Thursday, October 24, 2013

What is HPT and How Do You Do It?

There might be a pattern to all of this. I've seen a lot of articles and discussions in social media about whether or not universities should offer, much less require, courses in the foundations of IST. After exploring these foundations over the past several weeks, I have to say I am on the side of offering the courses. This exploration has been eye-opening for me and helped me understand my field better. After this week's readings, I'm seeing how all the topics flow into each other.

A few weeks were devoted to the theories underlying instructional technology - behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist theories - as well as where these fit into the history of IT. These theories popped up again in the readings about Human Performance Technology (HPT). Reading the history of HPT was like re-reading the history of the IT field. Both Ferond (2006) and Stolovitch (2007) cover the historical foundations of this popular area of IT.

Once upon a time, people learned how to do their jobs through apprenticeships. This remained the same for a very long time, much like methods of teaching in education. Then came the Industrial Revolution. There were lots of theories about how to increase the productivity of workers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  By the nineteenth century people figured out that miserable employees weren't productive, and we need a literate workforce. That second point tied back into the history of IT again, because education is required for literacy. Frederick Taylor promoted the idea of employees as extensions of the machines being used in the factories where they worked.

Eventually, the focus switched to the worker, much like the focus in education turned to the learner. this happened in the 20s and 30s. HPT became goal-oriented rather than productivity-oriented. Notice that this is also around the time that behaviorist theory was developing with John Watson. In fact, the father of HPT Thomas Gilbert was a graduate student of B. F. Skinner. When cognitivist theorists started exploring how it is that learners learn, they were also influencing the field of HPT and performance improvement as managers tried to determine why learning wasn't always enough to get the results they wanted. Robert Mager influenced education with his focus on instructional objectives, but he also influenced HPT by suggesting training wasn't always the answer. As with education, HPT felt the influence of the audiovisual movement and changes brought about during World War II.

The field of HPT inspired the formation of professional organizations. Just as DAVI experienced a major shift in focus and became AECT, the National Society of Programmed Instruction (NSPI) became the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) after an influx of businesspeople into the organization. Both education and HPT are also being influenced by our age of questioning. While instructional technologists question whether we might need some new theories, HPT experts are questioning whether they might need some new models. This brings us right back to the trends and issues readings of the past couple of weeks.

Pershing (2006) and Van Tiem, et. al. (2004) take a look at different models and approaches to HPT. It's interesting to compare the two definitions of HPT these authors offer. Van Tiem, et. al. (2004) is pretty straightforward. "PT is a systematic, comprehensive approach to improving job performance" (p. 6). Pershing (2006) gets a little more verbose with it. The definition given here is "the study and ethical practice of improving productivity in organizations by designing and developing effective interventions that are results-oriented, comprehensive, and systemic" (p. 6). They both agree on it being comprehensive, a point that seemed to be criticized in the articles blasting ISD recently.

Pershing's Performance Improvement Model begins with perception analysis, where one asks who, how, and why. Then, one looks at the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization. This includes looking at values, norms, culture, structure, performance, and environment. Next comes performance analysis. Pershing stresses the importance of moving from a macro vision to a micro vision in this part of the process. Then, one selects the best interventions. Out of these interventions, which are the most feasible? Only then does design, development, and implementation come into play. Finally, evaluation is conducted and feedback given. While this model may at first appear linear, Pershing (2006) is quick to write, "At any given time in the process, one may have taken five steps forward and have to go back two or three steps to collect and analyze new data and change or modify responses to those data" (p. 27).

The Human Performance Technology Model described by Van Tiem, et. al. (2004) begins with performance analysis. This stage includes a look at the organizations, the gaps, and the environment. Next comes cause analysis, followed by intervention selection, design, and development. This is followed by implementation of interventions, which is then followed by evaluation. On the whole, these two models do not appear that different. They both are heavily modeled after the ADDIE approach. I can imagine the people complaining about ISD having plenty to say against both of these models. Yet, all of the authors this week seem to think HPT isn't going anywhere.

It is apparent from these readings that the history and theories of HPT and educational technology have coincided significantly. There are obviously many different views of how this performance improvement thing should be done. Some think it is time for a change. Others think it's all good. Now that we are a few years beyond these articles, I find it interesting to note that HPT has come full circle. For the past couple of years, the idea of apprenticeship has been making a comeback in the research, theory, and practice of workplace development. It will be interesting to see where the future leads us.


Ferond, C. (2006). The origins and evolution of human performance technology. In Pershing, J. A. (Ed.), Handbook of human performance technology (pp. 155-187). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Pershing, J. (2006). Human performance technology fundamentals. In J. A. Pershing (Ed.) (2006), Handbook of human performance technology (3rd ed.) (pp. 5-34). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Stolovitch, H. D. (2007). The development and evolution of human performance improvement In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (pp. 134-146). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Person Education.

Van Tiem, D. M., Mosely, J. L., & Dessinger, J. C. (2004). Performance technology - defined. In Fundamentals of performance technology. (pp. 2-20). Washington, DC: International Society for Performance Improvement.

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