The paper: A blended learning approach to lean six sigma green belt education for European students is written by Mikko Rajala, Henri Jarrett, and Jukka-Matti Turtiainen. This paper was presented during the 61st Congress of the European Organization for Quality (EOQ) in Bled, Slovenia from 11-12 October 2017
Conferene Paper - A blended learning approach to lean six sigma green belt education for European students
A Blended Learning Approach to Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Education for
and Jukka-Matti Turtiainen2
Aalto University School of Science Department of Industrial Engineering and Management
P. O. Box 15500 FI-00076 Aalto, Finland
Lappeenranta University of Technology School of Business and Management
P. O. Box 20 FI-53851 Lappeenranta, Finland
The European Students of Industrial Engineering and Management (ESTIEM) have
developed a blended learning approach for teaching Lean Six Sigma to students in European
universities. This case study will describe how three different pedagogical methods – offline,
blended and online – are integrated for teaching this course at a Green Belt level of
This paper describes alternative different teaching methods and the rational for integrating
both online and offline teaching which have their unique benefits. Whereas online content is
highly scalable and consistent, offline teaching enables efficient contact sessions, reflection
and practical assignments. Combining these introduces additional benefits in the learning
The benefits of the blended learning model are described through lessons learned in the Lean
Six Sigma Green Belt course developed for ESTIEM. This course was developed under the
mentoring of ESTIEM Summer Academy Professor Gregory H. Watson and it applies a five-
level learning model for teaching the methods and tools, and establishing linkages between
the tools. The theory was taught in 13-hours of video material supported by an online learning
experience including quizzes, games, and take-home exercises. The tools were applied in
practical group discussion sessions. Finally the case study, focused on challenging
participants to choose the right tools to answer high-level questions.
Findings from this development project suggest that the best student performance results are
achieved by using a mixture of offline and online learning methods. Some of the theoretical
parts are best taught in a fully online format – it is both scalable, and provides the opportunity
for customizing the individual learning experiences. While the theory of the tools can be
taught in the online format – learning the tools and the linkages to other tools often require
doing practical exercises which are difficult to replicate online. Teaching the tools effectively
requires that instructors develop deeper understanding of the advantages of mixing online and
offline teaching methods. Based on the findings from this paper, the blended method has the
potential be able to reach almost the same efficiency as the traditional face-to-face learning
while enabling broad scaling for dissemination with fewer committed resources.
Lean Six Sigma, Green Belt, e-learning, massive on-line course, blended learning, industrial
engineering and management, ESTIEM, internship, case study, practicum, quality problem
There is a strong industry pull for the Lean Six Sigma or operations improvement
professionals in general. Despite this fact, the Lean Six Sigma education is to a large extent
not offered to students in Europe. Combining a strong student network with the state of art
Lean Six Sigma content by Gregory H. Watson creates a unique setting for filling in this gap.
Our vision is to provide a scalable Lean Six Sigma Green Belt course for European Industrial
Engineering and Management students. By taking part in the Green Belt course and using the
Lean Six Sigma method in an internship, students have the opportunity to obtain a Green Belt
certificate already during their studies. We aim to equip young professionals with the Lean
Six Sigma mindset and tools so that they can thrive in their career and add value to companies
1.0 What have we accomplished?
Between November 2016 and July 2017, over 140 students have completed our course. Out of
those students, ca. one fifth have already started the internship in order to obtain the Green
Belt certificate. As for training instances, there have been three international training events
held in various locations around Europe, eight courses held locally at certain universities by
local student organizations, and a handful of online and offline pilots. As the persons
delivering our course, we have currently 15 trainers and are in process for developing more.
By the end of the year 2017, our goal is to double the number of trainers and the participants
who have gone through our course.
Figure 1: Current accomplishments of our course
1.1 Context of teaching
ESTIEM is the organisation for European Students of Industrial Engineering and
Management, who combine the technological understanding with management skills. The
goal of ESTIEM is to establish and foster relations between students. ESTIEM consists of 80
Local Groups in 31 countries. A Local Group is essentially a local organization of the
ESTIEM network which is associated with an IEM program of a university. ESTIEM
organizes over 180 events annually, and the topics of the events range from academic and
personal development to coordination meetings and cultural activities. Circa 8 000 students
are involved with the association and ESTIEM has a reach of 60 000 Industrial Engineering
and Management students in Europe. ESTIEM acts as the network enabling the development
and scaling of the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt course, providing both resources and students
2 Case Study
In the context of Lean Six Sigma education, the goal of ESTIEM is to expand Lean Six Sigma
teaching among European Industrial Engineering & Management students. The case study
illustrates how the course has developed, the learning modes used in the context of the course,
and the blended learning model utilized in the teaching of the course.
