Using Electronic Performance Support to Drive Digital Adoption

Your enterprise software is a powerful tool, but to harness it effectively irrespective of the technology, your workforce must adopt it by using it accurately and intelligently. Whether you’re undertaking a new implementation or upgrading an existing system, it’s essential that your workforce understands how to use it to ensure that productivity remains high. This article explores how electronic performance support and EPSS systems can be utilised to help IT project teams drive digital adoption for end users, and ensure the ongoing success of IT system implementation.

What is EPSS?

An electronic performance support system or EPSS, is any computer-based learning resource that is accessible by the end user at the moment of need, i.e. on the job. In an IT training scenario, this content would be embedded into the new software or role process to enable the user to seek relevant support within the application. Electronic performance support drives end user adoption of IT systems by providing users with task-specific support and real life examples whilst they are completing tasks.

Generally offered as a supplement to formal training programmes, performance support is an effective way for end users to access learning directly from the relevant IT application in the flow of work, providing support and guidance when it’s needed.

Performance Support vs Formal Training

Performance support is not new. It has been referred to in many ways over the decades, such as just in time learning and on the job training, but these terms mean the same thing. Perhaps the difference today is that project and support teams are now acknowledging its true value.

Whilst still a key deliverable in many scenarios, classroom or structured virtual formal training in isolation is rarely sufficient in ensuring that users have absorbed the information and will retain it back in the workplace. We can refer to numerous studies completed over the years, Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve for example, which hypothesised the speed at which people forget information over time.

The 70-20-10 learning framework also supports this; the basic principle of which is that individuals obtain far greater knowledge from job-related experiences. Learning as a one-time activity, to get a tick in a box, or to get a learner to pass an assessment, will never be effective in enabling the learner to retain that knowledge long-term or back in the workplace. Hands-on experience (the 70 percent) is the most beneficial form of learning because it enables the learner to discover and refine their job-related skills, make decisions, address challenges, learn from their mistakes and receive immediate feedback on their performance. Despite this, the majority of corporate learning budgets has historically been focussed on formal training.

Three icons highlighting the 70-20-10 learning framework for on-the-job experience, informal learning, & formal learning

Whilst formal training provides users with an understanding of the concepts and business processes, in an IT training scenario, end users are unlikely to remember all the steps in the process and the system itself when they return to their job. It is when users return to work and can apply what they have been taught in the classroom that they will gain the most. Training as a one-time event is not enough.

If your IT training requirement is for a system upgrade and compliance is not a factor, i.e. end users don’t need to be assessed and therefore the training doesn’t need to be tracked and reported, then formalised training may not necessarily be required at all. In this scenario, you can save a significant amount of time and budget by offering training on-the-job, in the form of electronic performance support, rather than taking users away from their job for formal training.

By adopting a performance support system, you can reduce the amount of formal training that is necessary to train new users. There is no need to deliver every piece of content in the classroom, particularly as users will not be able to retain all that information. Instead, consider what they need to know before you release the system to your users.

In our experience hands-on informal workshops, exploring the interface and discussing and demonstrating the new or updated features are received more readily by users than formal classroom training. This format allows users to ask questions more readily and respond to a relaxed learning approach. We would introduce performance support during these workshops, providing the users with an opportunity to try it on any queries or concerns they have. Back in the workplace, the user reaction to performance support is a positive one. It consolidates user’s understanding and can support them through a new feature or change in process, at their pace and just when they need it, allowing them to explore the system from their role specific profile, as many times as they wish – without peer pressure.

Users will always need some level of support on-the-job once a new system has been rolled out and any training programme is considered completed. Some sort of performance support facility is therefore invaluable.

However, performance support won’t always be the right solution. There will be instances when you can’t train users on the job. It shouldn’t necessarily be considered a replacement for formal training, but rather a supplement to it, assuming the user already has a certain level of knowledge.

Formal TrainingPerformance Support
Event-driven: Users are shown how to perform tasks outside of the work context, hopefully using scenario-based content, enabling them to focus on the qualities of the task itself rather than the work contextTask-driven: Users perform tasks within work context, enabling them to understand the implications of the task in a work context
Instructor / Training or Learning Programme dictates what / how the user is taughtUsers control how / what / when is taught
Learning Programme defines structure and sequence of content and is therefore more rigidJob task and work priorities define sequence and content and is therefore more fluid
Learning outcome is measured by set objectives of programme and test results / feedbackLearning outcome is measured by user performance and effectiveness in job role

Seven Benefits of Performance Support

  1. More cost effective than delivering classroom-based training.
  2. Doesn’t take users away from their job to gain the information they need.
  3. Offers training in small, digestible nuggets providing just what is needed to complete a task as easily and quickly as possible.
  4. It is action-based, providing learning around the action that the user wants to complete.
  5. Improves ongoing performance of users, and is therefore measurable.
  6. Reduces the need for experienced users to support those less experienced.
  7. Reduces calls to the IT support desk, particularly valuable immediately following system go live.

Choosing the Right Training Type

Different methods of learning will be appropriate depending on the subject matter. When designing a learning programme for an enterprise software rollout, for example, prior to go live classroom training is likely to form part of the change and communication plan. This is more prescriptive and provides an overview of the functionality as well as the underlying processes. This could then be followed, or perhaps accompanied, by eLearning, which may better suit remote workers or a dispersed workforce. eLearning provides an opportunity to demonstrate specific areas of the IT system and allow users to try it for themselves. Assessments can easily be included within eLearning, enabling IT project teams to gauge understanding before the new application goes live.

