Google Maps: The Ideal Performance Support

I’m a typical guy in that I don’t ask for directions, but it’s not a macho thing. I just know that I won’t understand them. I’m a visual person. I need to see the big picture, the context. I need a map. But that’s just me.

I wrote this post about the advantage of maps over directions as a metaphor for learning,  but who am I to tell people how to access information. As I prepare for the Performance Support Symposium in Austin next week, I am thinking about the maxim of Performance Support: “Get people what they need and get out of their way.” I keep wondering if there is a way to let people access step by step directions AND see the bigger picture. Bob Mosher calls this the flipped pyramid. In a formal classroom, there is an inverted pyramid. The grand concepts are on top and you drill down until you get to the instructions to do the task at hand at the end. In Performance Support you reverse this picture. You start with what is needed to get the task done, and then you let the user choose to drill down to the deeper concepts.

I’ve been trying to think of an example of how this would work and it hit me: Maps. Specifically online maps. Google Maps and its competitors are the ideal example of what Performance Support should be:

  • It let’s you switch back and forth from maps to directions and from individual steps back to the map.
  • You can access it at the moment of need. It can be on your desktop at home when planning a trip or on your mobile device when you are lost.
  • You can dive deep into the detail or zoom out to get a broader perspective.
  • You can link to other resources like the menu of a restaurant.
  • You can contribute by uploading photos and commenting on sites.
  • You can embed interactive maps into other applications.
  • Everyone understands how to use it (Is this because of its ubiquity or it’s straightforwardness?).
  • It uses the affordances of the mobile device (most obviously the GPS.) You can even use the Accelerometer for setting the compass so you can see which way you are facing.
  • It has a “Show me” function in the form of “Street View”
  • It warns you about challenges by showing traffic patterns.
  • It gives you options for completing the task with optional routes and optional modes of transportation.
  • It tells you how long the task will take.
  • Most importantly it gives you information that you can act on immediately.

These features of online maps could be added to any Performance Support solution to make it more robust. It is a good way to demonstrate the power of Performance Support.

I’m looking forward to see where this goes…as long as I don’t have to ask for directions.