2.0 The Path of Development
This chapter discusses the what steps have been taken in developing the course. The path
starts from the emergence of the original idea, proceeding to designing the curriculum,
piloting the first Green Belt course, and finally how the teaching was rapidly expanded.
2.1 ESTIEM as the parent of the course
The original idea of developing the course stems from an ESTIEM event held in Helsinki in
2015, where Gregory H. Watson acted as the academic leader. At the event, students discussed
together with Mr. Watson about the possibility to develop a Green Belt course for ESTIEM.
Shortly after, the development of the course started as three students commenced to
collaborate with Mr. Watson. The early tasks were divided into several components such as
understanding customer and market needs, curriculum design, recording teaching videos,
building an online course, piloting different teaching models, and collaborating with various
2.2 Curriculum Design
Building on the ASQ Green Belt program (American Society for Quality, 2017), the body of
knowledge was created by Gregory H. Watson. As the course is targeted to engineers, certain
technical aspects were added to the Green Belt course - especially related to the statistical
Based on the body of knowledge, the curriculum was designed for teaching young
professionals. Young professionals, i.e. Industrial Engineering students with Master’s level
education or similar, tend to have limited work experience and can, thus, lack the ability to
link the learnings from the academic courses to the real-life problems. Without the real-life
linkage, mere theoretical teaching can be easily forgotten, and left without context. Thus,
several practical exercises as well as case work were added to support theoretical learning
during the general learning process of the student.
The main goal of the curriculum is to help young professionals to successfully solve complex
operational problems in companies. Thus, measuring the success of the course is not linked to
the impeccable knowledge of the theory, but whether the student is able to conduct successful
operational improvement projects in companies (Watson, 2004). In order to achieve this goal,
the curriculum comprises learning paths with parallel teaching of the theory and learning by
doing. In perhaps more traditional teaching models, the teaching of the theory comes first, and
is followed by the practical training. In contrast, the method of this course could better be
described as a constant dialogue between strengthening the theory, and the application of the
2.3 Pilot Sessions with support from Aalto University
Apart from the various small-scale pilots, the first actual teaching round was held at Aalto
University, Finland. The collaboration with Aalto University proved to be highly fruitful and
it received excellent feedback from the students. In practice, Gregory H. Watson acted as the
lecturer of the course whereas the students involved in the development of the course
facilitated the practical group work.
2.4 Expansion through a new approach to teaching
The expansion of the course is done using three different methods. Firstly, we support the
local trainers to deliver courses for the students from the same university. Secondly,
supporting the local course expansion, the regional courses enable the student organizations
which are similar and close to each other to organize courses together. Thirdly, the 5-day-long
events provide the opportunities for Industrial Engineering and Management students to join
the Green Belt course. A combination of these three types of expansion methods have enabled
the rapid growth, and are aimed to create the strength and continuity into the local level.
Approximately speaking, on a high level, teaching the course can be divided into three
individual components: 1) teaching the theory, 2) facilitating trainings and cases, and 3)
project mentoring. In traditional Green Belt teaching it is typical that a seasoned professional
offers face–to–face teaching in some or all three of the mentioned components. In our course,
we have challenged whether those three parts can be separated to enable the scalability of
high quality content. Firstly, the high quality teaching of the theory was ensured by creating
an online content with 13 hours of videos from Gregory H. Watson. Secondly, the trainings
are standardized, and developed so that the students are able to deliver the trainings. Thirdly,
the project mentoring is conducted by people who have practical experience and conducted
their Green Belt project.
Summarizing the strategy for expansion, scalability was reached by separating the theory,
facilitation of the content, and the project mentoring. It was deemed that there is no need to
allocate responsibilities of all three components to one person. Our approach to teaching is
further described in the chapter Blended Learning Model and Core instructional material.
2.5 Learning Modes
Based on the learnings from the pilot courses and the expansion, a great deal of things about
how students learn were discovered. This chapter discusses these learnings and how they have
been integrated into the teaching model.
The learning modes present in our course can be illustrated with the following 5 level model,
which is presented in the Figure 2. The 5 level model was created by translating the cognitive
domain of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning to the context of our course (Anderson et al., 2001).
Rather than seeing learning as a step-by-step process, the model is built in a format of a
pyramid: sufficient knowledge on the lower levels is a prerequisite for advancing upwards,
but the lower levels of the pyramid can be understood better only when the upper levels of the
pyramid are strengthened.
