Background through hands-on instructions. (Mager, 2003) Since then Mager



Robert Francis Mager was born on
June 10, 1923 in Cleveland, Ohio. Growing up during the Great Depression,
wasn’t the only hardship Mager faced from the age of six to the age of sixteen.
On top of trying to understand the poverty surrounding him, Mager had to face
the cruelty of bullies. Along with skipping fifth grade, Mager went through a
variety of hobbies to discover who he was, including playing his hand in
different musical instruments. (Mager, 2003) By 1943, Mager was drafted into
the military. His many responsibilities included being a company clerk, where
he needed to interact with incoming recruits. However, he noticed the need of
performance improvement and information handling within the service.

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In addition to serving his time in
the war, Mager has an extensive education background. Mager received his
undergraduate degree in Psychology with minors in Philosophy and Speech from
Ohio University in 1948. He then went on to teach broadcasting techniques and
business speech at Tyler Commercial College. While at Tyler, Mager continued to
learn about electronics and radio broadcasting. Upon completing his graduate
degree in Psychology at Ohio University in 1950, Mager added a PhD in
Experimental Psychology from the State University of Iowa in 1954. From
1958-59, he also taught psychology at Sacramento State College. Mager didn’t
stray far from his adventurous side. Robert is an accomplished unicyclist,
banjo player, ventriloquist, published author, and a tap dancer. (“Robert
F. Mager – Wikipedia,” n.d.)



Professional Accolades


            Mager often refers back to a
childhood memory with his father that guided him into the Instructional Design
field. Mager would recollect watching his dad take apart the family car and put
it back together. As each part would be taken out of the car, Mager’s father
would explain the function for each part. It wasn’t until he was an adult that
Mager understood watching his dad wasn’t formal instruction. But rather it was
learning through hands-on instructions. (Mager, 2003) Since then Mager has done
pretty well for himself. He became one of the founders of the International
Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) in 1962 and served as the President
from 1965-66. Mager is a member of the Institute of Electronic & Electrical
Engineers (IEEE), author of over 10 books, translated into 17 other languages,
sold over 4 million copies and responsible for three well known workshops,
Criterion-referenced Instruction (w/ Peter Pipe), Instructional Module
Development, and Training Managers. All of Mager’s hard work and dedication
didn’t go unnoticed. In 1994, he received the Thomas F. Gilbert Distinguished
Professional Achievement Award, the Award for Public Service in Behavior
Analysis in 2005, and the Association for Talent Development (ASTD) award for
distinguished contribution to human resource development.

            It’s no
argument that Mager’s biggest accomplishment is his dedication to the evolution
of performance improvement. Robert Mager is well known for his research studies
for the field. Instructional Sequencing became the first of many topics that
would lead his research. In early 1960’s he created a small experiment to
determine what instructional sequence would be more beneficial for adult
learners in the long run rather than the basic instructor-taught instructions.
Continuing his research and experiments, Mager noticed that the concept of
learner-control as a method which when introduced to technology-based learning,
was found to improve learners’ performance. This study allowed learners to
figure out learning instructions in their own way, thus leading to a more
motivated learner. This technique potentially leads to the influence of online
and distance learning.   

            By 1962,
Mager introduced a new approach to instructional design which involved
constructing objectives for instruction. An in depth explanation of learning
objects can be found in Mager’s book Preparing
Instructional Objectives. Some call it the manual to creating objectives
because it clearly identifies the steps needed in preparing objective. The
manual is even credited for helping a bill pass in California that require
teachers to write out objectives on what they wanted their students to
accomplish. To keep objectives from being misconstrued Mager went on to develop
five steps that would specifically outline the process of defining concrete and
reasonable outcomes. That idea later became the publication of Goal Analysis in 1972 and formulated the
the Criterion Referenced Instruction (CRI) method.  

most acclaimed research to the field of Performance Improvement is due to his
development of the CRI method. CRI became the foundation for Instructional
Design. Dating back to World War II, Mager found a need for training programs.
So he created ways to improve training techniques. The CRI framework is based
on using instructional objectives to enforce instruction. According to Mager,
effective instructional objectives should have three components. Performance,
which presents specifically what learners should be able to do after the
instruction. Condition, should identify the conditions under which the learning
is occurring, for example the workplace environment. Lastly, the Criterion in
which determines how well the learner must perform in order to be acceptable.
The CRI method follows four stages. The Goal/Task Analysis represents the
specific behaviors or abilities that are needed to be learned. Performance
Objectives identify the goals of the outcomes to be accomplished and how they
are to be evaluated. The Criterion Reference Testing evaluates if the
performance objectives were acted out to desired standards. Finally, Learning
Modules involves the development of the actual study guides that would be used
in the training or for instructions.  (“Criterion
Referenced Instruction,” n.d.))

