Intelligence Augmentation

Rethinking learning and performance support

The widening skill and knowledge gap between experienced and inexperienced staff continues to limit organisational growth. There is so much a new person needs to know before they are of benefit to a company, and the pressure is mounting to find cost effective ways to reduce the time to competence (especially when staff turnover rates are increasing – limiting the return on investment from training). This document attempts to explain the various options that organisations have to help skill new people rapidly, and why we believe CLEVVA is able to deliver performing staff quicker and more effectively than any alternative on the market.

Understanding the learning and performing challenge

There are many reasons why new people struggle to perform. These range from attitude or aptitude factors, as well as environmental factors. For purposes of this article, I will focus specifically on the area of knowledge and experience. In South Africa and many other countries, the lack of knowledge and experience is hampering organisational performance. To try address this issue, many organisations are either exploring ways to remove the need for people through automation, or they are being forced to invest heavily in training and/or various supporting technologies (e.g. e-learning, knowledge management, process and decision-tree technologies, and activity management technologies). All these are effectively aimed at trying to reduce the risk of human error. Unfortunately the business benefits derived from these investments continue to be underwhelming, largely because of the intrinsic assumptions that these solutions make regarding human learning and performance.

Traditional learning and performance solution assumptions

The assumptions under-pinning most traditional learning and performance support solutions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. Information is relatively static. This assumption has resulted in a focus on transferring the required information (via a trainer, text books, e-learning course or online document) into a learner’s head. The quicker the transfer, and the more enjoyable the process, the better the solution is viewed. Unfortunately this assumption is flawed in the modern economy. No sooner have learners’ memorised the content (and validated that it has stuck e.g. via a test), the content changes. This is evident in most product, process or system training where features, steps and decision rules are constantly being altered and enhanced. And so what is initially a successful outcome (i.e. data is successfully transferred into the learner’s head), becomes a performance challenge because the learner now has the wrong version in their head, which undermines their performance. And so we are forced to get them to ‘un-velcro’ the version that was successfully stuck in their brain, and ‘re-velcro’ the new version. And then this new version gets outdated within a few weeks, and the cycle begins all over again (with staff becoming more change resistant as a result).
  2. People learn using long term memory (i.e. what they learn and pass in the test today, they will remember in 6 months’ time). In reality, staff use short term memory when learning new information, and unless they apply it fairly quickly, they tend to forget it. This means that most information transfer models have short term benefits (much like pouring water into a bucket full of holes).
  3. People are interested in the information you want them to learn. Traditional solutions assume that staff are genuinely interested in learning all about the organisation’s products, processes and systems. This assumption is seldom true. As soon as a person is told to learn something not because they want to but because someone else wants them to, they play the game. They learn it (so they don’t experience negative consequences), then they forget it. It’s what they did for subjects they did not enjoy at school, and at university. And it is what they do for information they don’t really have great interest in at work.
  4. Information applies equally to all contexts. This means that by learning and absorbing some facts, you should be able to apply these facts across any context or situation (i.e. the examples given in training, or in books or e-learning are viewed as sufficient). Again, this assumption is flawed. The real world is complex, and information is extremely context-specific (i.e. it is normally true only within a specific context). The result is that learners often appear incompetent because they blindly apply the information they are given to each and every context they experience at work. This also leads to managers’ becoming increasingly frustrated because their staff “don’t think”.
  5. Learning happens in a classroom or in quiet times at your desk. In reality, most learning happens during work, while things happen (not before things happen). Organisations simply fool themselves into believing that they can control the risk of error by offering a safe learning environment for people to get themselves prepared for action. What really happens is that, because most learning and performance support is designed for quiet times, staff struggle to apply what they have learned when the pressure is on, and the context has changed.

By making these assumptions, our traditional forms of learning and performance support typically make it harder for people to perform effectively within complex environments. This is primarily because staff are not prepared for complexity; they are prepared for consistency. And as soon as they experience the first ‘exception case’, they fall over. This also inadvertently increases the resistance to change, because staff experience complexity as something that upsets their balance, rather than as something that characterizes their normal work life.

