Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Learning and Performance Support Systems

This post is to introduce you to our Learning and Performance Support Systems program, a new $19 million 5-year initiative at the National Research Council that I will be leading.

If I had to depict LPSS in a nutshell, I would describe it as a combination of the MOOC project we've been working on over the last few year, as well as our work in Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). The objective is to build a system where individuals can access, and get credit for, learning from any education provider at all, whether from home, the workplace, or at a school.

What follows is a version of the case we presented to NRC senior executive in order to have this program approved. They supported our proposal, and for the last few weeks I have been engaged in developing the program implementation with a large team of NRC colleagues.

Program Overview

The Skills Challenge

Despite existing levels of unemployment in Canada, more than a quarter million jobs go unfilled, many because no candidates can be found. The Canadian Oil and Gas (O&G) sector alone loses an estimated $4 billion per year due to skills shortages. Canada’s O&G sector will need 105,000 new recruits in this decade, including some 30,000 to fill newly created positions. 

Similar skills shortages have been reported in other sectors, such as biotechnology and engineering. In Canada, there are 25 job groups that consistently show signs of skills shortages. These groups represent 21% of employment in Canada, they experience an unemployment rate of less than 1%, and show an annual raise in wages of about 3.9%, more than double that of the overall economy.

Training current and prospective employees is time-consuming and expensive. Although advanced learning technologies are available, the bulk of training continues to be offered in the form of in-person courses. These courses are typically quite short, ranging from one day to a week, and are expensive, often costing several thousand dollars, not including transportation and time off work. Many of them are in the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services sector.

Though there are significant opportunities for growth, Canada’s training and development industry is fragmented, with no clear leader, and is subject-focused, with limited competency development and management capabilities. Companies in this sector lack the research depth to advance and grow into new markets.  Expansion internationally is difficult without a clear innovation advantage.

Learning and Performance Support Systems

The LPSS program will deliver software algorithms and prototypes that enable Canada’s training and development sector to offer learning solutions to industry partners that will address their immediate and long term skills challenges. In the short term, LPSS will respond to the immediate needs of industry with existing tools and technologies on a research contract or fee-for-service basis. In the long term, working with strategic industry partners, LPSS will develop a learning and performance support infrastructure that will host and deliver the following key services:

  • learning services and a resource marketplace, providing content and service producers with unfettered access to customers, and employees (and prospective employees) with training and development opportunities;
  • automated competency development and recognition algorithms that analyze workflows and job skills and develop training programs to help employees train for specific positions;
  • a personal learning management tool that will manage a person’s learning and training records and credentials over a lifetime, making it easier for employers to identify qualified candidates and for prospective employees to identify skills gaps;
  • and a personal learning assistant that enables a student or employee to view, update and access training and development resources whether at home or on the job, at any time.

The LPSS infrastructure includes underlying technologies to support these services, including identity and authentication services, cloud access and storage challenges, personal records and credentials, document analysis and analytics, and interfaces to third-party services such as simulation engines and other advanced training support services.

Program Design and Scope

The LPSS is designed along three technology thrusts. In the first of the two program phases the Program leverages NRC’s existing technologies to execute short term projects while at the same time developing the basis for longer term agreements negotiated with strategic partners. In these short term projects, NRC helps industry provide personalized access to learning resources and services to existing and potential students and employees. 

The second phase begins when NRC has signed its first agreement with a strategic partner specifying the development and transfer of underlying LPSS technology from NRC to the partner(s). At this point, development of commercial services based on the Common Platform begins, in accordance with the signed agreements.

This model is based on the understanding that small projects move quickly while larger agreements require more time to negotiate and finalize. It enables NRC to respond to industry demand immediately with funded, targeted and focused projects, while at the same time supporting a sustainable program strategy. 
The figure below provides a simplified view of the various elements that are considered within the scope of the Program (denoted by elements in orange or surrounded by an orange outline).

Figure 1 – LPSS Platform Overview

Core Commercial Technologies

Core commercial technologies combine to create an overall LPSS platform through which the services described above (section 1) can be offered. The purpose of the platform is to create LPSS services to interact with existing third-party services, including advanced algorithms and modules developed in other NRC programs.

Development of the LPSS platform will thus focus on three major thrusts that will be pursued during the two distinct phases of the Program.

Common Platform

LPSS will partner with technology companies and end user clients to fund and develop a Common Platform and set of basic applications to enable a first version of end-to-end LPSS functionality. The Common Platform itself will consist of: a learning application for industry staff and their customers; data and information harvesting services; data and information synchronization services across platforms; and a common industry marketplace for training resources and services. 

The purpose of this thrust is twofold: first, to develop the necessary software and specifications for the overall learning resource delivery system, and second, to generate a user base including both resource providers and prospective clients accessing the platform. To this end, LPSS will support the hosting of implementation projects throughout the Program’s duration. 

Capability Development

This second thrust consists of five major projects identified as client priorities. Each of these projects extends the functionality of the Common Platform. 

