Monday, June 27, 2022


Allison Rossett was Professor of Educational Technology at San Diego University for 36 years from 1977 to 2013. From the 1980s onwards she was a pioneer in seeing performance, performance support and job aids as fundamental in the workplace. With a constant eye on the psychology of learning, especially transfer, she saw the need for performance support that was proximate to what people actually did at work. Rossett was as much interested in applying her ideas to education as organisational learning. 

Performance technology

It was over 30 years ago (1990) that Rossett was looking at performance technology, as opposed to instructional technology. She saw, in both education and organisational training, the need to see learning as a process that requires up-front analysis to determine how to meet learner needs. This meant reimagining what had to be done to meet those needs. These ideas were expanded in the Handbook of Human Performance Technology (1992) in which early performance theorists such as Rummler, Ruth and Richard Clark had papers, hers focusing on analysis and evaluation, which she saw as being intimately connected. It was her recognition that technology was and would continue to be the enabler of performance support that made her work relevant at the time and prophetic. 

Job aids

As early as 1991, in her Job aids in a performance technology world, she was recommending Job Aids in learning, including the now fashionable checklists, decision aids, step-by-step aids, all with the aim of improving performance on the job. What marks her out here is that she grounded these recommendations in cognitive psychology, especially transfer. Rossett was always keen to see performance technology as playing a role in technology based learning but was keen to flesh out the necessary analysis, especially of performance problems, along with issues around implementation. Innovation in performance technology is easy, implementation is hard and so this included the motivational issues around making job aids noticeable and engaging (1993). But it was in Job aids and performance support (2007) that she laid out her theories, along with many useful examples where job aids “match needs of the task to the performer”. She introduced two different forms of performance support:

    1. Planners
    2. Sidekicks

Planners prepare for longer-term decisions, sidekicks immediate problems. She also anticipated nudge learning, with captology (Computer As Persuasive Technology). In relating performance support back to memory, she acknowledges the work of Ruth Clark and what she calls the ‘father of Performance Support’, Tom Gilbert and the father of Job Aids, Joe Harless, and, of course, Gloria Gery. 
What also matters is her identification of the situations where performance support is not suitable, such as fluency, novel problems, workers with low literacy and demotivated employees. They work well with procedures and information, where there can be a convergence of work with learning and as new technology, such as mobiles, came along, she also kept a keen eye on whether they were actually being used or not, wary of the hype. She also explored the role of performance support in everyday life (2008), showing her breadth of thought. 

Blended learning 

As blended learning emerged she provided some useful guidance on how to implement the idea without the fatuous default to cookbook metaphors. Blended learning, was for Rossett (2006) something obvious that needed to replace the one-size-fits-all training paradigm. It also had to accept that performance and performance support was likely to be part of most blends. 


She was committed to working with her graduate students on campus, online and in their field placements. Like many others at that time, Rossett saw that technology should not be restricted to the production of ‘courses’. Her interest in performance led her to use the phrase ‘learning in the workflow’ years before more recent consultants pretended they had invented the term. This led her to see Job Aids as essential, efficient and timely, as transfer of knowledge and skills could more be more readily realised. It is to her credit that she stuck firmly to this view, even when the technology was difficult to implement, before the advent of the internet and all of the learning in the workflow theorists around now are in debt to her foresight. 


Rossett, A., 1990. Performance technology and academic programs in instructional design and technology: Must we change?. Educational Technology, 30 (pp.48-51. Stolovitch, H.D., Keeps, E.J. and Finnegan, G., 2000. Handbook of human performance technology: Improving individual and organizational performance worldwide. Rossett, A., 1991. Job Aids in a Performance Technology World. Performance and Instruction, 30(5), pp.1-6. Rossett, A., 1992. Performance Technology for Instructional Technologists: Comparisons and Possibilities. Performance and instruction, 31(10), pp.6-10. Tilaro, A. and Rossett, A., 1993. Creating Motivating Job Aids. Performance and Instruction, 32(9), pp.13-20. Rossett, A. and Schafer, L., 2007. Job aids and performance support: Moving from knowledge in the classroom to knowledge everywhere. John Wiley & Sons. Paino, M. and Rossett, A., 2008. Performance support that adds value to everyday lives. Performance Improvement, 47(1), pp.37-44.