have time to explore the entire tool.

While writing this post (and without leaving my seat), I paused to quickly check the weather forecast for tomorrow, listened to a podcast, and Googled how to spell Veruca. This is the exciting reality we live in! We have opportunities to leverage this reality to make performance support tools even more accessible and relevant.

Miranda Carls
Learning Designer

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