Putting the NEED in Needs Assessment

It’s time for the next installment of the Performance Improvement Process Model or PIPM. A couple weeks ago, I talked about the difference between an opportunity and a “good” idea. This post will address the next step in the model “Want or Need.”

I’m an old dog. As hard as it might be to teach me a new trick, my good friend and mentor Dr. Roger Kaufman keeps trying. He has written extensively about the difference between needs and wants. The problem starts when we used need as a verb instead of a noun. I do this ALL the time – publicly and in private correspondence with Dr K. Thankfully he is patient and reminds me of the error and we keep moving forward. One day it might just stick!

When we use need as a verb, like “I need a new boat” (my wife may have heard this once or a dozen times) we are going right to the solution and not considering other potential options. Seriously! Look at it! In dire need of replacement.

My 208 Lowe FS175

I know… it’s a sweet boat and I have caught a lot of fish in it. There is no need here what-so-ever. There were some issues with the old gal (my boat NOT my wife). Mostly ancillary equipment like the trolling motor, bilge pump and *gasp* the stereo didn’t work. Long story short, I didn’t need a new boat, rather, I wanted to get all the little irritants fixed so my fishing trips would be more enjoyable. I have talked about this misuse of need and the jump straight to solutions in past blog posts as well. See Just gimme training and Just because it says performance doesn’t mean it’s there (sadly).

How did I get onto boats and fishing!? Okay – seriously, if I keep using need the wrong way, what’s the right way? It’s so simple. Kaufman (1998) has been trying for decades to get everyone on the same page and define it as “a gap in results.” For example, I want to catch more fish. I currently catch an average of 20 a summer. I want to catch 50. The gap between my current and desired results is 30 fish. A new boat may or may not close that gap. In reality, the best way to close in on 50 is simply to spend more time fishing.

Let’s shift over to a work related example of needs. Did you know that cashiers get measured on the number of items they scan per hour? It’s called the ISAH or “Items Scanned per Active Hour” and it is calculated by averaging the total items scanned per hour when cashiers are actively signed into their registers. Generally, good industry performance is 500 ISAH.

In this fictitious example, our experienced cashiers have an average ISAH of 900. The rock stars of retail. Cashiers with 3 months experience or less have an average ISAH of 250. Based on customer feedback, there is dissatisfaction with slower transactions. They prefer to get through the checkout line fast. What’s the need?

The gap in results at the worker (cashier) level is to increase the cashiers ISAH from 250 to 500 or better. The gap in results at the workplace or organizational level is the level of customer dissatisfaction. Improving the cashier’s ISAH will contribute to increased customer satisfaction.

If you can’t describe the problem or opportunity in terms of a gap in results, it’s a want, not a need and you should proceed directly to the stop sign, take a breath and give your problem a second look. It’s probably not the real cause of whatever is giving you business pain. Next up – the Needs Assessment. Stay tuned!


Kaufman, R. (1998) Strategic thinking. A guide to identifying and solving problems. (Revised edition.) International Society for Performance Improvement and the American Society for Training Development. ISBN: 1-56286-051-8.

Opportunities vs. Good Ideas

I’ve decided to embark on a series of posts that walk through my Performance Improvement Process model (below) to add some narrative to each of the steps. First up is “Performance problem or Opportunity.” I want to look directly at the opportunity – and then tackle the problem in the next post.

Have you ever had a boss that comes to you and exclaims “HEY! I’ve got a great idea!!” You have suffered the boss’s good ideas before and you know it’s going to be a long day.

The key difference between an opportunity and a good idea is its alignment – or not – to the individual, organizational and societal contributions that your organization exists to produce.

Oh no! It’s the Good Idea Fairy!

An opportunity will increase the value of your organizational outcomes by improving results at one or more of the three levels. A good idea on the other hand will make work, expend resources and possibly look productive in the short term, without contributing real value at any level.

Describe the Good Idea Fairy? Okay then! This example comes from a large government organization. I was approached by my boss with his weekly great idea. “I want you to find out how much it will cost to get ten video cameras for each school.” The red flags immediately started flying! Having been sent on a number of these “missions” in the past, I knew it was time to dig a little bit and get some details before expending any effort. “Why?” I asked. “I have solved the problem of converting classroom training to e-Learning!” My boss beamed proudly. The senior managers in the organization had directed that as much training as possible should be converted to online delivery without understanding the resource and funding requirements to achieve this lofty goal. “How will we do that with video cameras?” I pressed. “Simple. We will record the instructors giving the lectures in the classroom and put it in the Learning Management System (LMS). Then the instructors will have time to add to the videos and make them into better e-learning while the next group of students watch the videos!”

