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Learning Gets Lean

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

When you think of “lean,” manufacturing probably comes to mind? Indeed, lean is a set of focused management practices based on the Toyota Production System. This includes tools for prioritization and alignment, tools to see and eliminate waste, and tools for quality and structure. But according to Dawn Mahoney, author of the August 2018 issue of TD at Work learning is primed to get lean, too.

Lean Learning Using the Addie Model” reports that the basic premises of any lean initiative include:

  • a wholistic approach that focuses on the entire process, instead of practices in isolation
  • an improvement and optimization of operational effectiveness
  • a focus on the effects for the entire organization, not just a single area of the business
  • an effort to seek strategies that increase efficiency and eliminate wastefulness of resources (time, dollars).

In other words, lean is about “improving and optimizing your operations,” according to the Lean Learning Center. Sound familiar?

Before moving full-steam toward lean learning, L&D professionals should beware oversimplifying the concept. “Many in the business world think of reducing the amount of training time (for example, hosting training online for shorter periods of time and eliminating travel),” writes Mahoney. “Or they may conduct the instruction at a lower cost, which again could mean eliminating travel or facilitating the learning via online instruction, enabling them to scale and repeat this without additional instructor time.”


That’s not really lean. Instead, lean is a mindset that focuses on purposes, processes, and people. Mahoney recommends viewing the lean mindset in terms of:

  • Working efficiently. This means doing the work early on to ensure a successful learning initiative and managing expectations.
  • Using the best tools. For many, this means using technology. But Mahoney says simply turning to new tech isn’t necessarily using the best tools. “Invest significant time into making decisions early on, including determining which tools to use for an L&D team’s initial analysis of the learning need,” she advises.
  • Staying within budget. Not surprisingly, cheaper isn’t always better. “Instead, think about appropriately using resources for strategic purposes,” says Mahoney.

Ready to get started? You can use the ADDIE framework to undertake a lean approach to learning. To learn how to apply lean tenets, check out “Lean Learning Using the Addie Model.”

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected] 

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