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International Society for Performance Improvement

Program, Organization, Membership and Support, History

Formerly known as the National Society for Programmed Instruction, the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) is dedicated to improving performance in education and industry through a better understanding and use of evolving technology and methodology. It draws on the expertise of individuals from academia, the military, and industry, aiming for a truly multidisciplinary organization representing a broad range of practical and theoretical perspectives.


The society's members are involved in a wide variety of activities, from research on technological advances and their utility in the educational and work settings to publishing books and journals dealing with technology and performance enhancing initiatives. Its original mission, set forth in its earliest charter, was "to enhance education and training through the collection, development, and diffusion of information concerned with programmed instruction." In the early twenty-first century the concerns of the organization exceed its original focus on the application of technology to education and extend to using technology to improve performance in the workplace as well.

The society carries out its mission through its annual meetings, conferences, seminars, and workshops. It puts out a number of publications dedicated to performance improvement technology, including the Performance Improvement Journal, the Performance Xpress (formerly titled News and Notes), and the Performance Improvement Quarterly, as well as books relating to the subject written by distinguished society members.

In addition to these activities, the ISPI, in conjunction with Boise State University, also operates an online, nonprofit educational and research facility called the Human Performance Technology Institute, which offers courses to members and nonmembers alike. It also sponsors grants ranging from $2,000 to $9,000 for research relating to the field of performance technology.


The ISPI is governed by a board of directors elected for a year's term by the membership. Serving on the board are the current year's president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer, as well as the president of the previous term and the president-elect for the upcoming term. A board of editors is responsible for the publications arm of the organization. All positions except that of managing editor of the journal are voluntary.

Membership and Support

Members are drawn from the academic community, the professions, the military, and industry. The society has more than 10,000 members in the United States, Canada, and in forty other countries, making it truly international in scope. The society maintains its independence by being fully self-supporting, earning revenues from annual membership dues, subscriptions to its periodicals, the sale of books, and course fees collected from its seminars, workshops, and the Human Performance Technology Institute.


The 1950s and early 1960s were a time of rapid technological and methodological innovation. As early as 1954 the potential practical impact of these changes on education was envisioned by noted psychologist B. F. Skinner, who proposed that the practices of scientific inquiry could be profitably applied to what he termed the "art" of teaching. He asserted that educators could use the techniques of the psychology laboratory–techniques designed to elicit desired behaviors–to improve performance in individual students. He called this methodology "programmed instruction."

At the time of these insights, professional educators were becoming increasingly alarmed at what was seen to be the declining performance of the nation's schools. It was not long before the concept of programmed instruction began to be adopted, and it spread rapidly throughout the public school system. Soon an interest in the application of programmed instruction extended beyond the field of education.

In 1961 a group of Air Force training officers began a study of the effectiveness of programmed instruction, and they discovered that the use of this approach generated a 33 percent reduction in the time it took for a student to master a subject and a 9 percent improvement in overall achievement. Inspired by their findings, several of the study's participating officers joined with a group of nonmilitary educators to form the Programmed Learning Society of South Texas in January 1962. Within a month these first seven charter members were joined by twenty-five more, and the group decided to establish a national charter. Remarkably unified in their convictions and principles, the greatest point of contention among these early members appears to have been over the spelling (one m or two) of the word Programmed in the society's official name.

Over the next eight months the organization grew rapidly, spreading throughout Texas and spilling over into California when the San Diego chapter was formed there in October 1962. By March 1963 the society had more than 600 members, and by 1968 the organization had achieved true national scope, which prompted the board to move its executive offices to Washington, D.C. During the 1970s the growth of the organization was spurred by further technological advances–driven largely by the rapid evolution of the field of computing–and interest in the society spread to the international community.

In its earliest incarnation, ISPI was primarily concerned with applying principles of programmed instruction to the classroom through the incorporation of then-new technologies, such as films, slides, and other innovations as well as the development of formal lesson plans and the use of standard methods by which to measure the progress of individual students. Over time this focus has been enlarged to include the introduction of technology in the workplace, as corporate executives began to recognize the need to provide in-house training programs for their employees. Nonetheless, the society's mission remains consistent with its founding principles: to extend the benefits of instructional technology to the society at large. At the same time, the society is concerned to minimize the problems that arise from the blind adoption of the latest technological fad. To this end it devotes much of its time and energy to training consumers of educational technology in the optimal selection and use of such materials.




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