            Most of the
training programs formulated from the CRI method can take on more of a self-instructed
role with the help of different learning media. In cases like this, learners
are able to learn on their own speed and find their weak points to improve on.
CRI helps bring to surface the importance of learner strategy and
self-management. CRI uses many ideas from Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction; it also emphasizes learner
initiative, so it is useful in designing learning for adults, particularly
self-paced eLearning. Mager based his principles on a study that found, when
given the opportunity to direct their own learning, adult learners followed a
different sequence than the instructor, skipping sections that covered material
they knew. He also found that learners who were able to consider and use their
own base knowledge were more motivated and engaged.


Principles of CRI are:

Design instructional objectives
that are directly tied to skills and knowledge learners need to perform
their jobs; ensure that each objective is verifiable using defined
Learners study and practice
only skills that they have not yet mastered. They are required to achieve
only the level of mastery needed for job performance.
Learners have opportunities to
practice each objective; they are given feedback on their performance.
Learners are offered repeated
practice, such as refresher courses, so they can maintain their level of
proficiency. This is especially important for difficult or frequently
needed skills.
Learners choose the sequence
and pace of their learning, while following any constraints imposed by
prerequisite knowledge or skill requirements.


Contributions to Performance Improvement


Instructional Objectives


Mager’s first instructional manual, Preparing Instructional Objectives: A
Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction can be credited
for guiding the field of performance improvement. Not too heavy of a read,
Preparing Instructional Objectives is clearly written and an understandable.
Instead of a textbook feel, it provided more of an assessment approach to
learning. As you read, the pages often end with a question that you have to
answer and are instructed to jump ahead to the certain page based on your
answer. This allows the learner to jump over unnecessary reading. It gives a
more interactive and intriguing way for learners to enjoy the reading. Many
exercise are thrown in along the way. You could see that Mager knew how to
reach learners in way that can be in the moment and hands-on learning. The
exercises make you think about your potential in writing objectives. The key
focus of the book is the value on performance-based learning objectives and how
similar it compares to the common instructional design.

The book begins by explaining what a
learning objective is (“an objective tells what the learner will be able to perform
as a result of some learning experience”) and then lists three things a
learning objective should include (a performance, conditions, and criteria).
Examining further, you’ll notice that the learning objectives state what the
learner themselves will be able to accomplish. It doesn’t put its focus toward
the instructions or material that will be used to teach. Another thing you’ll
notice is how the learner will be able to perform. It allows the learner to
reach a form of action that can be observed and verified. As you continue on,
other aspects like setting the tone for how the learner can perform the action
and the how the performance will be evaluated become evident. Three major
components in the book become important to performance improvement.

conditions and criteria play a big role in learning objectives. Performance
must specify “what learners must be able to do or perform when they demonstrate mastery of an objective.” The learner
in someway must show that they are taking action. It helps to be mindful when
writing objectives that you write the performance as an observance. It would be
easier to evaluate the performance to the learner. As Mager stated, “the most
important and indispensable characteristic of a useful objective is that it
describes the kind of performance that will be accepted as evidence that the
learner has mastered the objective.” Conditions can be the materials or
resources the learner must complete the performance in. The conditions will
give insight to help learners identify clearly stated clues. Mager suggested
that conditions only be added if needed, used as clarification, and removes
uncertainty. Lastly, Criteria by which the performance is evaluated by another;
or in other words, how well the learner must execute the performance. (Mager,


The Major Six-Pack


The Mager Six-Pack contains six
famous “how-to” handbooks. It includes ideal examples on providing a
strong foundation in the basics for newcomers serving as an invaluable
reference for experienced professionals. The New Mager Six-Pack is a resource
you can come back to time and time again. You’ll find the proper necessities on
how to find practical solutions to performance gaps, create effective learning
environments, measure the results of instruction, develop instructions that
work, and much more. Including Preparing
Instructional Objectives the six-pack also involves, Measuring Instructional Results, Analyzing Performance Problems, Goal
Analysis, How to Turn Learners On… without turning them off, and Making
Instruction Work.     