If you, my reader, come from the learning field – you already see a host of problems with this “good idea.” If you don’t, imagine that the training for your new job consisted of watching someone give a presentation in a video. No interaction. No feedback. No activities. Just video, test, video, test, repeat. Other issues with this plan included the level of effort required to put the videos into the LMS with no extra resources to do the work and the fact that the instructors that would do the e-Learning Development to “improve” the videos had zero training in e-Learning design or development. They are truly experts in their field of work that are brought in to do a tour of duty as an instructor before going back to the field.

The boss had the best intentions and was trying his best to accomplish an impossible task. I explained to him that in the short term, more e-Learning would be created, however, the immediate negative impact on the students learning and the longer-term impact of reduced organizational capability created by poorly trained personnel was a significant risk. By the end of the day, the video idea was shelved.

An opportunity is something new that is aligned to the individual, organizational and societal contributions that your organization exists to produce. It will increase the value of your organizational outcomes by improving results at one or more of the levels of worker, work, workplace and the world within which we exist.

Get to Know Your Customer Day

Customers in a coffee shop

Get to Know Your Customers Day is observed annually on the third Thursday of each quarter (January, April, July, October). This is a day to reach out to your patrons and get to know them better!

When businesses get to know their customers, they can also learn a lot about where they need to grow – or in performance technology language, they can identify needs (gaps between current and desired results) which – when addressed will help them grow. Do you have a favourite locally owned and operated business where you get exceptional service? Where you are known by name and the owners know your shopping habits? I have a few of those, because we live in a relatively small town. When they don’t have what I want, they are generally willing to get it for me.

With the advent of the Internet and big-box stores, much of that personal attention has gone by the wayside. Get to Know Your Customers Day is a day to turn that around. While we should be doing this every day – make it a point to get to know a little more about your customers and make each of them feel like they are your most important customer of the day today!

A great book I discovered last year, “The Absolutely Critical Non-Essentials” by Dr. Paddi Lund, a dentist in Australia, provides some fantastic strategies – and hard evidence to help you get to know your customers. I highly recommend it.


Grow your business by taking the time to get to know your customers. You’ll be planting a seed that will flourish! Use #GetToKnowYourCustomersDay to post your best interactions with your customers on social media.

A Better World: Are you Adding or Subtracting?

The topic of sustainability keeps coming around in my reading as of late. I was first introduced to sustainability during my Commerce program at Royal Roads in 2003. Darlene and Garry McCue were our profs and the text we used was their own called “The spiral stair.” The course was very environmentally focused which at the time put me off somewhat as I was not of the same thinking as environmentalists.

Fast forward ten years or so and I was studying Systems Thinking at Boise State University and our text was “Thinking in Systems: A Primer” by Donella Meadows. My studies at BSU literally changed the way I look at the world. Systems Thinking, Human Factors Engineering, Design Thinking, MEGA planning, Behavior Engineering… all these different models , each a new lens through which to examine the world.

Meadows taught me that to understand how systems work you must see the relationship between structures and behaviours. Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model (BEM) taught me how to sort between behaviours and the environmental factors (structures) that drive or restrain performance. The view from the BEM is more at the individual level which reminds me of John Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You.” Maxwell’s 5th law is “The Law of Addition” which states that Leaders add value by serving others.” When explaining this law he challenges the reader:

“If you are a leader, then trust me, you are having either a positive or a negative impact on the people you lead. How can you tell? There is one critical question: Are you making things better for the people who follow you? That’s it. If you cannot answer with an unhesitant yes, and give some evidence that backs it up, then you may very well be a subtractor. Often subtractors don’t realize they are subtracting from others. I would say that 90 percent of all people who subtract from others do so unintentionally. They don’t recognize their negative impact on others. And when a leader is a subtractor and doesn’t change his ways, it’s only a matter of time before his impact on others goes from subtraction to division (p. 51).”

In all my adult years I have worked for some great adders and some real big subtractors. In retrospect, I am pretty sure I have been on both sides of the equation at different times in my life. I am also pretty sure that at the end of the day, my balance sheet will be in “the black” and overall I will have added more than I subtracted. As I get older and wiser, I am looking for more opportunities to add, not only at the individual level, but at all levels.

