There We Go Again – Conflating Learning with Performance Enablement

Woe Is Us – I Think

Learning and Development continues to conflate learning with performance enablement – IMO/IMV. Training & Development used to do that too, so it’s not a new thing to worry about.

It’s a Continuing Worry. A Continuous Conflation.

And as most (not all) of my mentors taught me/inspired me to worry about it back-in-the-day, I am simply carrying on.

Enabling Something

Perhaps we should borrow from the Sales World and the many (not all) of the people in Sales Training who have transitioned to Sales Enablement.

They shifted what they call themselves – from the means to the ends.

And of course, the means are important – and Learning via Training/Learning/Instruction/Experiences are but one of the many means necessary to true Enablement. See this next graphic for my take on the enablers of Performance Competence. Note there are 12 enablers…

… for under the Performance Competence definition graphic – is “The Process or Processes” – as portrayed in this next graphic… where you can count the 12 sets of variables. Count them now please.

The Name Game

The name game has been going on since before I got into the T&D biz back in 1979. But let me go with that Flow while fighting another Flow…

WorkFlow Learning

This phrase is gaining in popularity – unfortunately – IMO.

Is Learning really the goal – or is it Performance back-on-the-job?

I think it’s the latter.

WorkFlow Learning also seems to be a twist/conflation on what it is we are really doing.

WorkFlow Learning – is usually providing people what might be otherwise called Guidance – as Rummler & Gilbert did in the 1960s/1970s. Or Job Aids as Harless did in the 1970s/1980s. Or EPSS – Electronic Performance Support Systems as Gery did in the 1980s/1990s.

It’s also been known as Quick-Reference-Guides, Standard Operating Procedures, Performance Support and who-knows-what-else. I called it Performance Aids in my 1999 book, lean-ISD.

It all boils down – I think – to providing “prompts for performance” to ensure that tasks aren’t forgotten and are performed as needed.

But to call that WorkFlow Learning – is a misnomer – when learning (knowing) may not not even happened at all – or if it does because of task repetition and the use over and over again of the Performance Support or Job Aids or Guidance – then that Learning might be quite shallow – and not good for Problem Solving or dealing with performance situations with some variation from the guidance covered in WorkFlow Learning (by whatever name).

So let’s quit calling it WorkFlow Learning – and call it WorkFlow Enablement or Performance Enablement and leave Learning out of it entirely.

Of course, your WorkFlow Enablement or Performance Enablement might lead to learning – shallow as it might be – and that as/if a Problem can be addressed by deeper Instruction – again, if the Prior Knowledge of the Performers is insufficient and that’s needed to being able to handle the requirements in the Performance Context.

After all, “it’s not all about Learning – It’s all about Performance – even in a learning organization” – with a VIBRANT Learning Culture (ala Senge).

There are many means to the Learning necessary for Performance – the Performance Competence of the Performers – just as there are many additional Enabler types necessary for the Performance Competence of the Process(es) and for the Enterprise as a whole.

When we need people to learn we should address that. When they don’t need it because of their prior knowledge – we might provide Guidance. But when we provide Guidance for the Performers to follow – that doesn’t result in Learning – we shouldn’t label what we are doing and providing as WorkFlow Learning.


It’s due all too often to our sloppy, inconsistent language. And I’m not sure that’s ever going to be successfully resolved.

It wouldn’t be such a big deal if more, most, in the profession, saw a bigger picture – using any one of a number of systems views of the bigger picture that we are a mere component of, a single cog in the bigger machinery – so to speak – and that those providing Instruction, or Training, or Learning, or Learning Experiences spoke, wrote and performed more consistently with that viewpoint.

My Recent Webinar Addresses Some of This

Performance Improvement Beyond Instruction – But Including Instruction

I did this webinar last week on March 25th for the ISPI BABS Chapter – a virtual chapter that started in the San Francisco Bay Area – who are now partnered with Boise State – and their Instructional Design & Performance Improvement program.

The webinar addresses the many variables of Performance – in my approach – for addressing Performance Improvement needs beyond, but including Instruction.

It’s an overview of all of that – as I was limited to 60 minutes (minus introductions and chapter business) – when I probably needed 4 hours (or more) to do the topic justice.

This video is 55:30 minutes in length.


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