Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name



Instructional Technology

First Advisor

James L. Moseley


The primary purpose of this study was to reveal performance improvement practitioner expert and novice mental models and identify differences and similarities between these models. The secondary purpose was to analyze the potential relationships of the professional profile characteristics of performance improvement practitioners with their mental model of expertise derived from Pathfinder scaling algorithm. The study was stemmed from one of the critical research trends in the field of Human Performance Technology (HPT).

There are two phases of the study. In the first round of the first phase, experts, who were selected based on several criteria, were contacted to identify the most critical concepts related the HPT. The Online Ranking Questionnaire was utilized. 23 experts were responded, and 11 of 30 concepts were selected. In the second round of the first phase, the experts who responded to the first round were contacted again to share their professional profile characteristics and ratings about the concept-pairs generated from the 11 concepts. These ratings provided the proximity data necessary to generate the common mental models of expert (the expert referent model) in the KNOT using the Pathfinder algorithm. The Professional Profile Characteristics and The Concept-Pairs Comparison online questionnaires were used. 16 experts responded in this round. In the second phase of the study, practitioners in the field were invited to participate in the study via International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) newsletters, The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) discussion forums, and Association for Educational Communications and Technologies (AECT) mailing list. Moreover, professional social networking sites, e.g., Linked-In, and the researcher personal contact list were used as well to increase return-rate. Practitioners were asked to complete the same online questionnaires completed by the experts in the second round of the first phase. 335 practitioners started the questionnaires; 272 completed the Professional Profile Characteristics questionnaire; 242 completed both the Professional Profile Characteristics and the Concept-Pairs Comparison questionnaires. 33 practitioners of 242 were identified as novices who were selected based on the criteria used to select experts. In contrast to the experts, the novices were chosen as those who do not meet all of the criteria. The proximity data of those 33 novices were used to create the common mental model of novices.

The common mental model of experts demonstrated more coherent and hierarchical structure. However, the common mental model of novices was in more linear structure. The models were also compared, and the experts' model was different from the novices' model. The expert model had deep structure of practical knowledge; whereas, the novice model contained step-by-step and textbook style structure. The professional profile characteristics of the practitioners and the experts were also presented. Several relationships found between the professional profile characteristics and the mental model of expertise, which was generated from three Pathfinder measures: relatedness, coherence, and similarity. The mental model of expertise was positively associated with the number of organizations worked, the number of completed projects, the diversity of project types, the number of the HPT related courses taught; whereas, it was negatively associated with the total years spent to earn degrees.

There were several implications of the current study. The first is either informal or formal approaches for the development of expertise. This study may enlighten the mentoring novices while progressing to expertise in the field. Colleges, universities and other types of institutions providing education or training for performance improvement practitioners may take advantage of the results of this study by improving their course or curriculum designs with additional experiences. Moreover, the professional organizations, such as ISPI and ASTD, may be informed with this study for their certification and designation programs. They may include new rationale and criteria for assessment and evaluation processes. This study also may provide additional information from the expertise perspective to the efforts related to the development of competencies in the performance improvement field.

Finally, future studies were recommended. The first recommendation was the replication of the current study with different sample characteristics and sizes. The future studies regarding expertise in HPT may consider different using different research design and knowledge elicitation techniques. Since the current study utilized stand-alone concepts, the studies examining groups of stand-alone concepts with common characteristics may provide more meaningful and overarching interpretations. There were numerous either demographic, e.g., age, or professional, e.g., years of experience, deliberate practice, and so forth, factors influencing in expertise in either general or more specific to performance improvement field. These factors needed to be analyzed to reveal the relationships with the progression to expertise.