An overview of traditional forms of learning and performance support

So what are these forms of traditional learning and performance support that make the assumptions listed above? Here is a short list of some of them.

  1. Classroom training. This remains the most common form of learning support offered to staff, more due to familiarity than proven impact (formal classroom learning is one of the least effective enablers of learning). The model is typically content centric, with the trainer/facilitator’s primary focus being the transfer of identified content to the learner’s brain. Whether they apply traditional instructor-led techniques, or any of the more effective action-learning methodologies, classroom learning still struggles to deliver lasting performance results. This is because people tend to forget most of what they learn in class, and they struggle to apply what they have learned to the myriad of different work-based situations they end up facing.
  2. E-learning technology. This category of technology has successfully lowered the cost of data transfer into people’s heads, because it allows organisations to capture the learning content once and then it makes the information available to anyone, anywhere. It is also able to very efficiently assess data transfer into people’s heads, via online assessments. This ability to scale the delivery of learning content helps drive delivery costs, especially when there are many learners located across many locations. It however falls down due to all the intrinsic learning assumptions listed above.
  3. Knowledge management technology. This category of technology helps organisations capture, order and distribute knowledge content across all locations. The more advanced platforms now tap into collaborative information capture, ensuring that the system keeps increasing its store of information held across the organisation (and making it more accessible to all). However, no matter how enticing the idea, most knowledge management platforms are constrained by all the same assumptions listed above, as well as the assumption that people have the time and motivation to keep capturing new insights and information for the benefit of others.
  4. Process mapping technology (e.g. MS Visio or Aris). This category of technology allows organisations to capture the logical steps in a process (along with any related content relevant to any step). The aim is to not only document business processes, but to offer users a diagrammatic guide through the process logic. The hope is that when someone needs to learn or apply a new process, they can refer to this documentation. While certainly useful in process design (projects), this form of learning and performance support struggles to gain traction with the end user. The reasons are numerous. Firstly, most end users struggle to interpret a diagrammatic process flow (they don’t think like process consultants). Secondly, when processes change, people need to be told and updated. And thirdly, mapped processes tend to be generic (it’s too complicated to map a process that considers every possible variable). This means that users have to try interpret their unique situation and then work out how to apply the generic process. This is seldom done successfully.
  5. Automated ‘decision-tree’ technology. This category of technology usually leads off process mapping, and automates the process logic for the user. This saves the user from having to visually work out the process logic (the system does it for them). While this significantly improves the usability of process application, it too is limited by the narrow context in which the original process logic is defined, as well as the inability of users to personally analyse their situation at each step in order to make the right context-specific choice. So as soon as the context changes, the generic nature of the support fails to offer relevant assistance.
  6. Activity management (e.g. CRM). This category of technology helps guide the actions people take, and offers information useful in charting one’s decisions on what to do next (e.g. client and sales data). Some CRMs even offer supporting information to help you prepare effectively for the allocated activity. However, staff stumble when they are in the middle of the activity, because the context variables they have to consider when applying the information they have just referenced typically proves too difficult to analyse. The result is the person ends up simply telling the client what they know (e.g. product details), without being able to analyse what the actually client needs.

In summary, while each form of traditional learning and performance support solution has its benefits, none are able to truly offer context-relevant decision making support. Users are still left with the burden of having to try match their specific situation to the support offered, and that is why experience remains such a key determinant of performance success.

So what makes CLEVVA unique?

CLEVVA is a new age technology that operates like an experienced expert, at your fingertips. Prior to any decision or action, CLEVVA first analyses the context or situation in which that decision or action will take place, and then offers context-relevant step-by-step learning and performance support to guide a person through it (and to ensure they don’t make a mistake).