After go live, eLearning can be provided on-demand, offering bite-sized chunks of learning content for users that need a quick reminder of certain parts of the system or process. Having performance support available, accessed from within the application itself, provides support to users on-the-job as they are working through a specific process.

A blue and white graph showing the benefit of combining multiple training methods and performance support for user proficiency

When to Utilise Performance Support for Digital Adoption

Performance support is not right for every learning scenario – compliance and governance are prime examples of this. However, it can provide considerable benefit in IT training and supporting digital adoption. Here’s some examples of when performance support is invaluable:

  • When upgrading IT systems, and therefore deploying new content to existing users who have prior knowledge and experience of the system and process. In this instance, performance support may already be integrated into continuous learning, and so the Communication Plan details the changes, then users will use performance support to learn the new features ‘live’ in the application.
  • To support a training programme, following rollout of a new system, allowing users to refresh what they have learned in the formal training whilst completing a task.
  • For the completion of task(s) that are not performed regularly, for example year end processes.
  • To educate users on the management of issues that were not anticipated or included in the formal training

Types of Performance Support Tools

For performance support to be effective, it needs to be easy to use and instinctive, not unlike how we go to Google whenever we need information or ask Alexa when we have a question. Both are effectively performance support tools, simply offering results based on the question you ask (although not necessarily managing human error or lack of understanding). A smart electronic performance support tool adds value for Learning and Development, and therefore the business, using technology to filter information that is relevant to the task that the user is currently undertaking, in the context of the organisation.

The real value for IT training is when performance support content is customised and relevant to the users – rather than expecting users to simply take ‘vanilla’ content and interpret it for their own situation. The margin for error and misinterpretation is too great. Of course, the real challenge is making an internal performance support tool as accessible and easy to use as Google.

There are numerous electronic performance support tools on the market that support digital adoption. We have used several different tools on our clients’ projects, each varying in scale, complexity, and cost. The choice of tool will depend on many factors, but some of the key points to consider are:

  • You will have a substantial amount of information (training, procedural information, etc.) and need to provide a solution that enables users to access that information in the right way, at the right time (via links directly from the application).
  • Often organisations will repurpose their eLearning content for performance support, to ensure that the two are aligned. There are content development and deployment tools available, such as the Opus digital adoption platform, that enable you to capture content once and output to multiple formats, including classroom materials, eLearning and performance support – you only need one system simulation recording of each learning scenario to create all your required learning modalities.
  • If performance support is the only deliverable required, then it is much more cost effective to adopt a tool that offers this functionality alone, thereby providing a more affordable solution. One of the standalone performance support tools we use regularly on client projects is Guidethrough. This is a highly scalable and cost-effective performance support tool that allows you to embed guided learning content into any live application, without any coding.
  • Certain software applications have some form of integrated performance support, such as a knowledge base of information that is searchable. However, this content will be generic (based on the ‘vanilla’ system) and therefore won’t offer information specific to the users’ organisation and processes.
  • A good performance support tool will recognise where the user is within the system (object recognition) and then provide the relevant training to support the user in that process for that part of the system. The content will be automatically filtered via the object recognition technology.
  • You may also wish to offer supplementary content in addition to the on-screen support. Some tools will also output your content to other mediums such as Training Guides (in Word or PDF), Flash cards / Job Aids and PowerPoint slide decks.

Measuring the Success of Performance Support

The success of any form of learning can be difficult to measure, and performance support is no different. Performance support is not like delivering a structured eLearning course, with an assessment to prove understanding and competency. It’s therefore important to consider measurement in a different way; by how much time your workforce has saved - those who need to learn and their peers.

A key driver for performance support in IT training is to alleviate the pressure on the IT support desk, or indeed to support those seconded to the support desk, as you rollout a new system or upgrade. One measurable factor that performance support is working will therefore be that an IT support desk isn’t overrun with calls after go live.


The definition of performance support is being shown how to complete a task as you are doing it, with no time taken away from your job to learn and understand what needs to be done. There is a strong business case for performance support to ensure a successful digital adoption programme, but it will never completely replace the requirement for training, particularly for new users – think of the 70/20/10 framework.

In some instances, you will need to deliver both formal training and performance support. In which case your choice of content development tool should consider this and allow you to re-use the structured content that you have created to deliver configurable performance support. However, you need to challenge the thinking that performance support is always linked to some form of prior training and start to build performance support solutions to increase overall efficiencies in the workforce rather than just offering post-training knowledge. Performance support can be linked to training, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to remember why we need to train in the first place.

Rolling out an effective training programme to support digital adoption is not a one size fits all scenario and never has been. Learner requirements are continually evolving. The benchmark of learning is much higher than it ever was and there is much more choice, with learners demanding more. A Training Needs Analysis will help you to identify what type of learning is right for your users and any training programme should be rolled out with the support of your Learning and Development team.

Further Support

For further support in choosing the right training method for improved digital adoption, or guidance on utilising performance support alongside your digital adoption software, explore our end user training and digital adoption solutions, or contact our support team. If you’ve already decided that utilising Performance Support is the way to go, download our guide to implementing performance support for learning and development teams.