The learning model starts with Defining: the ability of the student to recall what has been
heard about the topic. As a practical example, in the case of teaching a SIPOC map, the
student would be able to answer a question in an exam like regarding the basic description
and usage of a SIPOC map.
The next level, Understanding, requires the student to further develop their knowledge of the
tool through the four lenses of learning: 1) which questions in processes the tool aims to
answer, 2) how it links to the DMAIC, and 3) how the other tools can be linked to the tool. In
the context of SIPOC, the student would be able to describe the output and usage of the
SIPOC map in more detail, as well as describe how the individual parts support in achieving
the desired output.
The Applying level means that the student is not only able to describe the individual parts, but
is also able to apply the topic to an actual problem. In the Bloom’s taxonomy, the application
of the topics is considered as a separate domain (Anderson et al., 2001). As our end goal is the
successful application of the topics, sufficient Understanding of a particular topic is a
prerequisite for Applying: without Understanding, Applying the topics would be mindless.
The only way to achieve informed practice is to first have the sufficient knowledge to create
the correct mental mapping while Applying the topic. Again, in the context of a SIPOC map,
the student would be able to create the SIPOC map from a real-life or simulated work process.
The Synthesizing level requires students to be able to integrate learnings from separate topics
together to address the complex nature of real-world problems. The student should, on this
level, have mental mappings of simplified links between the topics, and the ability to actually
use the outputs of a tool to enhance the power of another tool. In the case of a SIPOC map,
the student would understand how the problem statement helps in defining the starting and
ending point of the high-level process, and how the high-level process is then turned into the
input of creating a Deployment Diagram.
The ultimate level, Usage in real-life, implies the ability of a student to understand the need of
utilizing a tool when observing a real-world problem, and successfully using the tool to guide
the progress forward. As real-life processes are often messy, and the data is rarely perfect, the
student needs a sufficient knowledge on the previous levels in order to modify the tool to get
the desired output. Again, using a SIPOC map as an example, the student should be able to
recognize situations in the real-world where the SIPOC map is applicable, and be able to
modify the tool to fit to the given context.
Figure 2: The five level model for learning
2.6 Blended Learning Model and Core instructional material
This chapter will take the 5 level model of learning, and tie it to the actual methods of
teaching in our course. The Table 1 summarizes the methods, and their linkage to the 5 level
model of learning. Each of the teaching methods is then described in greater detail to address
their role in preparing the students for conducting successful projects in companies.
The different teaching methods can be divided into two categories, online- and offline-based
methods - thus the name, Blended Learning Model. The online-based methods have the same
content independent on the course model, i.e. whether the course is a 5-days-long event or a
6-weeks-long course. They aim to ensure the quality of the teaching in different locations, and
help to spread the expert teaching to broader audiences.
Offline-based methods, on the other hand, can vary a bit based on the course model. They rely
more on the abilities of the trainer to facilitate the learning process of the student. Whereas the
online-based methods help to spread the knowledge of the expert, offline-based methods rely
more on learning in groups, and creating practical experiences for the theory learned in the
Method Description Linkage to 5 steps of
Online methods Videos 13 hours of 1-20
minute videos from
Gregory H. Watson
as the base content
Quiz type questions
about the learning
inside the videos
Quizzes / Tests Questions after
videos enhance and
monitor the learning
Games Simulated problems
where students need
to answer questions
Exercises Students need to use a
tool individually on a
Offline methods Training 2-3 hour modules
focused on using the
tools in groups for
Cases Simulated case where
the students go
through a full
DMAIC cycle in
(Usage in real-life)
Table 1: The teaching methods and their linkage to the 5 level learning model
2.7 Online-based module
This chapter discusses the contents of the online-based module in more detail.
The lecture videos form the backbone of the course, as they serve as the foundational theory
of the course. In the videos, Gregory H. Watson lectures for 1-20 minutes, and combined, the
lecture videos comprise the theoretical insights presented in the course.
Questions inside videos help the students to make sure that they have achieved the learning
goals of the videos. As the content can sometimes be relatively difficult, the questions are
placed after the important part of the content is described, allowing the student to rewind to
the point of the video where the insight was first presented.
Quizzes comprise questions which check after the online course modules that the students
have reached the learning goals. In case the student responds incorrectly, the student is guided
to go back to the timestamp on the correct video, where that part of insight is described.
Additionally, questions can be asked in the Q&A forums embedded in the online course.
