Speaker Reflection: The Mind of a Performance Consultant

Back in my first post for this blog, I tried comparing human performance technology (HPT) with instructional design (ID). While the differences and similarities between the fields are interesting, perhaps an even more useful question to ask is how the two can come together to strengthen each other.

This afternoon, I went into our course archives and listened to a webinar from a few years ago on just this topic: “Instructional Design Begins with the Mindset of a Performance Consultant.” The speaker was Traci Tobergte, a Purdue alumna with over 15 years of instructional design experience at different non-profits and government agencies (see her portfolio here). She began by teaching herself and learning through diverse experiences before even starting her master’s program at Purdue, which is not an uncommon story in this field (you have to love learning!). This webinar was very different from the last one I wrote about. Instead of a formal presentation, Ms. Tobergte shared her insights and experiences in a conversational way, led by questions from listeners.

If I had to pick out a key message from this webinar, it’s be open-minded. The examples that Ms. Tobergte shared came from many different parts of an instructional designer’s job, but most of them can connect back to this principle.

  • We can be open-minded when analyzing problems: as she put it, the “performance consulting” part of the job is gathering information and not making assumptions then and there.
  • We can be open-minded when designing and developing by exploring different strategies and ways of presenting content, to fit the overall goal rather than staying in our comfort zone.
  • We can be open-minded in our professional lives by seeking out new tools and technology rather than sticking to a single way of doing things.

Connected with this, an important tool to bring some performance technology perspective to an instructional design job is to ask questions.

Ms. Tobergte touched on this at the beginning of her presentation, sharing that she starts projects by asking, “Where do we want to be?” Questions, and not assumptions. This idea also comes up throughout the textbook we are using for our course, as the authors motivate the reader to move away from taking orders for training and toward being a performance consultant who looks into the other options (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2004). What’s more, our instructor shared some compelling resources this week about the power of inquiry. One that stuck with me is the “Positive Principle” of appreciative inquiry (AI Commons, n.d.):

“Positive questions lead to positive change”

It sounds a bit like a new-age manifestation mantra. But it’s true, and I’ve been thinking about it as I look at my classmates’ discussion posts, and how they phrase the questions they would ask to stakeholders at a business. I also see it in the question Ms. Tobergte started with: “Where do we want to be?,” not “What is the problem?” or “What do we need?.” All those questions might be useful when analyzing an issue, but the way the question is worded has a strong effect. In instructional design (and many other fields) problem-finding is a key skill. But asking the right questions that can get you to the root of the matter while also building relationships is a different skill on top of just identifying problems. I think that this principle is a great example of how human performance technology, with emphasis on the human element, can strengthen instructional design work. This is a skill that I will definitely be working on for the rest of the course and beyond.


AI Commons. (n.d.). 5 classic principles of AI. https://appreciativeinquiry.champlain.edu/learn/appreciative-inquiry-introduction/5-classic-principles-ai/

Stolovitch, H.D. & Keeps, E.J. (2004). Training ain’t performance. ASTD Press.

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