Here Comes Lean Learning Part 2

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

The Lean Learning Philosophy

So that we have some more to discuss let’s propose some guiding principles for adopting a lean learning approach.  The tools for executing a lean approach to learning will continue to change at a rapid pace but, if valid, the underlying principles should not.  These principles, in some cases, challenge long held beliefs of the industry but are core to successful implementation.

#1 Learning is no longer solely the domain of the training department

Learning professionals must accept that they are the accelerant and marketers for behavior change not the keepers of the brain.  Learners, like customers in every industry, have become “prosumers” both taking in and creating learning content.  Unless training is willing to accept the validity of learner created content, it will never be able to move with the speed necessary to keep up.  This is not to say that on meta issues like structure and technique the pros don’t have a leg up.  It is only to say that the contribution of the salesperson, on closing a sale, may deliver as much value (I think more) as the approach taught in the sales program.

#2 Training organizations are intermediaries

Unlike I.T., (my least favorite analogy for the learning industry) training departments don’t actually make anything.  They source, structure, market and manage the product.  In my post (New Analogies Apply Within) I called training professionals “marketers” selling “Gatorade for corporate athletes”.

Lean learning calls for a laser-focus on what is needed.  With the Internet, someone who wants to learn about anything is only a click away from a video, blog, or Yahoo group.  Lean learning is about creating a compelling product (from any and all sources) and “selling” it to the learners that need it.

#3 You don’t know what you don’t know…and that’s O.K.

The purpose of the lean approach is to acknowledge that the right solution is likely not found in the training department’s offices or even in the learner assessment study report.  The solution is what works in the field.  Full stop.  Companies are moving so fast that, even if you could design an assessment and select the right sample, you would still be missing the mark on timing.  And, since training often delivers to the lowest common denominator, you incur relevance, credibility and time costs for learners who may be above that line.

Lean approaches this by allowing the learners to co-create the solution through their feedback and actions.  Not sure which part of the sales process is creating disappointing results?  The answer is found in the fact that the most used tool rolled out in your MVL is on the topic of qualifying buyers.  Not sure where customer satisfaction is falling apart?  Look at the long discussion of setting expectations on the discussion board.  In any number of ways learner feedback will help to shape the most impactful learning.  Combined with hard metrics, (see#4) a lean approach helps an organization to prioritize and grade performance support efforts.

#4 Business metrics are essential, learner metrics are observable

By treating the learner like a marketplace, you can readily observe their levels of satisfaction with the product (did they use it? did they forward it? did they contribute to it?).  As we discussed above, their actions will provide important feedback to the development of the learning product.

But, the essential measures of lean learning are the business metrics that the learning product is targeted at.  Whether it is strategy implementation or increased performance in some business activity, these metrics are the dashboard in much the same way that customer conversions are for start-up businesses.  The phrase “bought in” is frequently used when strategies or new approaches are rolled out for good reason. It is fine to attend a class, visit a wiki or watch a video but it is not until the learner puts that new knowledge to work have they actually “bought it”.

#5 Perfect is the enemy of “good enough”

Instructional designers, like the software developers of yesterday, are often guilty of what I term “the long build and the grand reveal”.  After defining the specifications of the solution, they go away for a while (sometimes a long while).  Only to return when the learning solution is perfect and ready for pilot.  Returning to the value of a lean approach, this is an extended “time to value”.  This is also a lost opportunity to learn from early adopters and to get more iterations of the product completed.  Lean learning requires the learning professionals and the organization to be comfortable with this iterative “good enough” approach.

Final Thought

Lean learning is a concept that seems right on, for right now.  The pace of business is not slowing down anytime soon and learning professionals’ ability to build solutions off of “knowns” is not likely to increase.  It is time to stop trying to force an approach that was built for another time to work in this new environment.  Instead, it is time for innovation and new approaches, lean or otherwise.  If we can’t learn something new, then how can we expect to help anyone else do it.