Articles / Where has #LeanLearning come from?

As I continue my exploration of using “lean” principles in the context of learning, it’s worth taking a look at what other people have been saying about it.

Over the past couple of years, a handful of organisations in the learning field have picked up on lean as an idea to consider.

In a June 2013 article in Chief Learning Officer, Joe Kuntner, Jonathan McCoy, Ray Pitts and Peter Talmers looked at it from the perspective of instructional design:

Conventional instructional design … can no longer solve the problem of bringing precisely the right information at the right time to the right employee. Information in today’s business world simply changes too rapidly, and the training and learning process is too slow to keep pace.

In a World of Info Overflow, Embrace Lean Learning

Their discussion centred on employees “pulling” information on-demand – Just-in-time, rather than just-in-case. This, combined with a games-based approach was cited as using a lean model.

I would argue that this is a very small way of thinking about lean. Where is the thinking about Value, Value streams, Flow, Perfection and Waste? The only principle that appears to have been addressed is that of Pull.

In an earlier CLO article, “How to create a lean learning environment” from June 2012, the focus is very much on Waste: “any training or learning activity that doesn’t directly help a learner perform better on the job“.

The author’s useful analysis of the different types of waste inherent in many training organisations is summarised as follows (my highlights):

Based on the Lean model, learning leaders shouldn’t be focused on teaching everyone; they should be concerned with teaching the fewest number of people the least amount of relevant information as quickly as possible.

Todd Hudson: How to create a lean learning environment

The management consultancy “Habit of Improvement” takes a similar approach in their article “Why social learning amplifies lean learning“. The focus again is on the different types of waste found in learning contexts (my paraphrase):

  1. Over-Production: How often do I teach people who don’t need to know or teach more than is required? (See also: Craig Dadoly’s 2012 post on Learning Obesity)
  2. Over-processing: How much time do I spending creating over-worked materials, complex administration processes or unnecessary learning activites.
  3. Time:
How much of what is taught is not used immediately, and therefore forgotten?
  4. Inventory: How much of the learning materials that I create are left sitting inside a Learning Management System and never used?
  5. Skills: Do I underuse the skills and talent that already exists in my organisations?
  6. Transportation: Are I making best of use the online and face-to-face environments to avoid moving people for activities that could easily be done online?
  7. Defects: Do my learning interventions really have the impact or effect that I was hoping for? How would I know?
  8. Motion: By just reusing content for different audiences, do I diminish its effectiveness?

Aaron Silvers (of xAPI fame) wrote about Lean Learning (“Continuous Improvement Means You Gotta Measure“) in June 2014. He’s started thinking about it from the point of view of using data (such as that you can get from xAPI) to practice “hypothesis-based design” – an iterative process of making better.

It would seem that the current thinking on applying lean principles to learning is quite limited. But I’m looking forward to exploring it more in the coming year.

Two events in particular are of interest:

  1. The launch of Alexandre Magno’s book Elearning 3.0 in March – which combines lean, agile and learning
  2. my own Lean Learning Masterclass with Sean Buckland on 26th February. Join me for an informative and practical day which might even change the way you think about learning!

Posted: 31 December 2014

Tags: Learning