Int. J. Learning Technology, Vol. X, No. Y, xxxx
Copyright © 200x Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Job aids and performance support: the convergence
of learning and work
San Diego State University
Room 283, 5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182, USA
Collet and Schafer Inc.
San Diego, CA, USA
Abstract: Performance support is happening where we work and live. Under a
tree and at a park bench, in a submarine, at a parent-teacher meeting, in a
cubicle, or on the manufacturing floor, people reach beyond themselves for
help in doing what needs to be done. The support comes as extensive computer
systems, reminders on cellphones, and notes scribbled on old envelopes.
Annual studies by ASTD and Training magazine confirm the slow, steady trend
away from classroom delivery and towards more technological approaches.
This shift to knowledge everywhere suggests the beginnings of a revolution in
workplace learning, a revolution that brings messages and meaning closer to
where it is needed. What is performance support? Where did it come from?
And what are the possibilities suggested by planner and sidekick support?
Those questions are addressed here.
Keywords: performance; performance support; job aids; on demand learning.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Rossett, A. and Schafer, L.
(xxxx) ‘Job aids and performance support: the convergence of learning and
work’, Int. J. Learning Technology, Vol. X, No. Y, pp.000–000.
Biographical notes: Allison Rossett, a Professor of Educational Technology at
San Diego State University, is fascinated by what, in addition to classes and
instructional materials, influences performance. This enthusiasm began decades
ago with her book, Handbook of Job Aids, and continues today. She has been
inducted into the Training magazine HRD Hall of Fame, recognised by ASTD
for a career of contributions to workplace learning and performance, and is
currently a member of ASTD’s International Board. She has received best book
awards for Training Needs Assessment, A Handbook of Job Aids, First Things
Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis, and Beyond the Podium:
Delivering Training and Performance to a Digital World (2001). Rossett also
edited The ASTD e-Learning Handbook: Best Practices, Strategies and Case
Studies for an Emerging Field. Rossett’s career has taken her many places,
including Taipei, Singapore, India, Australia, Brazil, and all over North
America. She lives happily and works excessively in San Diego, California.
A. Rossett and L. Schafer
Lisa Schafer is a co-founder of Collet and Schafer, Incorporated. She has
conducted performance analyses, delivered training solutions, developed
systems, and administered industry benchmarking surveys for Fortune 100
clients. Schafer developed an award-winning financial system for a global
pharmaceutical company which successfully reduced employee workload while
improving deliverables. Schafer started her career in human resources, focusing
on organisation analysis, staffing, process improvement, and employee
recruiting and retention. Her business acumen, combined with her experience in
data analysis and presentation, human capital, and the appropriate use of
technology, enable her to see to the root of a problem and develop effective
solutions. Schafer graduated with Highest Distinction from Purdue University
with a Bachelor’s Degree in Management. She earned a Master’s Degree in
Educational Technology from San Diego State University. She is a member of
ASTD, ISPI, and WorldAtWork. Schafer lives in California with her two
terrific teenagers, Julie and Gregory.
This article is adapted from their forthcoming book, Job Aids and Performance
Support in the Workplace: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to
Knowledge Everywhere, San Francisco: Pfeiffer/Wiley Inc.
The forces align. To heightened expectations about performance and results add
computers, software, and mobile devices like cellphones, IPods and personal digital
assistants. Impatience factors in as well. Where do executives want their sales force,
teachers, customer service representatives and assemblers? They want them with
customers, students, clients, and equipment – in the context of the workplace.
The message is clear. No longer satisfied to mount a great event, rule a classroom or
command curriculum enshrined in 3-ring binders, ‘trainers’ and ‘instructional designer’
are growing into workforce learning professionals, performance consultants, and blended
and e-learning specialists with responsibility for solution systems and strategic
accomplishments. Their work extends beyond moments in time and place to influence,
information and even lessons that go where the challenges of work and life are. They
must provide support when and where required, by people or by systems that deliver the
smarts to those with needs. That’s right – via job aids and performance support. Welcome
to the era of convergence!
2 Job aids
Job aids are not new. People have relied on job aids since prehistoric times, when the
details of fire tending, skinning, and cooking adorned cave walls.
There are good reasons to appreciate job aids. For example, Duncan’s (1985) review
of military reliance on job aids between 1958 and 1972 documents their significant and
positive contributions to military performance. The military’s use of systematic
approaches in the design of training (then called the Interservice Procedures for
Instructional Systems Development) and reliance on job aids influenced civilian business
practices in companies like AT&T and GTE.
Job aids and performance support: the convergence of learning and work
Harless (1986), often acknowledged as the father of job aids, stated that job aids can
be developed in three to five times less time than it takes to develop equivalent
training programmes. He also described instances in which the use of job aids diminished
the need for training and thus shortened the amount of time that employees were away
from their jobs.
Harless was not alone in his certainty that job aids made positive contributions to
the bottom line. Duncan (1985) concurred, citing the results of military analyses
demonstrating that job aids saved money without jeopardising work performance.
