Performance, training, education and learning

Updated 31 May

This thread starts with a presentation by Clark Quinn, which includes an examination of what he calls ePerformance tools. I think Clark’s work adds some clarification to the field and I agree with the intent to move away from the all-encompassing “learning” word, which is overused and misused.

Tony Karrer picks up on the ePerformance theme and notes:

I like the way he [Clark] stepped through the transition from thinking in terms of courses to thinking about broader uses of technology to support performance. His terminology around elements of what goes into ePerformance is a bit different than what I discussed in the learning circuits articles. The concepts are fairly similar.

This is followed by Stephen Downes take on the subject:

The main benefit of a term like ‘ePerformance’ for employers, I would say, is that there is no chance that learners will think that there is any intrinsic value to themselves in the transaction. Because if they did, then they would want to own the process, which is totally not what corporate e-learning is about.

I disagree with Stephen because a move toward performance and away from learning as the main objective of organisational interventions is much clearer. Performance is measurable, whereas learning is much fuzzier. organisations may say that they promote a learning culture, but all they really do is offer training. Sticking to performance also keeps the organisations out of the learning area

A performance-oriented intervention is focused on some type of desired performance that is made clear to both the organisation and the worker. The organisation wants stuff done and wants to be able to measure it. The worker wants to be able to show that it has been done and in return there is a financial transaction.

A focus on performance does not preclude organisation-sponsored learning activities. Many learning activities are obviously beneficial to the organisation, but usually not in an obvious and direct manner. Of course individual learning should be encouraged in the modern workplace where much knowledge work can not be finitely described in performance terms. But a focus on performance would have the advantage of avoiding “fire and forget” training/learning activities that waste everyone’s time.

There are many types of work performance that can be supported through tools, processes, incentives, training or other methods. A performance approach helps to ensure that what is done by the organisation is related to something that is articulated as beneficial to the organisation and the work that is done there. Human performance technology methods are one way of looking at these.

Learning is something that should be supported, but for the most part directed by the individuals. People who are not used to directing their learning will need support. I liken learning to morale. You cannot create an intervention, such as training, that will increase morale. Neither can you make people learn. You can have a work environment that supports individual learning, and there is no shortage of evidence that shows that this is good for the organisation as a whole.

My own working definitions of these terms [these are not robust, dictionary definitions, but just my own way of putting each term], which I often discuss here and with clients are:

Performance – something measurable and observable to achieve an agreed-upon objective.

Performance Support – tools and processes that support the worker in the desired performance, including, but not limited to, job aids.

Training – an external intervention, designed only to address a lack of skills and/or knowledge.

Education – a process with its main aims of socialization, a search for truth and/or the realisation of individual potential.

Learning – an individual activity, though often within a social context, of making sense of our experiences.

This means that training does not directly equate to performance improvement. Well-designed and conducted training can increase skills and knowledge if the individual is motivated and has the requisite abilities. So I would say that performance can be defined at the organisational level and training can be conducted by organisations. On the other hand, education is a social activity, usually run by the state or a non-for-profit institution. Learning remains an individual activity, with all of the variables of the human experience and much less clearly defined or controlled.

Organisations should get out of the learning business and focus on performance. Organisations can direct performance but they should only support learning. Individuals should be directing their own learning.

6 Responses to “Performance, training, education and learning”

  1. Dave Ferguson

    As always, I’d like to drop the e- out of some of this stuff, but I certainly agree that “learning” isn’t the only word that applies.

    Most of us work for organizations, and organizations (whether GE, the FAA, the Nebraska legislature, or the the Society of Jesus) are about performance. Some of them measure the results of the performance in terms of profit, some in term of services delivered, some perhaps in terms of remuneration of the incumbents.

    I like your separation of training, education, and learning. It’s hard for many leaders in organizations to realize that you can’t make people learn. (It’s hard for some of them to realize that talking isn’t teaching.)

    A focus on performance means that an organization can say, in effect, “these are the things we need you to accomplish in your job.” For some of those accomplishments, the organization recognizes that people don’t know how to achieve them, and so it provides training. More and more I think “training” applies mainly to fundamentals for newcomers (“how to process an auto loan”).

    Beyond those basics, the organization can set out the accomplishments and standards, and can support individuals in finding effective ways to achieve those things.

    That’s a lot messier than what’s gone on in the past, but if pressed many people will agree that the status quo hasn’t necessarily produced tidy results.

  2. Harold

    Thanks, Dave. I too would like to drop the “e”, but that’s a minor point. As you say, talking isn’t training, but most of it is still designed that way.

  3. Jennifer Nicol

    Are we talking about what training goals SHOULD be (at least in our esteemed opinions!) or what they ARE.
    I recently heard an HR type from my organization say that the purpose of a mandatory e-learning course on occupational health and safety was to allow the organization to demonstrate it had fulfilled its “due dilegence” in making sure we know the rules. Silly me, I thought it was so we would work more safely!

    Perhaps we need a “Devil’s Dictionary” of training, a la Ambrose Bierce.

  4. Harold

    It seems the health & safety regulators have bought into the notion that a course equates to performance (NOT). The company understands performance, in that they know that they have to run a course to get certified.

  5. Dave Ferguson

    Jennifer, I think you’re largely on target. “Due diligence” as you describe it is often a polite way of saying “sheep-dipped.” E.g., if as a corporation I’ve required all my employees to complete a course on EEO and sexual-harassment rules, then if someone sues because an employee violates those rules, I have an immediate defense that all employees knew, or should have known, the requirements.

    The first thing the lawyers will ask for in discovery is the content of the training course; the second is the roster that proves you attended it. Arguments about how learning occurs won’t go far in court.

    For most of last year, I was heavily involved in procedures relating to pharmaceutical manufacturing. I haven’t thought too much about what the alternative would be to the existing system of voluminous standard operating procedures combined with employee training, much of it “read and understand.” (That is, read the update to the SOP, and sign to say you understand what you read.)

    I say “alternative” in terms of what could demonstrate capability to, say, the Food and Drug Administration.


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