Kaufman (2011), has challenged us to ask ourselves, if we are not adding value to our shared society, how are we assured that we are not subtracting value? I think about that a lot. As we see above, we can add or subtract value from the societal down to the individual level. Kaufman’s “MEGA” has strong alignment with what I have learned about sustainability, i.e., if the results of our actions increase sustainability we are “adding.”

To put a business spin on the connection between adding value and sustainability, let me share about a coaching session I recently attended. Our coach talked about “Critical Non-Essentials,” (CNE’s) an idea developed by an Australian Dentist Paddi Lund. Lund developed processes that add value for his customers. They weren’t essential to the dental issue being treated but the CNEs differentiated his practice and he became very successful and his practice achieved sustainability!  I just gave my copy of the book to MY dentist. I’m hoping to see an Espresso machine at my next visit (read the book to find out what I mean).

What I am seeing is that when we look for opportunities to add value, or increase sustainability at any level from friends or family, stakeholders, clients or organizationally, there should be a trickle effect that will contribute to the sustainability of society as a whole. Small actions add up.


Kaufman, R. (2011) The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Mega Thinking and Planning. HRD Press, Inc. Amherst MA

Maxwell, John C.. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Meadows, Donella H.. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Networking Power

Social media is under fire right now and this article in NOT about THAT! I have always been pretty open in the digisphere (buzzword bingo!) because I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks. A couple days ago, I experienced some great examples of why.

I was in Seattle for the International Society of Performance Improvement’s (ISPI) 2018 conference. To kick off day 2, Dr. Will Thalheimer, founder of the debunker club sent out a tweet inviting fellow debunkers to join him at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery for a coffee prior to the opening session for day two. Lo and behold, there we all were, meeting other folks that all shared the same desire to bust performance and learning myths!


But wait! One of these things is not like the other. Who was this twenty-something sitting here with us!? Will asked, “are you a member of ISPI?”

“No…” she responded.

“How did you learn about this meeting!?” We asked. Turns out, our new friend and debunker Mel (@MelMilloway) saw a re-tweet from a colleague about the planned meet-up and thought “Hey, I walk right by there on my way to work. I’ll just stop in and see what this is all about.”

A new member of the over 600 member debunker club – with her own following of over 11,500 Twitter users! A significant influencer in the Learning and Performance field by her own right and I hope a future member of ISPI. Our chance encounter became part of the closing story for the conference and a lead in to next year’s conference in New Orleans where the theme will be storytelling. Apropos!

Another example was my online encounter with @TriciaRansom on Twitter who was following #ISPI2018 for the two days of the conference. She wasn’t able to join us, so she was watching what the conference delegates were sharing online and learning! Tricia has almost 3,000 followers!

For my last example, we are leaving Twitter and jumping over to Facebook. A good friend and colleague of mine who is currently serving with NATO in the US was also tracking what was going on. I have my Twitter account set up to re-post all my tweets on my Facebook personal and business pages. My retweet on “Learning Analysis of a Technology Supported Learning Environment” by Angela Low from the ISPI Potomac Chapter caught his eye on Facebook and he asked if I could get that paper for him. More sharing!

I haven’t been much of a Tweeter up to this point and only started using Twitter seriously at last year’s ISPI conference in Montreal as a bit of a personal experiment. My desire to spread the word about ISPI and all the amazing learning that happens at the annual conference had me tweeting away again this year. Seeing the above examples first hand has me more convinced than ever that we need to continue to embrace social media in order to grow professionally – and make great new friends along the way!

Turning Brick into Paper: An Example

A colleague of mine shared this article, Leaders turn brick into paper in our professional network for military Training Development Officers last week. The article brought back a lot of memories from my days in the Navy. As I read it, I reflected on great, good and not so good leaders at all levels and some real leadership challenges for me personally. Under the section of the article called “Common brick walls” the example of “that piece of equipment that hasn’t worked since I’ve been here and my people tell me it’s never worked” was a real flashback.

When I was assigned to be the Chief Instructor of Acoustics, the standard practice was to send each class down to the dockyard in the evenings to do their active sonar training on-board one of the ships in harbour. It had always been done this way as there was no active sonar simulator at the school, so at first, with many other more pressing items getting my attention, no problem!

