A world of difference exists between the instructional practices of today
and those in vogue just two short decades ago. Information was presented
almost exclusively by lecture, and actual practice of material to be learned was
rare or nonexistent. Instructors told trainees what they thought trainees ought
to know, often providing content that was completely irrelevant to job performance.
Instruction was based largely on remediation: When people couldn’t
or wouldn’t perform as desired, instruction was the remedy prescribed. If
employees seemed listless or unmotivated, they were sent to a variety of
motivational sessions. If they seemed motivated but were still unable to
perform, instruction was again the remedy prescribed. It didn’t matter why
they couldn’t perform; instruction was assumed to be the cure. And the very
best cure was the one involving a single student per instructor; it didn’t seem
to matter that bad medicine didn’t improve merely because it was administered
to one patient” at a time rather than to many.
Training was instructor-oriented. The instructor decided what people
needed to know, selected the content, wrote the lesson plans, and then served
as the chief purveyor of the information. The instructor was the focus of the
instruction. The instructor performed, and the students listened and observed.
Instructors were selected from practitioners of the craft whose substance
was to be taught. A tap on the shoulder, a “You are now a trainer,” and voila! An
instructor was born. Ironically, though instruction was seen as the prime
intervention for facilitating performance, the training department was also
seen as a “safe place” to dump the boss’s incompetent nephew or poor old Joe
who had lost a finger in the press and was too young to retire.
Instructional development, such as there was, was subject-matter oriented.
The content and the instructor provided the basis for the definition of
“logical sequence”; nobody much cared what sequence was logical from the
students’ point of view. The object seemed to be to teach as much of the topic
as possible in the time allotted. And time allotment was always the first training
decision. ‘We need a three-day course,” was the way assignments were given
to the trainers. Notice, too, that they were called trainers, clearly implying that
instruction was the remedy of choice.
When training was evaluated at all, it was assessed by means of a “happiness
sheet,” handed to students at the end of a course, which asked how
students felt about various aspects of the instruction. The happiness sheet was
used for fine-tuning whatever it was that the instructors were doing. Never was
training evaluated in terms of its outcomes or in terms of how well it served its
The training enterprise was attached to the personnel department. The
dubious logic of this must have gone like this: “Gee, trainers deal with people,
and the personnel department deals with people, so let’s attach the trainers to
personnel.” This decision shielded the trainers from those who had a real stake
in whether or not the training worked, and made it even less likely that the
trainers’ feet would be held to the fire of accountability.
Instruction in the public domain of schools, colleges, and universities,
though populated by professional instructors, fared no better. Though schoolteachers
were required to obtain a teaching credential attesting to their skills,
their curriculums consisted almost entirely of history, theory, and methods
courses that did little to develop their actual teaching skills. Only one semester
of practice teaching was required, a semester during which some student
teachers were used as “gofers” by their teaching supervisor and others received
only marginal practice and almost random feedback regarding their progress.
At the college and university levels, candidates for faculty positions have
never been required to demonstrate their teaching skills. When I once asked
the dean to sit in my classroom to evaluate my work, he replied, “If I didn’t
think you were a good teacher, I wouldn’t have hired you.” Evaluation of
instructional skill consisted mainly of counting publications.
There was no pretense of doing an analysis to determine what students
needed to know or what circumstances might be preventing them from performing
as desired. Whatever the weaknesses of the instruction, it was always
the student who got the grade. Worse, there was a conspiracy that made it
impossible for every student to be successful: The “normal curve” was applied
to evaluate student performance, which consisted largely of responses to
multiple-choice questions. Thus, the conspiracy required that, no matter how
well students performed, at least some of them would have to consider themselves
inferior. Those faculty members who dared to violate the conspiracy of
the normal curve and who issued a “disproportionate” number of As or Bs
were not held up as models of good practice nor heralded as heroes. Rather,
they were vilified by their colleagues as the purveyors of “Mickey Mouse”
courses. Thus, instructional success was often punished and instructional
Here, too, as in the training domain, the instruction was instructor-oriented
and instructor-dominated. The instructor selected the content, prepared and delivered
the lectures, wrote the test items, scored the tests, and assigned the grades.
It wasn’t that trainers, teachers, and faculty were not motivated to serve
their students with the highest respect for ethical practice. On the contrary, the
instructional craft has always enjoyed a high proportion of dedicated practitioners.
It was simply that tradition, instead of demanding that existing knowledge be translated
into techniques aimed at maximizing the effectiveness of the instructors’ efforts,
frequently punished them if those efforts proved to be too successful, to the surrounding
Largely as a result of the work of contributors to this book, the state of
affairs described thus far no longer prevails. It still exists and even flourishes in
many locations, but it no longer prevails as the only choice. As a result of
performance and instructional technologies-techniques and procedures that
have been developed, it is possible to improve the effectiveness and the
efficiency of instruction by orders of magnitude Over the instruction it replaces.
Better than that, by applying analysis techniques, it is possible to
determine when instruction might be an appropriate remedy for a problem in
human performance and when some other procedure is indicated. We have
been enlightened by the knowledge that the inability to perform as desired is
one of the less likely reasons that people do not perform as expected, and we
have expanded the repertoire of remedies to include several that eliminate the
need for instruction altogether.
In addition, it is possible to prescribe desired outcomes with enough
precision to allow selection of the most appropriate means for their achievement.
It is possible to prescribe development procedures that will result in a
minimum of irrelevant content and pointless activity. It is possible to design
implementation environments and practices that match the instruction to the
past experiences and available skills of each learner, thereby improving the
perceived relevance of the instruction and, at the same time, improving its
efficiency and effectiveness. And it is possible to assess the outcomes of these
remedies; that is, it is possible to determine whether the outcomes were
achieved and whether the outcomes were worth achieving.
In short, the authors in this book, many of whom are practitioners who
regularly verify the efficacy of these technologies through application to real
problems, have made a major contribution to the development of practices
that truly transcend the old “If it moves, instruct it” approach to the facilitation
of human performance.
These performance and instructional technologies have not yet been
minimally applied in colleges and universities, even in departments professing
to teach their techniques, but this situation nullifies neither their existence
nor their value. The technologies have profoundly influenced the business,
industrial, and military sectors, settings where the con sequences of good and
poor performance are immediately significant. In those sectors, examples
abound that demonstrate vast improvements in human performance through
application of one or more aspects of the state of the art.
The components of these technologies constitute the substance of this
book. The chapters may display different points of view, but the differences are
mainly in the strategies of execution, in terminology, and in style, rather than
in the principles or theoretical orientation to be applied. For each contributor,
the goal is the same: to facilitate human performance in as efficient and
humane a manner as the state of the art will allow.
Robert F. Mager
Foreword – Introduction to Performance Technology
– November 1986
An NSPI/ISPI Publication. http://www.ispi.org
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Guy W. Wallace took the liberty of titling Bob Mager’s Foreword from this 1986 publication.
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