Calling those we serve “learners” is too limiting in both scope and design. They are “performers” – PERFORMANCE is the ultimate goal.” ~ Bob Mosher
I’ve been mulling over the above tweet for a couple of days now, and it still isn’t sitting right with me. Yet it is so clearly in line with the way we’re supposed to think about our roles as learning professionals that it’s almost sacrilegious to beg to differ. But I do beg to differ.
It’s not that I don’t think performance is important. (Although I have taken on the performance paradigm in the past, see links to previous posts below.) I firmly believe we MUST understand the expected performance before we design learning that is intended to develop capabilities to achieve that performance. We have to wrap performance context into the learning design in order to achieve our intended outcomes. And we have to provide performance support to ensure that people have resources at the point of need when what is needed isn’t something they’ve already learned. Yes, performance is the goal.
So what’s the problem here?
If you’ve ever had the experience of talking with customer service people who have no idea how the product works, I think you might sympathize with my perspective. If we focus on performance only, and provide support only to achieve performance, then we shouldn’t be surprised if what we get is people who don’t know how to think for themselves because they never learned. That’s the problem with seeing the people we serve as performers and not learners.
I also worry that seeing people as performers locks them into being a cog in the wheel in service to “the company,” where seeing them as learners reminds us that learning enables people to thrive regardless of their context. We hear a growing chorus complain that organizations no longer care about supporting learning – the “why should we train people so they can find employment elsewhere?” line of thinking. I think we should advocate for learning! (Not learning on topics and skills that are completely outside the scope of the organization, but learning that can be widely applied.)
Here’s the “all due respect” part: I think Bob Mosher is brilliant. The work the he and Con Gottfredson have done to raise the profile on performance support – primarily by making it do-able – is a HUGE contribution to the field. Their book, Innovative Performance Support, is a must-have for every learning leaders’ bookshelf. I completely agree that performance support is a critical part of our toolkit. It’s a both-and proposition. We need learning AND we need performance support.
Just don’t push learning into the background – in a world that is changing so rapidly, we need more LEARNERS, not more performers.
My previous posts on the performance paradigm, if you’re interested:
How important is performance?
More on learning and performance
Is application of learning different than performance?
Not by performance support alone
On constructing reality
Mmm… I guess I’ve been on this soap box more often than I thought. 🙂