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A Lean Approach to Learning in the Workplace

Learning Utopia

One day, it might be possible for us all to learn like they do in the sci-fi movies. 

We’re obviously a very long way from having such perfect learning techniques like this, but one of the principles of introducing Lean processes into a business is; to strive for perfection. Perhaps we can already start moving toward such a learning utopia although we are undoubtedly limited by the education technology (aka EdTech) available.

These are the key principles of a lean methodology and how they can be applied to learning in the workplace;

Define customer value – In this case, the customer is the person within the organisation that acquires the training. It might be an individual employee, a manager or possibly the HR department. Value in this context means, high quality training material that satisfies a defined learning objective and is provided at a reasonable price. The goal is to disseminate relevant knowledge, freely and rapidly.

Remove waste – Learning waste means any time or money that is spent that does not directly contribute to improving performance in the workplace.

Many of us have been on training courses where we’ve felt that a relatively low percentage of the overall course material is of practical use. To some degree some learning waste is inevitable as a training course syllabus is rarely flexible enough to cater for the different training requirements of all the attendees. This especially true of classroom based training because the syllabus is delivered simultaneously to all attendees and by definition can only be delivered at a pace to suit the whole group.   

However, learning waste can be reduced for individuals taking online courses. If the online training material is well structured, it should be possible for students to skip sections that are of less relevance or which cover subjects that they are already familiar with. And each individual student can take the course at their own pace with the option to effectively cherry pick only the modules they need. Some may wish to skim the course quickly and only focus on specific elements of the syllabus. Whilst others may wish to slowly digest the training material over time and replay some sections to ensure that they fully absorb specific details.

With traditional workplace training there might also be other waste such as travel time when the training is classroom based and out of the office.

Efficient production - Make only the training that the customer wants. This can be a particular challenge as creating quality training material is a time consuming process. The economics of training means that pretty much all the production costs to create the training material need to be upfront, before the first course can be delivered. It means that to be profitable, a training course needs to be sold multiple times before the production costs are covered and the course starts making a profit. And it’s often difficult to determine the demand for a training course ahead of starting the production.  

The key to delivering only the training that the customer wants is to modularize the course material and produce only what is needed to create a valuable course. Modules can then be included or exclude from the syllabus as required. Modules can also be added in accordance to demand, allowing the syllabus to grow with time but remain modular and flexible enough to be consumed differently by different audiences. Digital technologies are rapidly improving the cost and efficiently of the training production process, which means it can be created quicker and cheaper. And online training platforms that can customize the learning experience so that each student can tailor their course consumption to best suit their needs.

Just in time – Delivering learning only when it’s needed usually means shortly before having to put the acquired knowledge into practice. Practically, it means that training needs to be delivered on demand and at short notice. We’re talking within hours and days and not weeks and months from when the training requirement has been identified.

Pursue perfection – Striving for perfect education in the workplace means setting the bar very high. This is especially true of anything related to the web as things change at a phenomenal rate. We might not ever get to download knowledge directly into our brains in a matter of seconds but a regular and relevant education programme in the workplace is now more achievable than ever. Having a culture of continuous learning and improvement in the workplace in a must for those wishing to be successful online.   


My prediction is for today’s classroom based training to continue to be digitized into online learning. Some might not care too much for e-learning but as schools and higher education continue to digitize material, in time, it will become the expected norm as more young people move into the workplace. 

There remains a long way to go as online learning is still in its relative infancy and also may not be suitable for teaching all subject matters. And people learn differently from one another, which means that while online learning works well for some, it might not work for all. But the demand for training in the workplace is to become ever more leaner, faster, cheaper and more relevant and so it follows that training will continue to digitize. 

What is your experience of training in the workplace and how easy is it for you to find and take exactly the training that you’re looking for? 

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