Canadian Forces Fleet School Esquimalt Engineering, Weapons and Acoustic Schools

Then we were “asked” if we could increase the throughput of the school by about 35% for the next two to three years. If you have read the brick to paper article (it’s really good-you should), you’ll have seen the five no’s method for “honing your fortitude.” I may have been guilty of immediately throwing out “no” #1 at the start of the conversation. I’ve always been a can do sort of fella so I told my boss I would look into it, sat down with the senior staff and asked “well, can we do this?” Their immediate reaction was NO and a lot of “bricks” were being thrown into a rapidly growing wall as the discussion progressed. Oh-oh. Problem.

The school is a fairly simple system as shown in the Logic Model below. Students are the inputs, staff and facilities are the resources and trained sailors are the outputs. This system was designed for a throughput of 80 sailors a year. Eight groups of ten.


That number was based on the number of classrooms, instructors and the various trainers/simulators needed to prepare each individual to meet the Navy’s standard for a new Sonar Operator. We sat down with a calendar, a calculator and a bag of chicken bones and started trying to fit different scenarios together to make 120 sailors go through the system each year. Let’s look at some of the No’s being presented.

NO!! #1: Secure Facilities

84109_secret_squirrel_coin_front_1024x1024Some of the material taught is classified which makes the Acoustic School a secure area and therefore, the number of classrooms available is fixed. The number of classrooms were insufficient, but there were classrooms in other parts of the Fleet School we could use during the heaviest parts of the schedule to teach the unclassified portions of the curriculum. We even developed a Plan B where we could run two shifts with day and evening classes. One brick turned into paper.

No!! #2: Schedule and Teaching Assignments

Training in the Canadian Forces is designed very rigorously and sequencing is one of the many design considerations. For this course in particular, Oceanography always came first because you need to understand how sound works in the ocean before you can start using sonar. Makes total sense. So the courses run three at a time with a staggered start date so one group finishes oceanography and then then next group comes in and starts with oceanography. A well oiled machine.

The instructional staff were assigned to teach one of the three main subject areas: Oceanography/Ancillary Equipment, Active Acoustics and Passive Acoustics. Because the passive acoustics is 2/3 of the entire course, more staff are assigned to that subject. To meet the objective, we would have to start more courses with a shorter stagger between starts and someone teaching one topic might have to teach one of the other subjects. There were also a couple courses where it just wasn’t possible to start with oceanography so we looked at the next best sequencing option and made it work.

The number of staff assigned to each course was temporarily adjusted as well. The standard required that two junior instructors be assigned to each class, with one lead instructor supervising two classes and four junior instructors at a time. Depending on the course load and staff available, this was adjusted as required to ensure that there was minimum one junior and one senior instructor assigned to every class. A single lead instructor may have been supervising three different classes, but everyone was “represented.”

NO!! #3: Staff

Staffing – as you can see from above – was a big issue. The school runs in a perpetual state of staff shortages. As noted earlier, the Acoustic School is designed for a throughput of 80 trainees with (if I remember correctly) a staff of 12. What was never included in the fine print was that from those 12 staff – the Navy would pluck out people for career training courses, higher priority taskings, etc. Looking at the schedule and the number of courses compared to available instructors, current and anticipated staff shortfalls – it was clear we would burn out the team and have periods where, even with me teaching in the classroom, we would be short. This took a few e-mails and phone-calls to work out with the various levels of HQ to make sure that when our staff were selected to go on their own training or for other tasks we would get replacements (normally we just handled it internally). Another brick gone.

NO!! #4: Active Sonar Training

No matter how many ways we looked at the situation, the active sonar training was an issue. There would never be enough ships in the harbour to get 120 sailors trained a year. But wait!! There was a new multi-million dollar trainer called the Naval Combat Operator Trainer or “NCOT” sitting in the basement of our building for training navy combat operators including active sonar. When I first arrived at the school I had asked why we weren’t using this trainer and went to the ships instead.

MDA’s Naval Combat Operator Trainer (NCOT) delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy in 2000. 
Photo: MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.

The answer was all kinds of no no no’s from the staff. The software was no good, there were too many errors in it. The trainer crashed all the time and on and on went the reasons. A big brick wall – and like I said earlier, there were more pressing issues when I first arrived. A common (and simple) method for conducting root cause analysis is the “5 Why’s.” Just keep asking why until you find the true root cause. I didn’t learn this method for another seven years, but I was applying it here! No – why? No – why? Repeat. Ultimately, the staff’s position was that the NCOT’s computer based training (CBT) and sonar simulator could not meet the requirements of the training standard. However, my staff – God bless them – couldn’t cite one specific example of where the standard would not be met. No data.


