HUMAN PERFORMANCE TECHNOLOGY: RESEARCH AND THEORY TO PRACTICE
Harold D. Stolovitch
Human performance technology (HPT) has made impressive strides since it first became a term and an emerging field of practice in the 1970s. The dawn of the 21st century finds HPT flourishing. The literature has expanded fivefold in the last 10 years; the number of professional practitioners has multiplied at an even greater rate; the list of academic institutions offering graduate courses as well as full degree programs has become impressive. However, along with accelerated growth and presence, a deep concern has emerged that the practice of HPT is outstripping its theory and research base.
This article focuses on ensuring that HPT practices are clearly founded on sound theoretical constructs, scientifically derived evidence and respectable, well-documented professional precedent.
HPT practitioners generally base their interventions on principles they consider fundamental truths. These drive their decision-making and professional activities. What follows is an examination of eight common myths with commentary based on research and theory. Discussion of each concludes with keys for practice drawn from the research.
leads to improved performance.
So how does one explain the following two citations?
These affirmations from serious researchers raise doubts about the generalization that feedback leads to improved performance.
Raising even greater uncertainties is the comprehensive research review on the effects of feedback by Kluger and DeNisi (1996) who rigorously examined 2,500 studies dating back to the 1890s on feedback and its effects on learning and performance. They included 607 effect sizes and 23,663 observations. They conclude that the question - "Does feedback improve performance?" - is an inappropriate one. More suitable is "What must one do so that feedback improves performance?" Their key point is that there is a need for a consistent and comprehensive theory of feedback to support actions. They suggest that this theory must account for three classes of variables:
Keys for practice
from the research evidence are: feedback on process and successful outcomes
improves performance; has more effect on cognitive than physical tasks;
has negative effects if it threatens self-esteem; has a stronger effect
on memory than rule-following tasks.
What appears evident is that blanket statements such as "feedback leads to improved performance" lack nuance and can lead to inappropriate decision-making.
feedback is more effective in improving performance than delayed feedback.
In one study, trainers
taught communicative gestures to individuals with severe retardation.
Duke (1995) discovered that delayed feedback resulted in increased training
accuracy. Studying cognitive growth and development, van Geert (1991)
demonstrated that these depend more on delayed feedback. Kern-Dunlap (1992)
found that delayed feedback and reinforcement improved desirable peer
interactions. Sasaki (1997) uncovered numerous instances in which delayed
feedback produced superior performance results. Focusing on working memory
constraints, Sasaki suggests that immediate feedback can create overload
producing an inhibitory effect that lessens feedback impact.
The research and theory literature offers two keys for practice. For simple neutral tasks, use immediate feedback. For complex tasks, apply delayed feedback to obtain superior results.
While training may often be necessary, rarely is it sufficient to achieve sustained improved post-training performance.
Macan (1996) studied
time management training, effects on work attitudes and job performance.
He concluded that there were no main effects or interactions found for
job satisfaction. Fried, in an extensive meta-analytic study on work satisfaction
and performance, found "dissimilarity
in relationships of
Lee (1992) neatly summarizes the job satisfaction-performance literature with four useful keys for HPT practice. To obtain improved performance, provide effective management of work patterns; encourage workers; support and reward more intensive work efforts; provide job challenge.
performance during training usually results in improved post-training
Drawing from research
and theory literature, Stolovitch and Maurice (1998) found clear guidelines
and considerations for practice to improve the impact of training on performance:
you want to learn how to do something, go to the expert.
research and theory suggest key differences between procedural knowledge
(able to do, know how) and declarative knowledge (able to talk about,
know what). While experts perform well, they generally are inarticulate
about what they are doing (unconscious competence) and experience great
difficulty explaining their performance to novices.
Experts are necessary
to provide input into training and to build credibility and depth in content.
However, research suggests focusing on other factors to create effective
Two key principles
for HPT practice from research and theory are:
capital generates a significantly higher return-on-investment (ROI) than
As key for practice,
the HPT practitioner must demonstrate the bottom-line value of investing
in human performance improvement initiatives. The research conclusively
demonstrates that well-designed human performance systems leverage existing
human capital to generate high value compared to cost.
advances since 1970 have consistently accelerated an overall increase
in work productivity.
Research and statistical
findings comparing enthusiasm for technology with productivity gains raise
cautions for HPT practitioners. Key for practice is that HPT practitioners
keep themselves constantly informed of technological advances, ready to
accept demonstrable gains in efficiency and effectiveness, but cautious
in counseling clients about anticipated performance improvements. Balance
technology enthusiasm with respected, credible data that indicate a high
probability for replication of improved performance results.
sense is a friendly ally of science.
Common sense provides
subjective meaning to facts (often sparse, poorly defined and collected
in a biased manner). Common sense tends to overgeneralize (from a few
isolated incidents to an entire population). It also is driven by logical
and illogical extrapolations. As White discovered in his investigations
and experimentation on common-sense constructions of causal processes:
"Studies on how humans create cause-effect relationships demonstrate
that they tend to draw linear rather than systemic conclusions and are
resistant to complex, data-based explanations of phenomena" (1955,
For HPT practitioners,
the key messages for practice that emerge from the research are clear:
The purpose of this
article has been to encourage HPT practitioners to base their discussion
and practice on sound theoretical constructs, scientifically derived evidence
and respectable, well-documented professional precedent.
Theory and research add depth and weight to complex issues and nourish successful HPT practice. If you are a practitioner, think of yourself every day as a researcher. If you are a researcher, think of yourself every day as a practitioner. Through respect and adherence to our scientific roots, we can ensure that HPT will maintain its right to endure.
All references for this article are located in the complete article on HSAs Website at: www.hsa-lps.com/Articles.htm
This article is an excerpt from the original award-winning article that was published in the International Society for Performance Improvements Performance Improvement Journal, Vol. 39, No. 4.
© 2000 Harold D. Stolovitch & Erica J. Keeps
© 2000 - 2015 Harold D. Stolovitch & Erica J. Keeps