Insight, Lean, Training & Education

Lea(r)ning by Doing

Panalpina, 2019
Panalpina, 2019

Blog post authors: Maria Pia Caraccia, Head of Logistics Business Improvement at Panalpina & Katy Huckle, PARC Coordinator

PARC Insight: Are the days of teaching theory behind us? Do 21st century trainings need to be ‘gamified’ for the lessons to stick? Maria Pia Caraccia and Katy Alice Huckle explore experience-based learning as a way of getting through to the new kids in the classroom.

Apparently, modern day millennials have a concentration span shorter than that of a goldfish (which we hear is about 9 seconds). Going on that basis, readers under the age of 30 will be thinking about something else before the end of this paragraph. It’s a shocking but believable statistic. Mobile phones have become embedded into our hands as we are flit from one communication medium to the next, and constant multi-tasking is just the modus operandi. So, how can organisations get through to these people and teach them something new? The traditional 2-hour lectures and 30-page papers won’t cut the mustard with generation Y, let alone gen Z. Modern learning needs to be empirical, engaging and emotive. And yes, the millennial brains are already drifting to the next topic.

Teaching Lean

Across the world, both in manufacturing and in service companies, organisations are trying (and often failing) to implement Lean thinking and Lean management approaches. Employees are typically trained internally or by external consultants, occasionally by academic institutions. But are these lessons actually sticking?

Traditionally, if you want to teach someone something, you start with the theory. When we read, we begin with A, B, C. When we learn lean, we begin with Muda, VSM and Kaizen. And yet, overwhelmingly often it seems like employees forget these lessons almost as quickly as the millennials stop paying attention. We go back to our day jobs and find neither time nor motivation to follow-up on the lean methodology that some consultant spent 3 days trying to teach us. Could it be that ineffective teaching actually contributes to the very thing that lean tries to eradicate; waste? Could there be another way to teach people so that they not only remember the lesson; they are actually excited about putting it in to practice?

Experience-Based Learning

People feel far more committed to their own ideas than those imparted on to them by others. Those practised in negotiations are familiar with the concept, as are lean practitioners; they ask the person who performs the work every day for ideas on how to improve it. This encourages the worker to own the change. If we feel ownership of a plan or project, we are much more invested into executing it. If we apply this insight in the practice and deployment of lean, then surely we apply it to the teaching as well.

But how do we do this with teaching? How can we encourage ownership in a learning environment? The answer arises from gamification, which employs games and reward systems to provoke behaviours, using a practical learning outcome to capture attention and improve motivation. Rather than teaching theory and then sending students out in to the world, organisations seriously committed to implementing lean should do things the other way around.

Lean principles are simply about finding the most efficient way to do things; finding the best way to do something is arguably linked with evolution and continued development of a species. When asked to find a way to do things faster or better, training participants will naturally start to implement the core ideas of lean by themselves without even knowing the principles. It is a simple equation of try, fail, learn – spiked by a little competition amongst teams and inspired by some nice rewards.

What does this mean? Well, it should be perfectly possible to derive most lean principles from students’ experience. That means, let them learn on their own, experience the benefits of a lean approach, and then give a name to it by teaching them the theory.

Why should we?

Employees will have a clearer understanding and much higher buy-in to lean principles if they are derived from natural intuition; this changes the overall mindset and creates a feeling of ownership of the ideas behind the principles. We can apply this to any form of teaching. But it is especially relevant to lean, which has been derived purely from an empirical experience of asking the question: “how do we do things better?”

This approach also encourages flexibility. There is no “one size fits all” approach for implementing Lean Management; existing methodologies don’t always work when applied in new situations. Ideally, companies should come up with the methods best suited to their individual competences and goals. By encouraging employees to exercise their creativity and generate waste-reducing ideas without setting theoretical boundaries first, companies will discover unique and relevant best practices, tailored to the individual organisation.

There’s always a ‘but…’

We can hear it now. This approach totally contradicts the teaching style upon which our entire education is built. Why should we pander to the goldfish generation? Surely if the topic is important, students or employees will be able to put their phones away and concentrate for 5 minutes.

And we agree, to some extent. We would not want to visit a surgeon who spent most of medical school playing candy-themed games on their mobile phone. But it is time to acknowledge that society is changing, and the way people learn is also changing. Old-fashioned teaching methodologies just won’t work on the students of today, and we if want to get results (and, after all, Lean is all about results) then we need to take account of that and start adapting to fit the new mould.

Gamification is the future of training. Keeping score drives motivation, competition and productivity. We will revisit this again soon. Stay tuned!

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