So we tasked one of my sharpest instructors to take the training standard and all the active sonar lesson plans down to the NCOT trainer and do a gap analysis. This was another term I didn’t learn until later in my career, but we were doing it here instinctively. “Here is the requirement – test they system and tell us where the issues are.” THEN we will talk again. We gave him two weeks. Twice (that I recall) in that two week period, my active sonar expert popped his head in my office, and relayed the great results he was seeing. Not only did the NCOT emulate the sonar very well, it also had self-paced lessons (CBT) that might reduce the amount of face-to-face instruction, reducing the staff burden noted above. Well! Imagine that. Data.

After the analysis was complete, we sat down again and looked at the entire situation. All the No’s had been addressed AND – added bonus – as part of this “naval gazing exercise” (pun definitely intended) we identified some other places where we could further refine the system. While instructors had their “subject area” of expertise, moving forward, they would have to stay up to date on the other areas as well in order to increase our flexibility with manning issues. All our bricks were paper. We increased the throughout as “asked” and the school entered it’s busiest period in recent memory, fully prepared thanks to the dedication and professionalism of everyone on our team! When I left the school in 2002, we were still spitting out 120 (ish) sonar operators a year.








Just gimme training…

Author’s note: The names have been changed, faces blurred and voices altered to protect the innocent in this post. 

It’s a story I have heard many times. The boss wants training, the Instructional designer – performance technologist – analyst KNOWS that training isn’t going to fix the problem but is told to “gimme the training.”


A client told me awhile back that they needed a course. That’s always the first red flag right!?

I asked “Why? What’s the problem?” Turned out that my client was told that a group in another part of the organization wasn’t performing as needed when requesting and using my client’s services to get their job done. Their boss wanted my client to train his people. Classic example of picking the solution before understanding the problem.


To make the story easier to understand, let’s call the group that is experiencing the performance issue the “Jocks.” We’ll call my client – the one told to fix the problem, the “Wizards.” The Wizards are responsible for producing some pretty cool magic that helps the Jocks prepare for their games. The problem is that the Jocks don’t understand exactly what type of magic the Wizards can provide, how to ask for or use the magic once they do get it and as you can imagine – Jocks and Wizards don’t exactly speak the same language, so they don’t even know how to interact with each other at this stage.

As a good performance technologist or CPT, I asked for more information from the Wizards and the Jocks – starting at the end – the outcome – the desired level of performance. In this case, that would be the Jocks being ready for the game. Two other key pieces of the puzzle were the Jock’s “playbook” and the Wizard’s “spells book.” Much to my surprise, the playbook used by the jocks to get ready for games had much the same process as used by the Wizards.  It may look familiar:

  1. Define the objective
  2. Plan
  3. Prepare
  4. Execute
  5. Analyse/Evaluate results

Yes… at a deeper level of fidelity, there are some differences, but overall, the Jocks and the Wizards are using the same process, with the same goal. So after carefully reviewing the plays and the spells, it was pretty apparent to me that if we added the information that the jocks had to give to the Wizards at each step above, training really wasn’t necessary. All we had to do was update the playbook!


A meeting was held! After showing the Jocks and the Wizards that what they are doing is similar enough that the time and effort required to build a course might be better spent on improving the playbook, I was not at all surprised to be told, “just gimme the training.”

It might be because the direction given to my client was for a training solution. It might be because the Jocks don’t know what they don’t know at this point and they want to have the training first, work through the process a couple time first and THEN update the playbook. It might be because the Wizards don’t want to pay me to update the Jock’s playbook. I’m not sure at this point. I noted in a previous post that you may just end up getting a training solution when you really need a performance solution. It’s killing me that we are going to spend a lot of time and energy developing this course, knowing that the solution is an updated process.

In 2007 I attended the International Society of Performance Improvement’s (ISPI) “Principles and Practices of Performance Technology Workshop.” Geary Rummler and Roger Addison were my teachers. To this day I remember our discussion about this very situation and Roger’s advice that no matter how much training you develop – always leave them a job-aid.


In 2012, my good friend and mentor Dr. Roger Kaufman – a legend in the field of performance technology (far right), introduced me to another legend, Dr. Joe Harless (middle). I had read many of Joe’s articles which all hold true today. As Guy Wallace explains at the linked article about Joe, you never say no to training. Harless (1985) is also credited with coining the term “Inside every fat course there’s a thin Job Aid crying to get out.”

So I am bashing ahead with designing and developing the course. I’m going to add in a “Student Manual” that will contain one page that explains the whole process. Thanks Geary, Roger A., Roger K. and Joe.