Learning as a Cloud Service – will create a distributed learning layer, which is a mechanism for working with data no matter where it is stored, through desktop, mobile and other devices. 

Resource Repository Network – will create a resource graph of learning/training resources data from multiple sources and multiple formats including live and dynamic data such as workplace data, plant instrumentation, or market information. 

Personal Learning Record – will define how we represent, capture, and leverage user activity, including ratings, test results, performance measures, and the like, in a distributed learning and work environment. 

Automated Competence Development and Recognition – whereas existing recommender systems depend on manually defined metrics and taxonomies, this system will detect new and emerging competences and automatically assess employee performance. 

Personal Learning Assistant – will develop an integrated learning appliance, a mechanism for looking up or finding references or resources inside other programs or environments.

Each of the projects within the second phase of Thrust 2 represents investments ranging from $1.5M to $2.5M.

Implementation Projects

In this thrust, the Program consolidates development, deploys training, and realizes efficiencies by the end of year five. While there is no individual project associated with this thrust, its purpose is to make clear that all projects will include a stage where technologies are delivered to partners and clients, and that this process needs to be articulated from the start of the Program.

The scope of this thrust extends to the development of IP tracking mechanisms, draft and approval of technology transfer agreements, negotiation and maintenance of licensing agreements, adaptation or installation of technology in client software are systems, and other client support as needed.

Contact us

If you would like to work with us on research and development activities or are interested in connecting with our experts, contact me.


  1. very interesting project, Stephen. I hope to speak with you about this soon!
    Dave Brown - planetECG

  2. Sounds as if it will be a fun program to work on, Stephen, and that it consolidates what we have worked on before. Good luck with the implementation, Rita Kop

  3. Yes, super interesting. Who is the target user group from this platform?

  4. We are looking first at end-users in heavy industry, where there is a significant skills shortage and training need, expanding to professional, technical and research staff, and then in years 4 and 5 into the education services sector and health care.

    That said, the tool is being designed for personal use in any area of learning, and we will be looking for partnerships to extended it into a wide range of verticals.

    Ultimately, I would see LPSS as being targeted to a broadly consumer market, once the concept has been verified in high-demand areas.

  5. This is an important and timely initiative. I worry that the language you are using it is too filled with jargon - many who would be interested will find it opaque. Perhaps this kind of language is suitable for writing the research and development proposal. But I am an insider and find myself turning off. Why not get a good copy writer to set all of this down in clear and accessible language to excite the millions of potential beneficiaries?

  6. The document is "the case we presented to NRC senior executive in order to have this program approved." It's one stage in the process. The value is that it shows the language that resulted in the approval. That's why it is written the way it is. I've written a lot about this work in the past and will offer much more - in more accessible language - in the future.

  7. Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of this whole design involves directing the "learning power" of the system toward the system itself. As LPSS tools come online, they can fuel further development, understanding and use of LPSS. The resulting positive feedback loop can amplify initially small advantages into magnets drawing increasingly large amounts of funding and attention.

    Happy to be of service in any way I can.

    PhD (2013) Open Source Software Development as a Complex System

    Moderator. Using Google Apps as a Free LMS (Google+ community)

  8. Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of this whole design involves directing the "learning power" of the system toward the system itself. As LPSS tools come online, they can fuel further development, understanding and use of LPSS. The resulting positive feedback loop can amplify initially small advantages into magnets drawing increasingly large amounts of funding and attention.

    Happy to be of service in any way I can.

    PhD (2013) Open Source Software Development as a Complex System

    Moderator. Using Google Apps as a Free LMS (Google+ community)

  9. This is very interesting Stephen. I'm a Canadian working in Australia and I'm trying to put together a very similar system within a Healthcare organisation but with a wide reaching audience to include management, financial, administrative staff on top of healthcare. The idea isn't to spread it nationally but there is no reason the system I'm building couldn't look to extend beyond the organisation if someone had the time to lay out all the competencies as this is the bulk of the work. Aligning them with jobs and training programs is huge!!

  10. What a wonderful project and interesting! Is the intention to be able to promote this model to other countries (as they all have similar issues around skill shortages)?

  11. Good read. Is there somewhere I can see the list of "25 job groups that consistently show signs of skills shortages"?

  12. Thanks Stephen. Is there somewhere I can see a list of "25 job groups that consistently show signs of skills shortages?

  13. CIBC World Markets Report.

  14. So the MOOC was just a building block for a larger system? A lot of people thought it was the full learning experience. This is a great framework for a much needed way to facilitate training non traditional students. I like the focus on competency and job skills. The personal assistant and learning record will certainly become the next hot technologies in education. Its great to see that you are still ahead of everyone.

  15. Great project, I am particularly interested in the PLE concept as it has been driving my research lately, how can I collaborate? You've keynoted at our Innovations in E-Learning Symposium in Northern Virginia so as you know, we have a huge corporate/government for testing the platform - Nada.

  16. Im new in all this thing about MOOCs but definitely your project sounds keen. All the best


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