Games in the online platform serve as a bridge between the Understanding and Applying
levels of learning. The games involve simple tasks to make conclusions about the output of
the tools in a simulated work process. The games aim to strengthen the knowledge of the
student in three aspects: 1) which questions the tool can provide insight to, 2) how to interpret
the output of the tools, and 3) what questions follow from using the tools.
Exercises are focused on giving students an experience of utilizing an individual tool in a
simplified and predetermined task. The exercises are especially used with the statistical tools,
but can also be used to teach the qualitative tools, such as the project charter or a SIPOC map.
The exercises are done individually, and they are designed to be relatively easy and
straightforward to complete.
Trainings have an integral role in both creating linkages between the practical use cases and
the theory, as well as strengthening the understanding of the tools through group discussions
and simulated learning experiences. Each training comprises of multiple learning sequences
which are organized as follows: 1) the relevant theory is revised by discussing in groups, 2)
the tools are used in groups on a simulated work process, and 3) the conclusions and learnings
from the training and other real-life experiences are reflected all together and in groups. The
trainings form stories, where the different tools are linked together, and the students are taught
to utilize the learnings from the previous tools to form a coherent story.
The trainings are standardized, and built so that the students can facilitate them with sufficient
development of the trainers. The development path of the trainers aims to create capabilities
for the trainers in the three domains presented in the Figure 3: focusing on the individual
learning of the students, handling difficult situations and having sufficient knowledge of the
Figure 3: The key competences of the trainer.
The focus on individual learning of the students aims to teach the trainers with the right
facilitation skills. As the students can come from very different backgrounds, the trainers are
taught to be observing the group dynamics and focusing on making sure that the students
understand the concepts. The 5 level learning model is used as a basis for observing the
participants: trainers should make sure that the participants have the sufficient Understanding
of the theory to create the correct linkages before Applying.
Ability to handle difficult situations is an important part in securing the high quality
learning experiences for the students. When the trainings are delivered by the students for the
students, the authority of the trainer must be preserved with more rigor than when the
trainings are delivered by one acknowledged expert. For this reason, we teach our trainers to
handle the difficult situations that can happen during the trainings. Furthermore, several
support systems are built for the trainers: e.g. the system for finding answers to the difficult
questions that come up during the trainings, and the creation of formal path and status for
Sufficient knowledge of the content serves as the cornerstone for delivering high quality
trainings. In order to have the sufficient knowledge, the following process aims to provide the
trainers with ability to teach and answer to the majority of questions during the trainings:
1) the trainers need to have gone through the Green Belt course,
2) the self-study material is given on the topic of the trainer,
3) coaching is given by a person with more experience on Lean Six Sigma,
4) the trainings are prepared and delivered in pairs to enable peer support
2.9 Case study & internship
After the trainings, the students complete a case study and an internship. The case study takes
the students through a simulated DMAIC cycle: it starts with creating the project charter of
the given problem, and ends in thinking through what kind of methods are critical for
achieving a lasting change in an actual work process. The case study is done in groups, and
goes on throughout the course. The structure of the case study forces students to think of the
relevant questions to be answered in each phase of the case study, as well as to think which
tools can be useful in addressing those questions. By forcing students to think of the questions
and relevant tools for answering them, the case study aims to prepare the students for the
challenges in the real-world.
In order to receive Green Belt certificate, students need to do a real-world Green Belt
internship in an organization. The project has to follow DMAIC project management
methodology and certain basic tools are required to be applied. By using the methodology in
real-life students get an experience how the theory fits into practice. They get a deeper
understanding of the usage of the methodology and something to relate to when thinking
about the theory. By doing the project students have a chance to demonstrate their skills in
real-life and a meaningful start in their career. (Watson, 2006)
3 Lessons Learned
Based on the learnings from our course, we have identified that teaching quality can be
expanded to a broader audience through a Blended Learning Model. This chapter discusses in
more detail how the Blended Learning Model could help the creation of new courses in three
domains: scalability of teaching, teaching people with limited practical experience, and trainer
3.0 Teaching people with limited practical experience
The case study illustrates that people with limited working experience can highly benefit from
Lean Six Sigma Green Belt teaching. Based on our experience, the way of teaching cannot,
however, follow the traditional pattern of an expert discussing the theory complemented with
the practical examples from companies. Without the practical experience, the students have
difficulties in making the real-world linkages, and thus, might be unable to use the learned
insights in actual problems.
For the people with limited working experience, we have identified that learning by doing
must go hand-in-hand with teaching the theory. The theory is needed to have the right context
for doing, and the doing is required to create the actual linkages between the learned concepts.