Harless, J. (1985). Performance technology and other popular myths. Performance & Instruction Journal, July 1985.

Accommodating Disabilities

With guest blogger and my pal Sean Rea (wellbalanced-living.com)

Once in a while, a topic seems to be begging to be written. A couple weeks ago, CBC’s The Nature of Things aired an episode called “The Brains Way of healing.” Last week, a discussion on policies for accommodating learning disabilities popped up in one of my professional networks and a few days later Sean asked me how the Canadian military deals with accommodations. Around the same time, friends of ours, who have a son with autism stopped in to watch the Nature of Things episode. Through all this, my own daughter who deals with disability and her quest for a career that will enable greater self-sufficiency weaved its way through the other discussions, trying it all together.

CaptureI contacted Brett due to my son’s interest in being a paramedic in the public sector or the military equivalent of medical technician. My son, next year, is entering in to his last year of high school making this a real issue. The main reason I reached out to Brett was to find out how the military deals with accommodation of learning disabilities in its occupations, as I couldn’t find any information on this. The college system in Canada is very clear on the process for students with learning disabilities, they are assessed and then college decides what the student needs to be successful. In my son’s case, he has several diagnosed disabilities including: a grapho-motor disability, ADHD, and mild dyslexia. These three combine to make it difficult for him to read and write. That being said, to the outside world, he comes across as a very intelligent and articulate 16 year old. His IQ is slightly above average, and he has a vocabulary several years above his grade level. From a learning accommodation perspective, if my son can have content presented and studied without reading (i.e. video or audio) and is tested orally or from a performance basis, he learns as well as his peers. His knowledge of his limitations draws him to kinesthetic types of fields for work, and not fields that would require him to read quickly to attain the information he would need to make a decision. For this reason, he has been attracted to the first responder’s field, or just the other night he mentioned maybe being a carpenter.

Within the military, the absence of a policy on how to address learning disabilities has left training facilities and supervisors in the workplace to deal with each individual as best they can. I experienced this personally as Chief Instructor of Acoustics from 2000 to 2002, having a number of students with learning difficulties including ADHD, ADD and others that I wasn’t privy to because they are medical problems that the students and the health system don’t have to share, causing a barrier in helping the student succeed. It was frustrating, but we did the best we could.

CaptureMy friend’s son with autism will be going into grade 7 next year. He is an awesome guy and makes me think of what a young Sheldon Cooper would be like. He likes things a certain way and when you say it’s time for hot-dogs, buddy you better have his dog on the plate ready to go. He is very high functioning and has strengths in math, memorization and organizing things. My daughter has disabilities to deal with as well. She’s 24, she completed a college program in visual. Thanks to support from her family and an employment counselor she has held down a part time job in a florist department in a market for several years. She shares an apartment with a friend and has made an incredible amount of progress towards her goal of becoming self-sufficient. Saying that, her desire to move into a more challenging and financially rewarding line of work has been a struggle.

I have been known to help myth bust learning styles pretty regularly. I just did it again last week in a webinar for the ISPI San Francisco Bay Chapter. The topic of accommodation got me to thinking about it, and I went back to check my notes to be sure I had the right message. When instructional designers are doing their bit for the greater good, it is a waste of time, effort and resources to use learning styles in the design of learning. Dr. Will Thalheimer provides a great top ten list of resources supporting this. It’s great advice and I agree 100%. Until you get to someone with a learning disability – and this is the difference. When designing training for the masses, learning styles are bad ju-ju. But what about addressing the needs of individuals that are placed into the learning environments designed for the masses?

CaptureAs a seasoned Instructional Designer (ID), I agree with Brett and Dr.Thalheimer regarding learning styles. At the end of the day, the learning activities chosen by the ID must be aligned with the learning/performance objectives. If the objective is to be able to do something (say build a widget,) then the learning activities must be kinesthetic (build the widget.) In instructional design 101, we teach that we must design our training to the lowest common denominator, or in other words, to the population having the biggest performance gap. Then we come up with other strategies to meet the needs of those having smaller gaps (staggered entry etc.) The question that Brett and I floated around was “as IDs to we need to include learning disabilities into our gap analysis and choice of learning activities?” In my opinion no, as they have a much wider difference in strengths and weaknesses in different learning abilities. Also, adults with diagnosed learning disabilities should be aware of their accommodation needs and can advocate for themselves in the learning environment. In the example of my son, he will struggle with learning activities that involve reading activities and written assessments. However, he excels when given hands-on, practical activity, auditory text and instructional video. So, in the example of paramedic training, if the chosen instructional technique for starting an IV line is through a text book, followed by simulation, he will struggle with text book learning, but once sees an instructor demonstrate the technique he will learn quickly. Or he might ask the instructor to recommend a video alternative to the text book (for example How to Insert an I.V.) In the case of Brett’s friend, typical accommodations for autism may include, the much heavier use of written media, visuals, pictures and graphic. They will often need to know the “why” of a lesson and they often learn best from whole to part (complex to simple.)

