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Mosher and Goddfredson - 5 moments of learning need

Bob Mosher is the Chief Learning Evangelist, at APPLY Synergies  and has been an active and influential leader in the learning and training industry for over 30 years. He is renowned worldwide for his pioneering role in new approaches to learning. Dr. Conrad Gottfredson is a founding partner, and the Chief Learning Strategist at APPLY Synergies, a 5 Moments of Need company, that specialises in helping learning professionals design, develop, maintain, and measure effective learning and performance support. Gottfredson and Mosher have given learning in the workflow some needed focus and definition.

Performance support

Gottfredson and Mosher build on the fact that most learning takes place on the job and not on training courses. In Innovative Performance Support (2011) they recommended a whole raft of techniques, tools and tech which can be used to implement performance support. Their arguments are that it reduces costs on formal training, while at the same time increasing performance and productivity. Time to improved performance is increased, along with managing cognitive load and transfer. A positive side effect is that expensive internal support and help-desks can also be reduced. They claim a performance first approach can reduce time to competence, by half. It also makes people feel better in their jobs and that helps retention. 

Workflow learning

A training mindset is about building an ‘instructional’ system, mainly courses and being an instructional ‘order taker’ determines what’s on your menu - time-based courses. The shift they recommend is to move away from this service mentality, to being a partner to help learning and development solve problems. 

People don’t need general principles or courses on printing, they need to know ‘how to’ fix the printer problem they have at that moment. So you have to identify the actual workflow, to get to the authentic performance needs, then design for those real processes and support, with an ascending range of options available to the learner.

For Mosher and Gottfredson transfer is also important, not by throwing them over the fence at the end of a course but integrating what you’ve learnt into the knowledge and work you do.

Five Moments of Need

Jumping straight into an analysis that extracts knowledge from SMEs is a mistake, as it leads to over-formal courses that deliver too much, in courses, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. One should design learning around these needs first with some detailed analysis of the critical tasks involved in those needs and focus on what they need to know.

Learning should meet these needs and deliver to the right people, at the right time, in the right context. In organisations this means in the workflow, at the point-of-need. Gottfredson and Mosher's famous five moments of learner need are:

  1. New - learning for first time

  2. More - wanting to learn more

  3. Apply - trying to remember and apply

  4. Solve - something goes wrong

  5. Change - something changes

Most first think of new and more but apply, solve and change tend to be more common. This is where delivery must be orchestrated, as it also needs to be a combination of pull and push. 

Digital coach

Failure really matters in work, for the individual and organisation. Learning in the flow of work means learning from those hesitancies, failures and mistakes. A Digital Coach or EPSS, allows the learner to take the relevant steps to overcome failure, as they do their work. A workflow map unpacks context and the Digital Coach supplies the resources. 

As all resources are not created equal, there is a hierarchy of support, from the simple to complex. One must always look towards delivering the minimal amount of support to reach your given goal.

At its simplest there’s the 2-click, 10 second access to support in response to the five moments of need. Then there’s steps support (quick and detailed). This is followed by, supporting knowledge, documents, policies, procedures, job aids, FAQs, articles and so on.

Only if these resources have been exhausted do you move to real-time learning such as e-learning. And of all else has been tried - it’s people, email, chats, social networks, communities of practice.


Gottfredson and Mosher’s five moments of need have been used to underpin the development of performance support technology, the sort of technology that Gery envisioned. More than that, their precise identification of the needs of real learners in the workflow have been fundamental in helping shape Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs) that push and pull learning in the workflow. Above all they have pushed learning and development into waking up to the challenge that learning is a process, that for most, takes place in the context of work, by doing. This shift in mindset was given some concrete recommendations in terms of implementing solutions to real needs.


Gottfredson, C. and Mosher, B., 2021. The 5 Moments of Need | A Performance-First Approach.  

Gottfredson, C. and Mosher, B., 2011. Innovative performance support: Strategies and practices for learning in the workflow. McGraw Hill Professional.

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