What you want, when you want it: structuring information in the right way

I’m reading a great book at the moment, ‘Made to stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s about ideas, about why some ideas take hold and others just come unstuck. I like the conversational style, the wealth of examples and the way that they make the underlying psychology highly accessible. It’s one of those books that i wish i’d written, or rather it’s in a style that i wish i could write in.

I’ve never cracked the problem of how to remember all the good ideas that come out of reading a book. My current favourite method is to email myself a note. Sometimes i use a pencil to annotate in the margins, but that does’t really work too well as it’s unstructured. One of the simple things that i like about this book is that, at the end of it, there is a quick reference guide. Sandwiched between the last chapter and the index, it sits there with half a page of bullet points for each chapter. Not the full information, just a kind of expanded index with words and phrases that prompt my memory. It’s the information i want, when i want it.

As we see the spread of mobile learning and the increased use of social learning methodologies, we see a great increase in the quality and quantity of performance support materials. Materials that are on hand when you need them, sometimes even before you realise that you need them. Google is a great example of a performance support tool: it’s there when i need it and it does one thing well. It lets me access information. By their very nature, anything that acts in a ‘performance support’ capacity needs to be responsive, adaptable and able to present you with the relevant information or ability at speed.

Chip and Dan don’t know what information i need, but they have at least considered that i am likely to need some form of rapid recall of key facts. Whilst they don’t know what i want, they have recognised my everyday reality, which is a part of our ‘context’ piece that sits at the start of any learning methodology. Recognise the everyday reality of the learner and position your messages accordingly.

And their information is concise. We have to adapt our presentation style, our approach, to recognise that ‘performance support’ is a reactive context.

Whilst on a film shoot the other day, one of the actors had bought a game called ‘bananagrams’. It’s a kind of quick fire Scrabble affair: small, portable, fast, ideal for the gaps whilst waiting for people to be ready. We talked about it, whilst we were talking, i googled it and ordered it off Amazon. Seamless. From experience to conversation to purchase in seconds. This is a type of performance support too. It’s what i want, when i want it. The technology is incidental.

Brevity, clarity and speed. Even when we are giving feedback within a live performance culture, we need to limit our reflection in favour of speed and responsiveness. As we move to socially moderated coaching in online spaces, we can adopt a faster, more conversational style, trading the deeper reflection of traditional coaching for a faster method in this space: performance support demands it.

Practically, when we are designing learning, we should be considering the everyday reality of the learner. What do they need and when? How does this match up with what we are providing? Often we give too much information. I was aware of this myself recently, looking at the A4 support guides we gave for each section. A4 was too big. It just needed three really pithy bullets. Better to provide three really concise pieces of information that remind the learner of key facts and where to find out more than to try to repeat the actual learning.

It’s worth thinking about what we are providing to learners: is it what they want and do they get it when they want it?

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in 'Just in time' learning, Clarity, Coaching, Effectiveness, Information, Instructional Design, Learning, Learning Design, Performance, Social Learning, Support and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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