So with such a wide range of functioning and abilities seen across individuals diagnosed with a learning disability, it would be next to impossible to design for these individuals as the accommodation needs are individual.

That being said, society, businesses, and agencies need to play a bigger role in making sure these individuals are successful in their learning, performing in the workplace and making a positive contribution to society. I anticipate that this will be a greater concern as my son’s generation enters the workplace, considering almost half of every school classroom has students with Individual Education Plans (IEP.) Given the current Duty to Accommodate rules under the Canadian Human Rights act, we don’t have a choice but to provide accommodation, with the exception of undue hardship and occupations that have a valid reason to discriminate.

If we want these individuals to be successful, the learning and performance community is going to need to be flexible with these learners, but in my opinion it is on the delivery side and not the design side. A well designed course, following adult learning principles, and incorporating neuro-science principles such as those outlined by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel in Make It Stick (2014) will create an effective learning program that can be supplemented with alternative activities based on the learning needs of those individuals with disabilities. The good news is that Brett’s experience as an instructor who didn’t have access to this information on the students is changing. The fact is that today, children coming through the education system with an IEP are aware of their accommodation needs and can articulate them to the instructor. I could see it coming shortly that things like the pre-course survey would ask participants about any accommodation needs they have. No different than dietary/allergy factors we are asked on a regular basis. This would provide the instructor/facilitator the opportunity to open a dialogue on how to best help the learner succeed.

CaptureAs Sean noted above, there are Duty to Accommodate rules under the Canadian Human Rights that have been incorporated at the Provincial level as well. You can read more on Ontario and British Columbia’s  positions at the links. After I read these examples, I noted one common thread. The requirement to accommodate appears to be directed at employers. Reading between the lines, that means if I am disabled – I should not disclose my disability until after I have secured employment, as discussed here in Duty to accommodate mental health disability upheld by landmark Ontario Human Rights Decision. If you disclose your needs in a hiring interview, my gut tells me that any other candidate without a requirement for accommodation will get the nod. So where does that leave kids like ours? A little more digging reveals a real morass of services to wade through as shown on the inclusion BC website. When you look closer, the actual support to people with disabilities looking for employment, the available list for support gets short quickly.

The progress Sean describes in the (Ontario) education system is awesome. It still requires that the disability is recognized, properly diagnosed and then reported to the education system so it can be addressed. With my daughter, the full scope of her disabilities was not clear until she was almost finished high school. That was a set-back but we are thrilled to see the progress she continues to make.

With my performance technologist and MEGA-Planning view on the world, where If you are not adding value to our shared society, you have no assurance that you are not subtracting value (Kaufman, 2011), I still see a very large gap between when a child with an IEP leaves the education system and the transition to the workforce where they have an opportunity to add value to our shared society.

We’d love to hear YOUR thoughts. If you found this post worthwhile, please DO share it!


Kaufman, R. (2011). The manager’s pocket guide to mega thinking and planning. Amherst, MA, HRD Press Inc.

Brown, P et. al. (2014). Make it stick: the science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Just because it says performance doesn’t mean it’s there (sadly)

As a professional in the field of performance and learning, it is important for me to continually learn and to give back. To do that – in part – I have been a long time member of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) and the Institute for Performance and Learning (I4PL) – previously the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD).

I give back a lot more to ISPI as I have always been aligned with its’ larger view of organizational performance. I was really excited when CSTD re-branded to I4PL in 2015, believing that a shift was on the way and the then Society, now Institute, was going to broaden its’ horizons and move beyond training to look at organizational performance from the holistic perspective that is required.

I passed on their last annual conference (which is always in Toronto) after reviewing the program and seeing much of the same old training training training topics, with all the new spins like micro-learning. Not worth my time or money.

