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Ode to Mobile Performance Support

Planner and Sidekick Performance Support

Performance support is a big idea. It helps to break it into two concepts focusing on how integrated the support is with the task or opportunity.

Performance support can be absolutely and totally integrated into the challenge, providing guidance in the flow of the activity. The GPS is a fine example of maximum integration. Another example of full integration occurred as I worked on this paper. Microsoft Word gave me immediate notice that it had doubts about the Mexican sweet, churros. The squiggly red line alerted me; I chose to ignore it because I know how good my memory is for food words. Let’s think about wine. A sidekick wine performance support tool would be with you in the store, as you behold your options. You scan bar codes, or perhaps rely on RFID. Then the system informs about taste, cost, awards and recognitions, and where to buy that bottle at a better price. (Figure 1) Such a sensitive sidekick is not yet available, but soon … very soon.


photo of a mobile phone in a wine cellar

Figure 1: A sidekick performance support tool can give you on-the-spot summaries of your options.


Let’s continue with the wine theme as we look at the second form of performance support, planner support. Less integrated, but equally worthy, is my Wine Steward mobile performance support tool. Soon after I loaded the Wine Steward software on my phone, I responded to the questions it asked, such as how much I am willing to spend, what tastes I prefer, and where I live. Now, with a pressing need for the right wine to go with eggplant curry, it combines my answers with this main course to generate personalized recommendations. Wouldn’t you be grateful for that assistance? Isn’t it worth a couple of bucks? Or would you rather take a wine tasting class? Do you think you will remember stellar, local wine options appropriate for eggplant curry? Would you remember enough to select differently if you switched to serving eggplant parmesan? You might not recall, but the performance support tool does.

The Wine Steward performance support tool (Figure 2) is not fully integrated into the task. Nor should it be, because it is designed to encourage thoughtfulness while pondering options, just before I purchase.


photo of the iphone and the performance app

Figure 2: Wine Steward is a planner-type performance support tool.


Planner performance support provides guidance and advice just prior to and also just after the challenge. It could be helpful in selecting the right wine, mulling over a performance review before submitting it, or judging how you could have delivered an even better speech to a skeptical audience.

A rose for mobile performance support

John Park, a learning specialist at Qualcomm, and I decided to use this thorny topic to test these ideas about mobile performance support.

Meet Holly. She works in sales at a nursery. Holly discovers that the company is about to run a sale on rose bushes. She knows she went to training about roses last year, but eleven months later, she doesn’t remember the details.

How can planner and sidekick support help Holly? In addition to basic sidekick support about kinds of roses, proper locations to plant roses, and ancillary products, she turns to a most amazing mobile sidekick to help her assist Debbie, a customer with a big problem. Holly could not identify a bug that Debbie captured in her garden and brought in. Holly had no clue what to suggest to Debbie. Her mobile sidekick recognized the bug and pointed to products that would encourage it to live somewhere other than her rose bushes.

Let’s imagine that Holly works for a forward-thinking company committed to enabling customers to make good decisions about roses for themselves, before they purchase them. Planner performance support helps Sue get beyond her rose infatuation to think hard and well about the subject. The video introduces the idea of mobile support for self-service, which concludes by directing Sue to consider other, less demanding, plants, given her responses regarding prior plant tending behaviors. (Figure 3)


screenshot UI of iPhone and gardening app

Figure 3: This mobile support for self-service helps gardeners decide what kind of rose to buy.


In conclusion

IDC, an international research firm, predicted that by 2020 there will be 35-billion connected mobile devices, more than four times the world’s current population. Intrepid Learning recently published a white paper, “Mobile Learning: the time is now,” proclaiming their certainty about mobile learning. Mobile learning attracts most of the attention, especially in the developing world, where it makes sense to leapfrog PCs and jump to placing learning assets on the devices already present.

For the developed world, it’s mobile learning and mobile performance support. Mobile support will help us switch money from one account to another, pick wines, invest in green enterprises, monitor blood pressure, select employees and accounting packages, find parking spaces, make good use of an afternoon at Balboa Park, and support employees who have just suffered a grievous loss.

Is performance support appropriate for your task or challenge? It is suitable to answer that question by sending you to performance support for an answer. Once performance support is determined to make sense, ask yourself if it will be planner support. What of sidekick support? Both? What of instruction? You get to decide.


