Eight weeks have flown by, and the Human Performance Technology (HPT) course I’ve been taking is at an end. This post will be a personal reflection on what I’ve learned through the course, and some things to look forward to.
HPT: An Updated Definition
Let’s start by trying to improve on my initial attempt to define HPT. Now, with some more experience, I would explain it in this way:
Human performance technology is a field that uses systems thinking to solve problems and profit from opportunities related to human performance (the things people do in their work).
Key Points: What’s Changed?
In my original post, I tried outlining what the individual parts of HPT meant. I still think breaking it down into less tricky concepts was a good place to start. But this course emphasized the importance of the systems view for HPT.
Of course, systems thinking is also important in instructional design (ID). However, as HPT is a broader field, keeping the entire organization in view is becomes even more important. An ID project usually focuses on a single learning experience. In contrast, performance improvement projects can involve a whole set of different interventions, all of which must work with each other and with the organization’s culture and available resources in order to succeed.
Another key thing I learned about HPT is the importance of personal relationships and opinions. Again, this is also part of ID, but with the broader focus of HPT it has an even stronger impact. In an ID project, you probably have some specific content and the people who must learn it, and it’s your job to use what you know about the people and their environment to make the content accessible to them. HPT projects feel a bit different. In a performance improvement project, you have a goal for the organization and the people who are needed to make that goal happen. The goal itself, and the way that you can get there, are determined by the people and the culture.
This brings me back to my Venn diagram. I would definitely put ID as a subset of HPT now. ID has (or should have) the central goal of improving performance in some way, and is just one of the ways to that end.
So how can an instructional designer use lessons from HPT? I’ll start exploring my own answers in the next section.
Personal Inventory: HPT Competencies and Characteristics
For the final course activity, I looked at Stolovitch and Keeps’ (2004) lists of the competencies and characteristics of a good HPT practitioner, and reflected on where I have a good foundation and where I need more work to improve.
In the future, I still plan to focus on instructional design, rather than becoming a performance improvement consultant (or any similar job title). However, as outlined in my last blog post, keeping a performance improvement mindset can strengthen instructional design work, so nearly all of these competencies and characteristics will be useful for my work.
Areas of Strength
The HPT competencies where I feel most capable fall under analysis, planning, and communication. In addition, the characteristics where I think I am the strongest are “cause-conscious, not solution-focused” and “able to sort out priorities” (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2004, p. 141).
Analysis tasks like conducting gap analyses, assessing characteristics of people and environments, and examining the structure of tasks or jobs or content also form the basis of instructional design work. I have taken these steps in many projects. It requires only a small step back to generalize from learning to performance improvement. There will be more variables to consider, but the principles are the same.
Similarly, HPT planning tasks have parallels in ID. HPT requires writing and sequencing performance outcomes, while ID looks at learning objectives. Effective learning objectives should be people-centered and based on specific and observable actions, so again it is only a small step into more generality to create and sequence outcomes without the learning component.
Finally, HPT practitioners, just like instructional designers and those in countless other jobs, must be able to communicate effectively across multiple media. I am always trying to improve on this (including while I’m working on these blog assignments). In order to make things clear, I try to keep the perspective of someone who doesn’t know all the jargon from the field.
Being cause-conscious, not solution-oriented means being prepared to investigate a situation and its causes beyond surface-level without making any assumptions about what the best outcome or solution should be (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2004). Actually, this is really similar to the main message I saw in Traci Tobergte’s talk. For me, having a background in math helped build this attitude. When writing a proof, for example, there is (usually) no one correct way to go about it. You have to examine the tools you have available, and be on the lookout for creative ways to use them. The same is true for an instructional designer taking cues from HPT: don’t come into a situation with the assumption that a traditional training or course is always the way to go.
By able to sort out priorities, Stolovitch and Keeps (2004) seem to mean focusing on needs without getting distracted by wants. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to build on this characteristic in my experiences with online learning. When technology gets involved, there are lots of cool things you could do (like loading this blog post up with fun animations), but in order to make any progress you need to be guided by what is needed.
So now that I’ve gone through some of the HPT skills I already have, it’s time to look at the places where I have the most room to improve in the future.
Areas to Improve
The HPT competencies where I have the most work to do relate to designing and implementing interventions and using consulting skills. In addition, the characteristics that I most need to improve are being “principled yet flexible” and “diplomatic and credible” (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2004, p. 141).
While the analysis and planning stages of a performance improvement project can be similar to familiar ID processes, the design part diverges: a HPT practitioner’s toolbox of potential solutions is different from an IDer’s. I have experience with designing some of the common types of interventions (e.g., job aids). But there are many others that are less familiar, like redesigning work processes or creating systems of incentives and consequences. Getting more familiar with these alternatives will strengthen my work as an instructional designer, so that I am able to recommend the best possible solution, whether it’s a learning experience or not.
Another area where I can improve is implementing, evaluating, and monitoring interventions. This is something that I know a lot about in theory, from doing a lot of reading and creating evaluation plans for a few different assignments at Purdue. However, I don’t have much direct experience. Evaluating and proving value in my work is something that will be important in any field, so this is a worthwhile skill to develop.
Finally, I will need to work on my consulting skills. The role of a consultant, someone without direct power but with influence, is new to me. Developing this competency will be especially important if I’m doing freelance work, or if I join a company with many different clients.
Being diplomatic and credible means being convincing and working with people who push back while still maintaining positive relationships (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2004, p. 141). This is a challenge for me because it goes beyond analyzing and reporting facts into the realms of psychology and emotions. Everyone has their own blind spots and biases, and a plan that seems completely logical to me might be unacceptable to someone else. I have to work on my ability to genuinely understand where someone else is coming from and to speak in a way that matters to her or him.
Being principled yet flexible means being able to adapt to constraints and accommodate requests while still sticking to the bottom-line goal (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2004, p. 141). It’s one thing to tell the difference between wants and needs yourself. It’s another to communicate to a client that ideas that they are attached to won’t work! I often say “yes” to things to make people happy, then later wonder why did I agree to this? It can seem harmless in the moment, but it has big consequences, taking focus away from the things that matter most to a project’s success.
How to Improve
I think that most of these competencies and characteristics will be best strengthened through practical experience. I can research and think about what I might do in an ideal situation, but the real test and learning experience will be in what I do with the complexities of an actual problem.
Implementation and evaluation are things I might be able to get involved in right away. Next term, I have my practicum for the Purdue Learning Design and Technology Program. I will be sure to ask about evaluation and monitoring from the beginning.
For the rest, I will follow Stolovitch and Keeps’ (2004) advice: look out for clients who are focused on performance and open to trying new things, and start from there. I will be on watch for these projects where I can try new things out, and use them to build my own confidence as well as my credibility to others.
It will also be useful to keep a list of more strategies for building relationships and setting boundaries. For example, our textbook recommends using the phrase “I can help you solve your problem” to be supportive while still staying flexible and not committing to any one assumed solution (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2004, p. 11). Or, our instructor shared Appreciative Inquiry as a way to build good working relationships while shifting focus to positive pursuits. Learning more about techniques like this can help guide me toward the characteristics of a good HPT practitioner and a good instructional designer.
Stolovitch, H.D. & Keeps, E.J. (2004). Training ain’t performance. ASTD Press.