Today, I received in my e-mail, an invitation to a webinar that would introduce me to the competencies for “Performance and Learning Professionals.” It had this very colourful graphic included.

for Performance and Learning Professionals, Institute for Performance and Learning

I was SO disappointed. After piece of pie number one “Assessing performance needs” the rest of the pie is ALL LEARNING. YES – I AM YELLING THROUGH MY KEYBOARD. These are competencies of LEARNING PROFESSIONALS NOT Performance Professionals.

Here’s why. When you assess the performance needs, using a methodology, such as needs assessment, you are identifying gaps between current and desired levels of performance at the levels of the worker, the work, the workplace and the world.

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The Performance Improvement Process Model (PIPM) Adapted from Christensen, 2018.

I4PL’s competency model goes straight from the needs assessment to designing curriculum. Performance Technologists take a few extra steps before jumping to training as a solution (not the solution). What if training doesn’t address the problem?

If you look at the Performance Improvement Process Model (PIPM) above,  you will see a cause analysis step to determine WHY those performance problems are occurring. From there we write a business requirement to describe the accomplishment that the solution must deliver. The business requirement is “intended to stimulate innovation and creativity that ultimately results in more tangible solution options” (Honebein, 2018).

How often have you seen a problem that simply needed some clear direction from management to be fixed? Instead, because no one wants to tell management the true cause of the problem (or worse, no one knows how to determine the true cause), a training program is implemented. Gadzooks! (As my Grandmother Christensen would have said.) What a waste of resources.

I4PL is selling some snake oil by including the “performance” in it’s competency model. It’s not there. If you end up getting a training solution – don’t be surprised.


Christensen, B.D. (2018). Needs assessment to needs analysis. Performance Improvement, 57(7). doi: 10.1002/pfi.21785

Honebein, P. (2018). Business Requirements. Performance Improvement, 57(7). doi: 10.1002/pfi.21785

Task Analysis or “How DO you do that?”

This will be a short and sweet post! Yesterday I was asked if I knew the location of a video produced by BSU OPWL on “scalaring.” The term was new to my learned colleagues at BSU so I had to translate it into normal speak and explain it is a task analysis method. My curious mind wondered why they didn’t know this term, so ingrained in my own vocabulary.

Task analysis is defined bu Businessdictionary,com as:

“the systematic identification of the fundamental elements of a job, and examination of knowledge and skills required for the job’s performance. This information is used in human resource management for developing institutional objectives, training programs, and evaluation tools. See also activity analysis, job analysis, and performance analysis.”

In my time working in the Canadian military training system we used “scalaring” to assist in completing a task analysis. This often results in a wall full of post-it notes that provide a visual breakdown of the tasks and how they are grouped into performance objectives, “duty areas” (groups of related tasks) and then specific jobs.

Photo: Future Training Development Officers (TDOs) learning the art of Task Analysis. Courtesy of Maj John Wyville Canadian Forces Training Development Center

I am not aware of the history behind the military use of the term scalar or its verb form “scalaring” which obviously hasn’t taken off like “googling” something. A brief search on the web leads me to believe this is a unique to the military training realm as everywhere else I looked it is related to mathematics, computing or physics.

The Canadian Forces Individual Training and Education System manual Design of Instructional Programmes describes a scalar diagram as:

The recommended means of conducting and documenting an instructional analysis. [my emphasis] A scalar diagram clearly defines the overall structure of the course content by graphically illustrating the hierarchy of Enabling Objectives (EO’s) and teaching points for each Performance Objective (PO).

The video in question on Task Analysis performed by Dr.’s Don Stepich and Steve Villachica. One of the great challenges in task analysis is getting the expert to fully explain all the required knowledge, skill and abilities involved in successful task completion. The BSU video below provides a great demonstration of an expert analyst – Steve on the left, asking a Subject Matter Expert – Don on the right, all the probing questions needed to thoroughly deconstruct a task.

I thought rather than lose this video link in my digital pile of reference material, a quick blog post would make it simpler for me (and you) to find in the future.

UPDATE: Dr. Steve V (in his comments below) pointed out what I should have concluded with… I was in a rush. It was Friday! In conclusion, this is another great example where language matters! Scalaring in the military context is meant as an instructional design method, while task analysis comes before instructional design and as Steve says, aims to “provide an accurate, complete, and authentic representation of exemplary performance.”  THANKS Steve!!


A-P9-050-000/PT-004, Manual of Individual Training and Education, Volume 4, Design of Instructional Programmes.

task analysis. BusinessDictionary.com. Retrieved January 06, 2018, from BusinessDictionary.com website: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/task-analysis.html