Seamlessly embedded performance support into an application makes the user more productive. Intuit products demonstrate this well.
I’m a big fan of Intuit and a daily user of their products: Mint for personal finance, QuickBooks Online for finances at Ontuitive and TurboTax for paying my family’s taxes (or, hopefully, securing a refund). One of the things I love about their products is how they seamlessly embed performance support into the user experience, making me a more productive and knowledgeable user of the applications.
By my count Intuit uses at least four performance support techniques in their browser-based applications. Let’s take a look at each of these techniques and then assess how Intuit’s approach can be co-opted to meet the needs of a learning enterprise.
Contextual Application Support
This is the feature we all think of when we’re envisioning a performance support solution, something that one of Ontuitive’s customers once described as, “Help on steroids.” And QuickBooks Online does it well – click the Help button from any context and you get a relevant menu of support options.
Select an option from the context menu and you’ll get clear, concise steps for completing your task. Ontuitive’s consultants might recommend a slightly different content design utilizing increasing levels of support – but “Delete a vendor” is such a simple task that Intuit’s content design works well in this case.
Look further, and you’ll notice that the content window solicits user feedback. This is valuable because it provides users an outlet for sharing back to the content and application owners – driving continuous improvement.
Trackers and Nudgers
Users of Intuit’s Mint aggregate their personal finance information into a single location. Based on its tracking of a user’s spending habits, Mint presents warnings or suggestions (or ads) promoting desired behaviors. In the example shown here, Mint noticed that a user who normally spends $730 on Misc Expenses has -- over the past 30 days -- spent more than twice as much. As a result, Mint “nudges” the user through their activity feed, warning them that they’re spending more than usual.
Best-of-breed performance support systems do something similar. Based on business rules and/or past behavior, those systems detect conditions that meet certain criteria and notify users to promote desired behaviors. Ontuitive frequently uses this approach in our CRM implementations: for example, detecting types of sales opportunities and pushing relevant materials to the sales rep to support those opportunities.
Reference Guides / Job Aids
At year-end, QuickBooks provides a job aid to financial professionals reminding them to perform tasks like submitting 1099 forms, etc. This job aid (available here: https://static.onlinepayroll.intuit.com/YearEnd/1099_year_end_checklist.pdf) is exceptionally well-designed: concise, consistent and clear.
It’s noteworthy that QuickBooks’ year-end reference guide doesn’t walk the user through the steps in the application with bubbles and arrows, it simply lays out the steps next to an annotated screenshot. Pedagogically, this is superior to the handholding provided by some EPSS implementations because a) the task is simple enough that it doesn’t require a huge investment in automated support and b) it trains the user to understand the interface design and usage principles, thus becoming more proficient in using the application.
Ontuitive’s learning consultants would probably recommend breaking this down into smaller, digital chunks – but, again, Intuit has done a nice job delivering the needed details to get users moving forward successfully.
The fourth EPSS feature that Intuit uses effectively, this time in TurboTax, is progress feedback or context cues. As a user moves through the tax preparation process, the refund tracker updates with anticipated refund or tax due amounts. This information helps keep the user engaged by providing good or bad news about where they are in the process. Of course, it helps that a typical user enters income first and then deductions because the news tends to improve as you move through the process.
How to Make the Intuit Approach Relevant in the Enterprise
Intuit, of course, focuses on making their products usable by a diverse group of consumers – they’re driving for specific outcomes: get your tax return quickly and accurately, know where your money is going, manage your accounts payable. And Intuit achieves these goals better than anyone. But within the enterprise, we know that there are not only specific but also general learning outcomes to keep in mind: complete an order form and communicate effectively with a customer because you understand the order queuing and fulfillment process. As a result, employing one or all of these techniques – while being a giant move in the right direction – is only a single step towards optimizing learning outcomes within an organization. In the enterprise, performance support works best as a part of an outcome-oriented learning strategy – not simply a feature overlaid on an application.
For us, this means designing learning initiatives that leverage micro-learning content – whether part of a classroom training event, a pre-work assignment, computer-based learning or embedded support – that can be accessed in a moment of reflection or at the moment of apply. In other words, well-designed learning solutions accommodate a need for aggregated, structured content used in anticipation of performance as well as disaggregated content used in response to a contextual need.
How we assess where on the continuum specific courses or modules fall is the subject of another post . . .
Morris Davis, PhD, is an Associate Professor at Drew University and Senior Learning, Performance, & Design Consultant to Ontuitive. Twitter: @morleydj.