Thursday, September 30, 2021

Gery - Performance support and EPSS (Electronic Performance Support Systems)

Gloria Gery in her groundbreaking Electronic performance support system: How and why to remake the workplace through the strategic application of technology (1991) presented the idea of performance centred design and electronic tools to improve productivity and performance. A shift in mindset was required to move from training to performance and then to performance support. It is a work that was ahead of its time, as the technology has only recently caught up with her ideas. She later moved into developing schools in Nepal and work with vulnerable children in Romania.


The apprenticeship model, which is centuries old, has a focus of learning on the job, under supervision. This developed, in the Industrial Revolution and under the pressure for skilled labour during two World Wars into more formal training. We eventually institutionalised this into formal training through designed courses and that model has been dominant for seventy years. Of course, learning on the job was always there but regarded as beyond the control of professional trainers. Gilbert and Rummler, from The Praxis Group (1970), published a paper that expressed real scepticism about the direction of travel in training towards separate classroom courses and pushed the idea of job aids and performance support. Gilbert’s Human Competences (1978) gave training a new focus on performance. 

Performance problems

Gery, in Training vs. performance support (1989), saw performance problems as a major business problem, especially when introducing new technology. This requires a shift away from traditional training, thorough courses. She understood that this shift in mindset required dissatisfaction with the status quo and the existing available and affordable alternatives. It requires a significant change in the learning culture with all stakeholders prepared to make the leap from training to learning then performance. This means changing the whole way we design learning experiences.

The shift for Gery, from ‘Traditional training’ to ‘Performance support’ saw learning, not as separate from work but integrated with work. Technology plays more of a role in allowing learners to become more responsible for their learning,as it is driven by need or demand, rather than predefined Subject Matter Expert input and trainer intervention. Gery wanted the pendulum to swing sharply towards performance support, not abandoning all formal training, but most of it. Supporting people while they are working, she thought, led to fewer errors and mistakes, shorter time to competence and increases in productivity.


An EPSS is not a traditional help system, which is limited in scope and not individualised or personalised to the user or task at hand. It is designed from the user or learner’s point of view, not the trainer or instructor. For Gery “an integrated electronic environment that is available to and easily accessible by each employee and is structured to provide immediate, individualized on-line access to the full range of information, software, guidance, advice and assistance, data, images, tools, and assessment and monitoring systems to permit job performance with minimal support and intervention by others.” It should, if possible, be contextualised.

The idea that a computer-driven system could deliver integrated information, advice, and learning experiences, was very different from traditional training experiences, offline or online.

Barker and Banerji’s (1995) later define EPSS as having four levels: 

  1. User interface shell (interface) and the database

  2. Tools (help system, documentation, text retrieval system, intelligent agents, tutoring facility, simulation tools and communication resources)

  3. Application-specific support tools

  4. Target domain (schools, particular business settings, military, etc.).

Ger’s book was written just prior to the introduction of the internet and mobile technology but even this was not enough to deliver what she envisioned. It is only now with a data-centric view of learning and smart, AI-delivered support that real performance support can be practically delivered in such a way that it is useful.


Gery’s original definition and ideas have stood the test of time and been carried forward by the performance expert Guy Wallace, along with Jay Cross, Bob Mosher, Conrad Gottfredson, Alfred Remmits and many others into modern performance support systems. Allison Rossett put real flesh on the bones in her Job Aids work. Charles Jennings and the 70:20:10 theorists, such as Jos Arets, have also pushed for this as a solution to the great need for on the job support. Beyond this, the LXP (Learning Experience Platform) movement that delivered push and pull support in the workflow follows in Gery’s footsteps. It has taken nearly 30 years for the technology to catch up with Gery’s foresight.


Galagan, Patricia A. "Think performance: a conversation with Gloria Gery." Training & Development, vol. 48, no. 3, Mar. 1994, pp. 47+. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

Barker, P. and Banerji, A., 1995. Designing electronic performance support systems. Innovations in Education and Training International, 32(1), pp.4-12.

Rossett, A. and Schafer, L., 2012. Job aids and performance support: Moving from knowledge in the classroom to knowledge everywhere. John Wiley & Sons.

Rossett, A. and Gautier-Downes, J., 1991. A handbook of job aids. Pfeiffer.

Gery, G.J., 1991. Electronic performance support systems: How and why to remake the workplace through the strategic application of technology. Weingarten Publications, Inc.

Gery, G.J., 1989. Training vs. performance support: Inadequate training is now insufficient. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 2(3), pp.51-71.

Gilbert, T.F., (1978) 2013. Human competence: Engineering worthy performance. John Wiley & Sons.

Gilbert, T.F. and Rummler, G. Praxis Corporation. Praxis Reports, 1970. Praxis Corporation, New York.

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