CLEVVA has been designed with the following insights:

  1. People learn best when they want to do something (i.e. it is the performance driver that shapes the learning driver). The most effective form of support is therefore one that helps people perform required activities better, while also offering them insight along the way (i.e. help me perform and I will learn as a result).
  2. To be effective, support must be real-time (as a person is doing the activity, not before or after the activity).
  3. People won’t remember the details of things they don’t utilize regularly, so give them quick access to the relevant information as they perform the activity or make the decision.
  4. Don’t expect an inexperienced person to successfully apply a generic form of information to a complex situation. Context is everything. Effective support diagnoses the specific context that the user is facing before offering information that is relevant to that specific context.
  5. People learn and perform better when they are not anxious about the impact that an error will have on themselves and the company. Effective support therefore lowers the risk of performance error for the individual and the company.

CLEVVA is primarily a performance support platform that then enables workplace learning. It ensures that users receive real-time, context-relevant workplace learning and performance support. It does this by first qualifying the specific situation or challenge that the individual is facing, and then it guides the individual through their decision or action within this context, so that they can perform the activity successfully. And as they do, CLEVVA offers context-relevant learning insights to help enhance the learning experience along the way.

So, in short, CLEVVA differs from traditional forms of learning and support in four key ways.

 1.      CLEVVA diagnoses your challenge and offers you context-relevant solutions

CLEVVA acts like an online expert. It helps you diagnose your specific challenge, and based on your specific answer, identifies the right product(s) and/or solutions you should consider (just as a professional advisor would do). This means that you can simply explain your situation and challenge/need, and CLEVVA will then recommend the product(s) or solution(s) that would help you. And then CLEVVA also:

a)      Offers relevant information (content, video, graphics, stock levels, prices etc) to help you learn more about each option so you can make an informed choice

b)      Indicates any related products or solutions that may also help

2.      CLEVVA offers you step-by-step advice as you implement your chosen solution (e.g. as you follow a specific decision or activity process).

Its one thing being offered a process guide. It’s a completely different thing being able to know how to apply any given process to a specific situation (most processes are designed with a generic context in mind). CLEVVA not only tells you what the next step is, it also:

a)      Analyses the context variables that would impact your choice at each process step, and based on your unique combination of answers, recommends the most appropriate choice given your specific context

b)      Provides relevant support information (documentation, video, audio) that you can access to further help guide your process choices, as well as enhance your understanding of the ‘why’ at each step.

3.      CLEVVA takes care of your paperwork

The first part is getting the decision or action right. The next is completing the paperwork. To help limit this effort, and improve staff performance, CLEVVA does the following :

a)      If a sales decision is made (e.g. a number of products are selected), CLEVVA automatically compiles the relevant quote, order or proposal for you

b)      If a technical decision is taken, CLEVVA automatically records the decision in a format that is useful to the organization (e.g. in the job record)

c)      If a process is completed, CLEVVA will automatically records the process that you followed

This automation of the related paperwork significantly reduces the user’s admin, and helps them excel in a time-pressured and error-intolerant business world.

4.      CLEVVA keeps track of your decisions and actions

As you complete a process or make a choice within CLEVVA, not only the outcome but the steps leading to that outcome will be recorded for you. This saves you having to update the activity status after the fact, and it allows you to analyse what actually happened so you can learn and improve, should this be required.

In summary

Traditional forms of learning and performance support leave the individual with the unenviable task of having to first make sure they have the relevant information (either in their head or on the system); then working out how to apply this information to their specific challenge; and then completing the activity along with all the related paperwork and reporting required. The support is therefore really only in offering information that the person may find useful when tackling their specific challenge. The rest is up to them.

For learning and performance support to become truly relevant to people and organisations, it needs to actually help people perform better (not just learn better). For this to occur, it needs to ensure that the support offered is actually relevant to the specific challenge or situation that the individual is faced with. Then it must guide them through the activity, so that they get it right. And finally, it must remove the administrative burden of them having to inform the organisation that they actually did the activity (and what they did).

If staff are offered real-time expert decision support, they will not only perform more effectively. They will learn more effectively. And this is what every staff member and organisation desires.