Friday, April 29, 2011

Lean Startup Just-in-Time Lesson Design

The Lean Startup Movement

Entrepreneur Eric Ries describes the idea of the "Lean Startup" as a process involving "ferocious customer-centric iteration." The essential concepts revolve around the idea that you want people to be using your product as soon as it is usable and then rapidly act on the feedback they give you to improve the product. This model promotes designing and developing your product just enough to be functional and testable, but inornate and "lean." I believe that the modern classroom can learn a great deal from Eric Ries and the lean startup movement.

Sometimes as teachers we want to make sure our students have an understanding of all the relevant context before letting them "do" anything with the material.

In my experience as a student, lessons follow this format:

Teacher talks all about it first, students armed with full context "do" second.

The lean startup lesson plan looks more like this:

Teacher says the bare minimum to enable students to get started "doing." Students run into problems because they don't have all that important context. Teacher explains just enough to let them continue to progress to the next obstacle. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Just-in-Time Manufacturing

A few decades ago Japanese businesses like Toyota used the "Just in Time" (JIT) manufacturing model. JIT manufacturing utilizes "a belief that we may not get the right solution... on the first try, but that if we design everything we do as a bona fide experiment, we can more rapidly converge, iteratively, and at lower cost, on the right answer, and, in the process, learn a heck of lot more about the system we are operating" according to Harvard Business School's Steven Spears.

I am an advocate of the "Just in Time" educational model. Students have never liked to sit through lengthy lectures, so why clump all the necessary teacher portions together? Why not adapt our lessons to fit the lean startup or JIT manufacturing models?

One of the primary considerations when designing a lesson is: How can I get them "doing" as soon as possible?


  1. In the Lean world, broadly, the idea of learn-do is very common and powerful.

    Some of this traces back to the origins of the "Training Within Industry" program from World War II, there the method for teaching supervisors how to train workers emphasizes (among other things) that you don't teach people more than they can absorb in a learning session. Also, you show somebody how to do one, then watch them - learn-do. The student teaches back to help demonstrate learning (and ultimately the burden is on the teacher to make sure the student learned and maintains their skill).

    That's the model for job or vocational training. How do you think that idea applies in an academic classroom?


  2. Thanks for the info, Mark!

    I think an interesting part is that this design is effective in one-to-one tutoring/training situations, but it amplifies other processes when done in a group setting.

    People learn at different speeds and when this happens, we have a great opportunity to ask them to help guide the others. Teaching something is a great way to demonstrate that you understand it, it forces people to focus on the material from another angle. Cognitively speaking, focus and repetition are the foundation of retention so teaching what you learn as you learn it is a great aide to retention.