4 Performance Environment

“For higher-order learning, a careful context analysis is critical for aiding the designer in recreating authentic elements of the performance context during instruction and enabling the learner to build optimal conceptual frameworks for learning and remembering.” (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2014, p. 99)

Context matters. There are two specific contexts that affect your instructional design decisions. First is the performance environment. This is where the skill or knowledge will be used in the ‘real-world’. The second is the training environment.  This is where the instructional will take place.

The performance environment describes where the skills are knowledge are applied outside of the training context. In some cases, these can be the same or vary similar. For example, you teach swimming in water (a pool or a lake). Regardless of where the swimming actually occurs, the environments are similar but they are not necessarily the same. You may teach swimming in a pool but the learner may actually swim in open water.

Ideally, you want your training environment to be as close as possible to your performance environment.


Some reasons why it may not be possible to have performance environment and training environment the same:

  • Safety. When teaching dangerous skills, it isn’t necessarily safe for the learner (e.g. astronauts) or others (e.g. unsafe for patients for surgeons to practice skills).
  • Cost. When there is a risk of equipment being damaged or a limited amount of equipment available, it may make more sense to do training in a simulated environment.
  • Distraction. When the training requires undistracted attention and the performance context is full of distractions.

Performance Environment

Things to example when looking at the performance environment:

  • Needs of the organization.
  • Physical aspects (e.g. is it quiet, is it noisy, are workspaces private/public)?
  • Social aspects (e.g. does workers work alone or as a team)?
  • Available tools (e.g. do the workers need/use specific tools in their work)?
  • Processes (e.g. do the workers follow specific processes to achieve the task at hand)?
  • Constraints (e.g. are there unchangeable aspects of the environment that need to be considered?)
  • Other – anything else you can think of that might affect the design of instruction.

One of the most effective ways to gather performance environment information is to observe employees in their work. There you can see for yourself what tools are available to employees as well as the physical and social aspects of their workplaces.

When documenting the performance environment, you want to write down anything that you think might help you design a more authentic learning experience.


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Foundations of Instructional Design by Rebecca J. Hogue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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