Can Lean Be Effective in the Education Sector?

This month, I spoke with Vincent Wiegel about his recently published book, Lean in the Classroom: The Powerful Strategy for Improving Student Performance and Developing Efficient Processes. This book is the first to define Lean Education in all its aspects: course design, actual teaching and learning processes, school management, and the organization of supporting processes. It is firmly based on the Lean management philosophy in conjunction with pedagogy. The book draws on both scientific research in the field of Lean management in general and Lean education in particular. In addition, it is predicated on many years of hands-on experience applying Lean both inside and outside the education sector.

During my conversation with Vincent, I asked him:  "Can Lean Be Effective in the Education Sector?" Here is his complete response:

Lean and Education are two different worlds at first glance. Education focuses on preparing our young ones for lives as responsible citizens and professionals while keeping adults up to date on burgeoning knowledge, technology, and methodologies. It is a strongly cultural and idealistic sector. Lean has a strong rationalist and business focus aiming to improve the performance of organizations. They seem worlds apart but in fact share the same outlook and basic philosophy. They need each other --Let me explain. 

The main aim of education is to determine where our students want to go, what they want to learn. Based on where they currently are, we provide them with the means to develop and grow. Teachers strive to understand their students’ thinking, what they do, and do not yet understand. This is the same as Lean Kaizen way of thinking.

The other way around, a Lean expert best not tell employees what to do but to make them see and think in a different way. They are both teachers (sensei) and students. They don’t tell but ask questions and strive to understand how the employees think and what they need to grow.

Education stands to gain from the action-oriented Lean tradition with its tools and methods. These are complementary to pedagogy. Moreover, Lean will support schools to eliminate waste from all processes, teaching, and support. It provides schools the help to strengthen strategic thinking. Schools need this to reduce teacher workloads and increase the pace to keep up with ever faster changes in knowledge. Keeping curricula up-to-date is one of main challenges that Lean will help Education to answer.

Essentially, the current way of organizing education is not tenable in the coming decade. We need to address how we teach, how we organize schools, how we increase the effectiveness of learning, how we construct classrooms, and how we deploy new technologies.

Lean management philosophy has been successfully applied across many industries – from manufacturing to healthcare, financial services, and construction. Recently, interest in Lean has steadily increased in the education sector, as it was originally introduced in that area’s administrative and support processes. Currently, the introduction of Lean and its potential in education is gaining wider exposure because of massive looming changes – for example, the introduction of technology in education (as EdTech within the traditional system and as MOOCs), demographic changes, budget pressure, new pedagogies, the entrance of more and more private providers, and changing demands of society and industry on the curriculum. 

What is missing is a joint framework that will allow schools, teachers, directors, and boards to harness the potential of these developments and then execute a strategy. Lean Education offers the potential to streamline the execution of strategy and teaching. It accelerates the development of new courses and studies that are closely aligned to the needs of students. It supports the integration of new technologies without overburdening teachers and staff.

My book Lean in the Classroom brings all these elements together into a coherent framework so schools can make necessary changes in one concerted effort. Teaching, professional support, managing the daily work, and changing the way schools function are brought together as a school-wide strategy to organize learning in a way that serves our students by making the most of their talents. 

What do you think of Vincent's ideas?  Do you believe the power of Lean methodology can be effectively applied to the education sector?