Helko Lehmann: Can Electronic Performance Support boost informal learning in the workplace?

Much has been written about the 70:20:10 model of learning which recognises that, roughly speaking, 70 percent of learning happens on the job, 20 percent comes from colleagues and 10 percent from formal training courses. Less is known, however, about how Electronic Performance Support (EPS) can help staff with on-the-job training.

Electronic Performance Support systems (EPS), also called Business Process Guidance systems, are computer or mobile device-based systems that improve productivity by providing access to information, advice and learning experiences within the day to day workflow. EPS is not the same as standard ‘help’ tools, which merely concentrate on supporting questions of functionality from within specific software applications – EPS is delivered within any application and can provide support for that application or process by linking to other relevant enterprise systems where necessary. For example, someone composing an email in a regulated industry might be presented with a link to a policy document setting out what an email should and should not include to maintain compliance.

EPS is very different from formal learning. It focuses on helping an employee achieve a specific action or task by providing assistance as and when it is required. This may be a one-off requirement or it may be that the employee can apply the learned skills to subsequent tasks.  This approach can also significantly boost the 70:20 aspects of informal learning.

EPS is a much more effective approach than formal learning, such as training courses, as it provides employees with the information they need, at the point of need. Research shows that formal training only addresses around 20 percent of what needs to be taught, and that after 24 hours learners can recall only around 30 percent of what they have learned. When organisations provide formal training courses, employees may have to wait some time for the training they need, or receive it well ahead of when they need it, by which time they will have forgotten the salient points.

Agile learning

Two main types of organisation will benefit most from this approach. The first is an organisation that tends to face a lot of change. This includes businesses that have a high turnover of products, services or staff, or organisations working in heavily regulated sectors such as finance or healthcare that must maintain compliance in an ever-changing regulatory landscape. Businesses that are involved in M&A activity or who are dependent on software that has frequent major upgrades are also good candidates for an EPS system.

EPS is particularly useful in supporting employees with occasionally performed tasks that demand specific knowledge. For example, an employee who needs to handle hazardous waste annually is likely to have forgotten their training by the time they come to repeat the task. If he or she were searching enterprise systems for information on this task, the EPS would pick up this request and direct the employee to relevant policies or forms that need to be filled in while providing step-by-step guidance.

Key considerations

Here are five key considerations for HR management assessing EPS for their organisation:

  1. Support change: EPS is not only about on-the-job training – organisations can use EPS to support change. For example, when rolling out new and different enterprise software such as a new ERP system, EPS can provide invaluable user support. It can monitor employee activity after change to ensure people are following the correct new business process or accessing support materials, allowing HR to act to fill any gaps that are identified.
  1. Support business agility. Some organisations have a high turnover of staff and this can affect productivity as new people are brought up to speed. An EPS can help support new staff in filling in gaps in their knowledge by answering questions as they arise.
  1. Appoint a champion. This individual will be responsible for updating the system with new information and associating any changes to the information in enterprise systems with the EPS.
  1. Address the pinch points. Off the shelf EPS systems go some way to supporting employees with standard business processes. In the real world, however, the problems tend to arise when the employee is trying to navigate something in the business process that is specific to his or her business. An EPS system will only achieve its true value if it is tailored to the individual organisation.
  1. Plan and spend wisely. The platform itself is just the initial cost and most of the investment organisations will want to make will be in populating the system with content. It is not necessary to budget for that upfront and fill the system with everything employees might ever need to know from day one. Some organisations start off with some basic materials and then build on the system in response to demand, while others take an entirely reactive approach, at a much lower cost, and only populate the system in response to employee demand for support.

Mapping your journey

An EPS is like a GPS system – it needs three elements to work well. A knowledge of where the user is geographically and within the business process, a knowledge of where the user wants to go and what he or she needs to achieve, and a map of how to get there through the organisation’s information landscape. With a competent driver and a clear destination, EPS stands to add extra value over and above traditional learning and development.

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