Friday, October 23, 2009

Problems with off-the-shelf Lean Learning Tools

Creating Lean learning tools for a mass public almost goes against the principles of learning through development. It is very difficult to find the simplest starting point for a learning tool that is applicable to the widest audience. The best learning tools break the concept down to the simplest form in the context that it will be applied - and using local terminology. No two organizations are alike so the conditions are always going to be different. For this reason, the learning experience will not reach its full potential with off-the-shelf learning tools.


Production Pacing Indicator Example

Even a simple display, like the one above, of a target vs. actual production count with red/yellow/green color indicators raises numerous questions:

  • should pausing the elapsed time be allowed (like for during breaks and lunch)
  • if paused, should it recalculate target based on total running time only
  • should stopping automatically clear the display or retain it until restarted?
  • should the counts restart every hour or be cumulative?
  • what should be used as a target: pcs/hour, pcs/shift, pcs/day
  • should the target rate be fixed, or allow adjustment throughout the shift?
  • how often should the display update?
  • should the color change be based on mathematical rounding of the target/actual calculation?
  • Should it round up or down?
  • Should it display the actual percentage to target or just the colors?

As the participants surface these questions relative to the decisions that were made in creating the off-the-shelf tool, it will do two things:

  1. the participant’s learning or application of the learning may be inhibited by their experience with the tool and its “limitations”.
  2. participants may question the validity of the tool because they see more “problems” with it, than benefits.

Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • “It doesn’t do this…”
  • “It doesn’t do that…”
  • “It won’t work here, because…”
  • “How does it handle this situation?”
  • “Can you do that with it?”

Statements like those above distract the participants from the learning experience.

The best tools for learning are the ones that are created and customized specifically at the point of use, in collaboration with and for the participants engaged in the experience.


  1. I agree Dean, with one minor exception.

    Your statement: "The best tools for learning are the ones that are created and customized specifically at the point of use, in collaboration with and for the participants engaged in the experience."

    I would just drop the word "created." My reason is that often building a flexible platform that is then configured and customized for your specific needs is even better. Why? Because if you start with root creation, there is no real previous learning to build upon. When you have a platform to build upon, then configuration and customization is much easier.

    At the Lean Learning Center, this is what we try to do with our Instructional Design efforts. We build platforms. A platform could be base content, or a design construct. It's something that we can test and refine over time.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  2. My reply is a tad (very) late, but Jamie thank you for your comments and perspective. I completely agree with both of your key points: build on previous learnings and utilize a foundational platform or framework.