Gammon, S. K. (2010). M-learning is the future of education. Retrieved 19 July 2010.

Gawande, A. (December 10, 2007). The checklist. New Yorker. Retrieved 19 July 2010.

Intrepid Learning Solutions (June 2010). Mobile learning: the time is now. Retrieved July 22, 2010.

MOTILL Project (Mobile Technologies in Lifelong Learning: best practices)

New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile learning in higher education

7 Things You Should Know About Mobile Apps for Learning

Rossett, A. & Pettry, D. (March, 2010). The classroom in context: taking leader development beyond the classroom. Talent Management, 16-20. Retrieved July 26, 2010.

Rossett, A. & Schafer, L. (2007). Performance support for performance support

Mobile Learning: Obstacles and Solutions

(This article expands on ideas in Allison Rossett & Lisa Schafer’s book, Job Aids and Performance Support in the Workplace: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere, San Francisco: Pfeiffer/Wiley Inc. (2007).

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Right. On. I have taken the Standard First Aid course 3 times, used to supervise the people who taught it, but nonetheless couldn't tell you the first thing about treating shock or making a tourniquet. Not on my 'need to know' radar so could never recall anything.

What I CAN do? Open up my "First Aid" iPhone app, touch 'shock', and get a list of signs of shock, steps for responding and, if I need it, a video of the response. And it works even if the phone is out of range. Perfect.


We SO agree here, Jane. The examples are endless and yet continue to stick people in F2F classes. The more important the topic, the longer the time in the classroom. OY.

Terrific article. You clearly and concisely make the case for Performance Support and mobile PS—both at the same time.

My fear is that mobile devices will be treated by the training profession in the same way that they greeted the introduction of the PC nearly 30 years ago—as a device to deliver the same training, and in much the same way, as they did in the classroom. Too much of our efforts since then have been aimed at pouring old wine into the new bottle, only to produce countless stand-alone training courses that replicate the same long-term and short-term memory failures that you describe.

It’s been three years now since the launch of the iPhone and it apps, and far more since the advent of GPSs. Yet trainers, and the organizations they work for, have not fully grasped the power that is available when you place tools and knowledge into the context of the work itself. The developers of the apps that you pointed out are not thinking about delivering content to be memorized but rather about how to make it easier for people to accomplish what they want to accomplish—when and where they want to accomplish it.

When trainers recognize that their organizations need people to be able to do their jobs effectively the first and every time, not just when they can remember what to do, mobile Performance Support will have fertile ground to sustain itself. Your article is a great push in the right direction.

Thanks, as always, for you insights.

Hal Christensen

thx for your kind comments. Especially the way you carry on the wine example.

what are you up to? Would you place a url or something here so readers can take a look?

Hi, Allison.

I love the article. These mobile apps open a variety of ways to improve performance in the workplace and other settings. Some apps provide mixes of planners, sidekicks, and software apps. A friend showed me an application that displayed local barroom happy hours and locations, counted down the remaining time, listed the specials for each bar, and provided maps to get there. The app can also dial a taxi for you. Knowledge and performance as what people need, when they need it, in the form they need it. What a concept!
Mobile Performance Support: right on! Mobile Training (err, Learning), not so much. First we tried to transplant ILT directly to the computer, now we are trying to transplant e-learning directly to a phone. Not nearly as valuable as mobile EPSS. I know people sometimes fail to distinguish between online courseware (instruction) and online information and tools (performance support), but it is the latter that is the real breakthrough for improved performance in the mobile world.

Thanks for asking about what I’ve been up to. I keep busy promoting the benefits of Performance Support and working to create affordable and easy-to-work-with platforms and tools to realize those benefits for our clients. The mobile platforms are definitely part of that vision going forward. Your article is timely.

You asked for urls. Here are a couple of recent presentations re PS if anyone is interested:
1- A Training Magazine Network webinar on PS done jointly with Kaplan Learning in late June:

2- A presentation on PS in May at the NYC Society for Technical Communications, aimed technical communicators:

Excellent article Allison! My organization (an AAA affiliate) is working on a advanced traveler information system for drivers, suitable for mobile devices. It will expand the online version of road reports available now. I passed your article along to those on the project.

Much like a performance support tool, your article's timing couldn't have been better!
Well done!. I appreciate this article because it clarified my misconception of mobile learning and what is mobile support. I work for a non profit organization and we do not get the luxury of technology. Thank you.
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