This dialogue between learning the theory and doing must step-by-step prepare the students
towards being able to utilize the tools in the real-world. Whereas a more experienced audience
might be able to build real-world linkages of insights themselves, a robust teaching model is
required to ensure learning among less experienced students.
3.1 Scalability of the teaching
The scarce resource in several organizations teaching quality programs is the availability of a
seasoned expert who is sufficiently competent to teach the Lean Six Sigma course. Based on
our experience, a Lean Six Sigma expert might not be needed to take care of the majority of
the teaching. Further, a combination of online and offline teaching can enable excellent
learning outcomes with limited involvement of the experts during the course.
In the case study, we suggested that the teaching should be a dialogue between theoretical
learning and doing. Theoretical learning is difficult to achieve if the trainer has insufficient
experience in the field. We have identified that to have an expert teaching the theoretical
content is key to phrase the insights in a correct, understandable, and concise manner, and
thus the expert teaching is needed in the theory parts. Our case study illustrates, that the
online-based teaching of the theory can lead to good learning outcomes. Online-based or
blended teaching can require more work in the creation phase of the course content, but
decrease the work needed for delivering the course in the longer run.
Based on our experience, the online teaching is, however, insufficient to replace the actual
experience of doing and discussing the insights in groups. Thus, the trainings are an essential
part of our course. Our case study illustrates, however, that even less experienced trainers are
able to deliver high quality sessions given a well-executed preparation process, as well as
predefined training content. Separating the training delivery and the online-based teaching,
quality improvement courses could be expanded to reach larger audiences with less Lean Six
Sigma expert resources.
3.2 Trainer development
Based on the lessons learned from the case study, it is important that trainers with limited
formal authority and expertise have tools to overcome difficult situations. For example, the
atmosphere in a training might become tense if students start asking harder and harder
questions and to question the competence of the trainer if the questions are not answered. If
this kind of situation arises, trainers need to be capable and have the sufficient support
systems to overcome the situation and continue the flow of the training.
In the case study we presented the development path of the trainers for the course. During the
development path of the trainer, students deepen their knowledge on the Lean Six Sigma as
well as get valuable experience in facilitating group work and learning. The skills and
experiences they gain during their trainer development path will be very valuable in their
4 Discussion about the future
The development of the course has been a highly iterative process. Between October 2016
and June 2017, 12 separate teaching rounds were organized - each with a set of new
hypotheses to test. While the standardization of the course is well on its way, the development
has not stalled. This chapter discusses the possible new avenues of development, we are
currently in the midst of building.
The first developmental objective is to develop new approaches to conducting Lean Six
Sigma Green Belt internships in companies. Currently, the students have been applying as
individuals to companies to conduct a 1-6 month internship. Our goal is to build sustainable,
and continuous ways to create value for both the company and our students. As one of the
possible models, a given company would continuously have one Green Belt working on a
project. The length of the project for one student could be between 1-3 months, and a
mentoring system would be created to get new students fast onboard with prior learnings. We
are currently looking for companies to test this model with.
The second objective links to our goal of creating a measurement system for tracking the
learning process of our students. The current methods in our course have followed the
traditional logic of monitoring that the exercises have been done, and giving feedback on the
learning during the trainings. Our learning goals, should, however be the foundation for
creating individual learning paths: if a student has trouble in exercises about a specific tool,
more material should be automatically handed out for the individual to strengthen their
knowledge. We are currently looking for ideas for the technical issues, and the architecture of
the measurement system.
As trainers are one of the key elements of our course, we are currently developing a
mentoring system for the trainers. At present, the mentoring is done via an online video call
before each training the trainer holds. To enable scalability, we are looking for people with
experience in Lean Six Sigma to help us with delivering these mentoring sessions.
Additionally, we are in progress of creating new models for the trainer mentoring: e.g.
combining several trainers teaching the same training in different places as peer groups, who
the mentor is then guiding.
As the fourth developmental objective, we are aiming to integrate our course to the
curriculums in the European universities. Already, a few universities have indicated a green
light for giving credits for this course, and some have already done that. In addition to getting
credits for the course, we are aiming to get the course into the actual curriculums of several
universities. To enable the strong integration with universities, we are currently in discussions
with a handful of European universities, and are actively looking for more partners to develop
a suitable model for growth together.
American Society for Quality (2017). Certified Six Sigma Green Belt. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ;
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Watson, Gregory H. (2004). Six Sigma for Business Leaders. Salem, NH: GOAL QPC Press.
Watson, Gregory H. (2006), “Industrial Engineering: Confluence of a Six Sigma
Curriculum,” Proceedings of the IIE Research Conference, Orlando, FL, 28 May 2006.