How to Use ‘Lean’ to Select Learning Technologies

Learning technologies are all the rage these days. The choices, platforms, features and options can make any CLO’s head spin.

But before rushing to invest money, time and resources in new technology, it pays — literally — to be sure that the shiny new toys will actually deliver better employee performance and business results. “Lean” knowledge transfer (Lean KT), which seeks to eliminate learning waste and add value, is one framework learning leaders should consider.

Lean KT defines waste as anything that doesn’t directly help a learner perform better on the job. There are eight types of training waste: over teaching, delay, inventory, transportation, extra steps, motion, defects and unused talent.

Learning technologies are most often purchased to eliminate the transportation and delay of periodic learning events — like classroom training and seminars. Companies save money on travel and facilities, and learners access the knowledge they need when they need it. But that same technology can also create new waste that upends the effort.

Consider a hypothetical company facing a brain drain from retiring experts. First, it tried mentoring by flying learners in to work with their experts for a week, only to realize they’d never reach their audience of learners fast enough. As a result, the firm replaced mentoring with a thousand-hour video library of those same experts talking about their areas of expertise.

The effort failed. Why? In moving the inventory of knowledge from their experts’ heads into video format, the company did eliminate transportation and delay — but it also created new waste.

Motion and extra steps: Learners who needed to find two minutes of information now had to search for it somewhere in hours of video, instead of simply asking the expert.

Over teaching: Learners experienced over teaching — and more delay — as they watched and fast-forwarded through content looking for the nugget they really needed.

Defects: Many learners eventually gave up and tried their own solutions, resulting in defects as they made mistakes and generated product returns.

Unused talent: As learners realized the video library was too hard to access, they stopped using it. The knowledge just sat there unused.

To make technology in this example more viable, the company realized it would have to spend more time, money and resources to put the videos into shorter, well-organized snippets that could be clearly tagged and searched — all of it waste that could have been avoided with an up-front Lean evaluation.

Lean not only helps eliminate waste; it also helps organizations aim higher by replacing that waste with knowledge transfer value. Lean KT value is anything that directly helps employees perform better on the job.

As with Lean KT waste, there also are eight types of Lean KT value: credibility, clear learning signal, instant gratification, individualization, push-pull-pushback, inside-out, orchestrated serendipity and alignment.

Look for technologies that deliver as many of the above Lean KT values as possible.

For example:

Credibility — Technology should allow credible experts to quickly and easily connect with learners. Technology that requires specialized expertise puts a big hurdle between experts and learners and discourages participation. Will busy senior scientists learn content-authoring software, or might they record a series of short videos discussing an important discovery from their current project and upload it to a simple YouTube-like site?

Clear learning signal — Technology should be oriented to that moment when employees realize they need to learn something to perform their job. One example is a mobile platform that uses geo-location data to push relevant content or make it readily available, such as having info about recent equipment updates pushed to a field technician on his or her way to a site.

Instant gratification — Technology should enable experts to create and distribute content rapidly as needed without gatekeepers, and it also should enable learners to access the content immediately when needed on a just-in-time basis. As the time to search for and navigate content goes up, the probability that an employee will access and use that content goes down.

Inside-out — Technology should make content easily and rapidly available, not just from traditional internal sources, but from external customers, suppliers, contractors and even sites such YouTube and Vimeo. Also, don’t forget to allow non-traditional internal resources to contribute to learning through posts, texts and comments.

Implementing a learning technology is a serious, long-term decision that requires lots of money, time and resources. The goal is to eliminate as much waste as possible now and plan how to add as much value as possible for years to come. Lean knowledge transfer is one framework to drive this effort.

Todd Hudson is the head of learning and development consultancy the Maverick Institute. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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