Thursday, November 21, 2013

Every Field has It's Issues

It appears a big issue in Human Performance Technology is research, or lack thereof. James Klein (2002) takes us through three years' worth of articles in Performance Improvement Quarterly to determine how many involved empirical research and what that research had to say. Apparently, about 36% of the articles were empirical research. This is quite high, on one hand, since the article also refers to a similar review of four publications that only turned up 7%. Yet, it is quite low, on the other hand, considering the importance of research in the field. Most of the research involved surveys and case studies. Direct observation was not common. The topics of these research articles tended more toward practices of professionals and training strategies rather than on whether or not different methods are actually working. Klein identifies the many gaps in HPT research that many consider vital to address.

Pershing, Lee, and Cheng (2008) gather the opinions of fifteen experts in the field regarding dominant methods, influential fields of study, and research and development within the field. Popular models included the ISPI model and models by Rummler, Gilbert, Mager-Pipe, and Tosti. The experts did not push for new models, but did call for better evaluation methods. Most appeared to be neutral with regard to interventions, not seeing them as the major focus of HPT. The top three most influential disciplines were "systems theory, information technology, and cognitive science" (Pershing, Lee, and Cheng, 2008). Although many other disciplines were also influential to some degree. There were mixed reviews of the current research in the field. Some even thought research was not needed. It's clear that most have an opinion about research. The problem is that many of those opinions conflict with one another.

This trend toward lack of research in HPT keeps coming up in my classes this semester. It has come up repeatedly in my course on needs analysis. Most of our readings are quite old, simply because there is so little research on the topic, especially with regard to which methods are most effective. In IT Foundations, it is coming up again. While instructional technology and HPT are both applied fields, instructional technology tends to be more academic, whereas HPT is more organizational. Organizations simply do not have the time, nor take the time, for research. Academia tends to focus on itself, leaving very few folks actually studying organization interventions and methods. The real question is what needs to change in order to support and encourage more research in this area? My suspicion is that it would require a paradigm shift on the part of modern business practices, as well as more incentives for academics to do field research in organizations. I welcome your thoughts.

Klein, J. D. (2002). Empirical research on performance improvement. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 15(1), 99-110.

Pershing, J. A., Lee, J. & Cheng, J. (2008). Current status, future trends, and issues in human performance technology, part 2: models, influential disciplines, and research and development. Performance Improvement, 47 (2), 7-15.

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