Skip to content

Human performance technology

When I started taking graduate classes in Instructional Systems Technology (IST) last fall, we were told pretty early on, that IST is a subset of Human Performance Technology (HPT), but we didn’t spend much time delving into HPT until this week, where we were offered several readings on the subject. One of the readings, “Human Performance Technology Fundamentals” by James Pershing, is the first chapter in the Handbook of Human Performance Technology.

Since IST is considered to be a subset of HPT, it’s somewhat surprising that HPT was an outgrowth of early research into instructional and educational technology. Back in the 1950s and 1960, when B.F. Skinner was the most influential theorist, and behaviorism was the dominant theory, some “came to recognize that training is but one factor that affects human performance. They questioned at the outset of design and development whether training was the appropriate intervention to improve individual and organizational performance.” Over the past several decades, multitudes of theorists and researchers have used this to take the field of human performance technology on a different path than educational or instructional technology.

Considering the chapter is about the fundamentals of the field, it’s not very surprising that includes a definition, albeit one with caveats that reasonable people might disagree with the some or all of the definition, and that the definition is a product of its time; it may not be suitable as the field evolves in the future.

Human performance technology is the study and ethical practice of improving productivity in organizations by designing and developing effective interventions that are results-oriented, comprehensive, and systemic.

Compare the with the definition for educational technology:

Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.

Since each definition includes the phrase “…is the study and ethical practice of…”, it gives the impression that each field is influenced to some extent by the other. And as with the reading on the definition of educational technology, this chapter spends several pages dissecting the definition as a way of providing further understanding of the terms.

After this, the author covers the Performance-Improvement Model, which is apparently one of many models used in the HPT field. This model and another presented in the journal article “The HPT Model Applied to a Kayak Company’s Registration Process” by Martin, et al, look like very elaborate versions of ADDIE. Both HPT models perform Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation, but they reworked them. Design, Development, and Implementation have been merged into one step, while Analysis has been broken up into multiple steps where different types of analysis occur. At the core, though, is ADDIE. Since I’ve only scratched the surface of research into HPT, I don’t know if “elaborate versions of ADDIE” holds true for all its models, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it used in a significant number of them.

As fields of endeavor, educational technology and human performance technology are sort of like siblings that have grown apart. While they are related, they each have their own divergent path.

Published inEDUC-R511Education


  1. Chaoran Chaoran

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for this thoughtful discussion on the readings! You mentioned and explained many ways that educational technology and HPT are related. What do you think are the things peculiar to HPT from your observation of the readings?

    • Hi Chaoran,

      I don’t think HPT necessarily needs to involve education. It can involve physical activities, such as athletics or performing work related tasks in a factory. However, I think as a field of study HPT sort of parallels education/EdTech.

      Thanks for the comment.


  2. Katie Thompson Katie Thompson

    Hi Michael,

    It’s very interesting to me that you viewed IST as a subset of HPT – I also remember hearing that. However, I think I agree with your ultimate assessment that HPT and ID are more siblings than parent/child.
    I also liked that you brought ADDIE into focus here, although you’re very right, it does look different. It has a very heavy emphasis on analysis. It does seem to dovetail with the very systematic, Walter & Dick approach to instructional design. This links with behaviorism, which you mentioned as well.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Hi Katie,

      Since learning about ADDIE, I see it in a lot of different models. Maybe it’s that influential, or maybe it’s that those are the core tasks for any design framework or model.

      Thanks for the comment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *