An Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) is one method of supplying online support to people who use computer systems. EPSSs and online help are similar, but they are not the same, as this article shows.
The term Electronic Performance Support System first appeared in 1991. Although technology has changed, the original definition is useful. (We added emphasis to the definition that is in EPSScentral, www.epsscentral.info/knowledgebase/about/whatisepss/):
"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."
The important differences between Electronic Performance Support Systems and online help are shown by the words that we emphasize in the definition:
- Integrated with software. EPSSs are highly integrated with software. The user does not leave the application to get help. Compare this with online help, which, even if context-sensitive help, are usually separate from the software.
- Individualised. EPSSs can be user sensitive and can show content that is dependent on a user's ability. Typically, with context-sensitive help, the content is dependent on the screen that a user is viewing.
- Push technology versus pull technology. With EPSSs, the system helps the user, without the user asking for help.
The boundaries between EPSSs and online help are not clear. For example, Microsoft's help functions are always available. You can read text, view a demonstration, or be guided through a procedure with wizards.
One reviewer (personal communication) thinks that the old term 'job aid' (which is used in training needs analysis) covers everything, both electronic and non-electronic. In other words, do not become dependent on the terms that we use. Instead, focus on how electronic systems support people in their jobs.