2.1 More than money
Job aids, like their automated siblings, relieve individuals of responsibility for storing
information in long-term memory. Consider the value of the shopping list that staves off
impulse purchases. Reliance on a job aid shifts the individual’s obligation from repetition
over time to ensure memory, to searching for external information as it is needed.
That reliance on external resources also creates new responsibilities for the
organisation. First, they must build or acquire and then update useful resources and
systems. Second, they must invest in developing their people to know how to
productively search and find the answers and advice they need.
The third organisational responsibility is to create a culture where reference is
encouraged, even honoured. Several years ago, a bank teller said she was going to see if
she could find her ‘cheat sheet’ in order to be able to answer a question. She was not
sheepish about her reliance on a job aid, but neither was she proud. Organisations must
move to make it a badge of honour when employees endeavour to find what they need.
Schools are beginning to advance that notion. In 1994, Scholastic Aptitude Test
(SAT) takers in the USA were permitted to bring along their calculators for the big test.
And now, according to Gamerman (2006), some middle and high schools are permitting
students to look things up online as they take tests and create papers.
Do you want your teller, auditor, auto repair person, dentist, and accountant to look
things up, when in doubt? Do you want your 12-year-old to check out the spelling of a
word or the location of a place? Of course.
2.2 Job aids to support procedures and information
In the early 1970s, job aids were influenced by behaviourism. According to Pipe (1986),
individuals often turned to job aids to support them in carrying out a procedure, such as
securing data in a computer, putting in a new printer cartridge, or mixing a Cosmopolitan.
A procedure in this context is a prescribed way of doing something. Procedures mandate
a particular course of action in a particular sequence. Job aids that support procedures
tell and show actions, order, and results. In the old days, job aids helped people to hook
up the cables and components of a 1/2-inch videotape system; they assisted people
in all kinds of chores, such as changing the oil in a car, loading a dishwasher, and
A. Rossett and L. Schafer
Job aids also have a role to play in helping people deal with the challenges associated
with the information that surrounds them. Carr (1992) wrote of a 1945 article in the
Atlantic Monthly in which Vannevar Bush, then director of the US Office of Research
and Development, noted an ‘information explosion’. His response was to suggest a
‘memex’, an automated desk that would provide information as it was needed.
Everyone experiences ‘information overload’, ‘information dump’, ‘information
anxiety’, and even ‘information bulimia’. What these phrases share is recognition
of the profusion of information, the negative effects of being awash in information,
the complexity of products and options, and the human need to make sense of it all.
People and organisations need systems that diminish chaos, provide order, and support
results-oriented interactions with data. Yahoo’s attempt to make the blogosphere
understandable and accessible is a good example.
Wurman (1989) claimed that data are not information until they have form and enable
knowledge and understanding. A job aid that informs is one that supports people at work
by diminishing the uncertainty they experience when trying to do something.
Informational job aids make data useful and become useful themselves when they are
form a stable repository for facts and concepts that answers the question of who,
what, which, when, or where
are organised by user frame of reference, function, or content structure.
2.3 Thought-provoking job aids
No longer are job aids perceived only as simple stimuli that evoke a response during a
task or point to or deliver information. Job aids also have potential to influence the way
people think and feel about themselves, their work, their co-workers, their managers,
their clients, their products, and their problems. They can be thought-provoking, as they
coach for better performance. How do we approach an employee who has recently lost a
loved one? What about an employee who is chronically tardy? What does the new teacher
think about as he reflects on how he taught a language arts lesson?
The combination of cognitive science and information technology thus propel
expanded definitions for job aids. These perspectives dominate:
recognition of the importance of how people think about the work
concern with the individual’s self-perception, readiness and confidence
eagerness for the individual to consciously organise information
belief that performance has roots in thoughts and speech.
Not surprisingly, there is growing interest in using coaching job aids to increase
reflection and elevate attention and activity – even for little ones. Figure 1 shows the
United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency’s checklist1 to coach children in
how to prepare to endure the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Figure 1 What children should gather in preparation for a disaster
Job aids and performance support: the convergence of learning and work
Rossett and Gautier-Downes (1991) called them coaching job aids. Coaching job aids are
not limited to deployment at the moment of challenge. An example of this wider window
of influence is the job aid that helps managers plan to manifest sensitivity to and
congruence with equity guidelines while interviewing potential employees. An hour
before the interview, a manager might review company policy, quotes from experts, and a
checklist of things to keep in mind during the different phases of the selection interview.
Although the planning job aid might not be in sight during the interview, its influence is
felt just before and throughout.
Figure 2 provides kids with materials that help them nudge their families to collect
provisions in advance of a natural disaster.
Coaching job aids have the following characteristics:
They answer the question ‘how’, but in a different way than procedural aids do. They
tell us ‘How might I think about or approach that?’ They answer the question: what
should I keep in mind?
They also answer the question ‘why’, as in ‘Why would I include those questions in
They articulate quality standards.
They encourage a dialogue with the user, especially a dialogue about reasons,
feelings, and approaches.