Measuring Instructional Results

This book shows you how to develop
the special tools you need to measure instructional results and demonstrate the
value of your training. In other words, it allows the instructor to fully
evaluate themselves and how they’re teaching learners. According the Mager, the
teachings from the instructor doesn’t matter unless the objectives are sought
out and learners are able to grasp the instructions as well as the objectives
state. In the long run, this book will help you discover if your instruction
being taught has lived up to the standards you’ve wanted to accomplish. This
guide includes plenty of practice exercises and an easy reference guide.   


Analyzing Performance Problems

            Mager along with Peter Pipe outline
a simple and orderly method you can use to determine the cause of a performance
problems/gaps at work and find the best solution(s). It offers exercises that
help finding the root of performance gaps, explore solutions that can be quick
and easy, and identify realistic economic suitable solutions. Peter Pipe offers
his expertise in designing solutions to human performance problems. 


Goal Analysis

            This step-by-step guide shows you
how to avoid using generic goals and pick the best strategies for achieving
those goals. Mager’s notion of “goals” is that when you create goals, you often
create abstract goals and as a result it’s impossible to later know if you’ve
exceeded them. Mager gives a five-step method for creating concrete,
performance-based goals.

Step 1: Write down the goal

Step 2: Write down everything a person
would have to do for you to agree that he or she has met the goal

Step 3: Review the items you listed in
step 2 and revise

Step 4: Write a complete sentence that
describes each of the items on your list after step 3

Step 5: Test the sentences you wrote in
step 4 to make sure they’re complete

(Mager, 1997)


How to Turn Learners On… without turning them off


            The fundamentals in this guide are
presented to increase student motivation and develop positive attitudes in
learners. By employing the techniques outlined in this book, you can increase
the likelihood that students will use what they’ve learned and maximize the
chances that they will want to learn more. This is a great way to coach and
motivate learners.


Making Instruction Work 


 Making Instructions Work break down the complicated
task of developing instruction and makes it simple. It takes you step-by-step
through the design and development process. This a process helps find workable
solutions to performance gaps, develop instruction that meets the need of your
targeted audience, and ensure overall knowledge of the content being taught. It
also outlines numerous techniques and procedures you can apply immediately to
make your instruction more substantial, straight to the point, motivating, and



ABCD Model


 ABCD model (Audience, Behavior, Condition, and
Degree) tends to focus more on the
learner and not the instructional process; Allowing the definition of terms to
changed in some case such as:

 “Instructional Objective” means “Who, teaches What, How, over
What Period of Time, using What Methods, to Whom, and Assessing How Often.”

“Learner Outcome” means “What will the learner be
expected to Know or Do?”

“Rubric” means “Under what Conditions, and
to What Degree will the student be expected to show mastery?”

“Standard” means a final level of mastery
expected of all students


The ABCD process for writing learning outcomes was developed
in 1962. It focuses on four elements of learning:                                                      


Audience – Who will be learning.        This specifies who will benefit from the
instructions or teaching. Such can be the learner, staff member, student,
participant, employee, trainee, and the organization member                                                   


Behavior – Learner behaviors or actions
associated with the learning. Should be something that can be seen or heard and
relevant to what is being learned. 


Condition – The context of learning. You
should state the conditions you will impose when learners are demonstrating
their mastery of the objective. Ask yourself, what will the learners be allowed
to use? Under what conditions must the mastery of skill occur?


Degree (criterion) – Level of performance. A degree or
criterion is the standard by which performance is evaluated. The power of an
objective increases when you tell the learners how well the behavior must be
done. Things to be mindful of when working on the degree aspect should include
but are not limited to:                                                       




or Standards Permissible Errors                                                                   

of Excellence



of Robert Mager


Robert Mager’s almost ideal notions
on setting quantifiable and measurable learning outcomes is so simple, yet so
impressively logical. If used along with the other two principles of conditions
(under which the performance has to be done) and criteria of acceptable
performance, it becomes a centerpiece for all instructional interventions, be
it classroom or eLearning. Some of the learning professionals have expressed
their views on what they think of Mager’s principles and to what extent are
they used in today’s world of rapid eLearning. Concerns were expressed that
extensively detailing objectives was unnecessary time spent. That notion
shockingly came from managers themselves. One professional rejected the idea
that Mager should have two sets of objectives, one being Performance and the other being Teaching/Learning/Course
objectives. They stated that it added confusing to distinct the two. One
suggested that “performance objectives are good for visible, hands-on
types of tasks, but are less applicable to invisible or mental action types of
tasks like problem-solving.” Some critics even go as far as negating his
explanation of the ABCD model. According to the the opinions of many, when
Mager discusses instructional objectives it can be similar to describing learner

