Human Performance Improvement Theory 

Hong Chau and Malka Dubin

ED.880.623 Instructional Design for Online Learning

July 2, 2016



“Performance technology is the systematic process of linking business goals and strategies with the workforce responsible for achieving the goals.  HPT (Human Performance Technology) practitioners focus on increasing the performance of people in the workplace. They aim to inspire and motivate workers to improve by providing tools that identify where there is room for improvement and how to fill the space between where they are and the potential of where they can be." (Nel, 2013).

HPT Summarized by Guy Wallace (2012)

HPT Model

Van Tiem, D.M., Moseley, J.L., & Dessinger, J.C. (2004)

Theoretical Foundations of HPT

  • HPT is based on the theoretical foundation that human behavior is lawful, meaning it can be assessed using scientific systems of measurement. HPT practitioners work only with empirical data and base their plans for improvement based on measurable results. 
  • HPT uses both reactive and proactive approaches. Reactive in looking to prevent barriers that have been problems in the past, and proactive in improving the quality of current performance (Swanson, 208).

Brief History

HPT began to emerge as a major learning theory in the late 1950's. HPT took the place of the ISD (Instructional Systems Design) model when ISD was not accomplishing the desired results in workplace and individual improvement (Swanson, 1999).

Key Theorists

Thomas F. Gilbert (1927–1995) is attributed as founder of human performance theory (Gilbert & Gilbert, 1992).


Rummler and Brache (1992) elevated theory of individual performance to the organizational level, defining "three performance levels: organization, process, and individual performance." (Swanson, 1999)


Applying HPT to ID

Instructional designers have the opportunity to

  • Design competency-based curriculum.
  • Provide technology to Learners to help identify competencies and gaps in knowledge (i.e. adaptive technology).
  • Data-driven performance improvement: using assessment results to improve individual learner performance or identify at-risk students.
  • Collaborate with SME to improve existing curriculum to address common gaps in skill, knowledge, or motivation.


Brethower, D. M. (1998). Making connections: A key to performance improvement. Performance Improvement, 37(9),    9–12.

Gilbert, T. F., & Gilbert, M. B. (1992). Potential contributions of performance science to education. Journal of Applied  Behavior Analysis, 25(1), 43–49.

Nel, B. (2013). Definition and overview of Human Performance Technology. In Human Performance Technology : A  Learning Guide for Performance Improvement (pp. 11–20). Knowres Publishing.

Swanson R. A. (1999). The Foundation of Performance Improvement and Implications for Practice. In R. Toracco (Ed)  The Theory Theory and Practice of Performance Improvement. Berrett-Koehler: San Francisco. Pp 1-25.

Van Tiem, D.M., Moseley, J.L., & Dessinger, J.C. (2004). Fundamentals of performance technology: A guide to  improving people, process, and organizations through performance technology. Silver Springs, MD: International  Society for Performance  Improvement

Wallace, G. (2012, April 27). HPT Commercial 4-2012 ISPI & EPPIC Inc. - YouTube. Retrieved from
Wilmoth, F., Prigmore, C., & Bray, M. (2002). HPT Models: An Overview of the Major Models in the Field. International  Society for Performance Improvement, 41(8), 16–25.

The HPT Model

  • Empiral approach (data-driven and systematic)
  • Begins with Performance Analysis
    • Does the outcome of performance or task meet organizational needs or opportunities?
  • If there are gaps in performance, assess the cause - attributed to lack of knowledge, skill, environment, motivation.
  • Design a plan or process to address needs and opportunities for performance improvement.
  • Implement this plan through learning opportunities or change management process.
  • Evaluation of Performance, Gaps, Process, and Implementation is cyclical and continuous. 

Performance Improvement Theory

By Hong Chau

Performance Improvement Theory

Hong Chau and Malka Dubin; Human Performance Theory for ED.880.623.91 Instructional Design for Online Learning

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