James McKernan, a professor in the
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, area of the Social Foundations of
Education at East Carolina University wrote an article that argues that the
objective model is beneficial for training or instruction, but falls down when
applied to a true sense of education. It is argued that those interested in
using objectives are guided by evaluation as assessment rather than principles
of procedure for education. McKernan sees training as a “concept conceived of
as the acquisition of skills and the capacity for human performance.” The paper
outlines 13 limitations on the use of educational objectives:

do not exist in reality

are asked to accept objectives uncritically

reduce education to an instrumental-utilitarian activity: taking a means to an

education down into targets is destructive of the epistemology of

are often stated as low-level trivial recall items                                 

 Predetermination prevents ‘teachable’ moments
and pursuing inquiries thrown up by the teaching/learning process

is not democratic to set targets in advance of instruction

often set the agenda for hegemonic group interests to be served

represent poor models of teacher-student interaction

10.   Empirically speaking, teachers do
not plan by starting the curriculum with objectives  

11.   The limits of discourse act as a
constraint on objectives                                    

12.   Objectives are often perceived as
having equal value when in fact some are of greater importance and of varying
classification significance

13.   Unanticipated outcomes are always
being achieved and sometimes they are the most valuable results

(McKernan, 2010)

Mckerman’s view on objectives model is that it “seeks to
provide the clarity of ends and is seemingly suitable for both training and
instruction where skills and performances are paramount.” But the issue stems
from the learner being able to grasp the knowledge. At a different standpoint,
Mckerman believes the objectives model is “arrogant and undemocratic” in
dignifying the behaviors of students learning instructions. He continues to
note that idea of giving objectives ahead of the actual learning hinders how a
person is to behave. Pre-specifying objectives will attempt to control the
environment and influence learners into behaving as the instructor would expect
them to. “The objectives approach is a ‘marking model’ and not a ‘critical
model'”. Those who believe in using objectives are interested in the assessment
and not the course design or the improvement of teaching methods. McKerman
believes that in order to improve practice, classrooms and the service of
teachers and not solely the fulfillment of predetermined outcomes needs an
extensive research study. “We need a ‘critical’ and not a ‘marking model’ in
education because we are dealing with more than mere instruction or training –
we are promoting ‘education’.”


Mager is credited with
revolutionizing the performance improvement industry with his groundbreaking
work, with his CRI framework. Whether you decide to believe that Mager’s
techniques work or not is simply up to you. But you can not deny that he is one
of the most influential people to the the field of Instructional Design and
Performance Improvement. His name, knowledge and books still continue to be
used till this day. He renowned work doesn’t only fit to the works of
performance improvement. It can be used for self-evaluation and can even go as
far to helping with family matters. No matter how you use the information, it
still works for the chosen person. Robert Mager resides in Arizona, with his
lovely wife at the age of 94.   




Mager, R. F. (2000). Goal analysis: How to clarify your goals so
you can actually achieve them. Center for Effective Performance.

Mager, R. F. (2012). How to turn learners on … without turning
them off: Ways to ignite interest in learning. Mager Associates.

Mager, R. F. (2003). Life in the pinball machine: Careening from
there to here: Observations from an accidental life in learning and human
performance. CEP Press.

Mager, R. F. (2012). Making instruction work, or skillbloomers: A
step-by-step guide to designing and developing instruction that works.
Mager Associates.

Mager, R. F. (n.d.). Measuring instructional results.

Mager, R. F. (2012). Measuring instructional results, or, Got a
match?: How to find out if your instructional objectives have been achieved.
Mager Associates.

Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing instructional objectives: A
critical tool in the development of effective instruction. Center for
Effective Performance.

McKernan, J. (2010, 03). A Critique
of Instructional. Education Inquiry, 1(1), 57-67. doi:10.3402/edui.v1i1.21929

Robert F. Mager. (2017, November
05). Retrieved from

Robert Mager’s Performance Based Learning
Objectives! (n.d.). Retrieved from


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