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Conferene Paper - A blended learning approach to lean six sigma green belt education for European students


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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

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Conferene Paper - A blended learning approach to lean six sigma green belt education for European students

  1. 1. A Blended Learning Approach to Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Education for European Students Mikko Rajala,1 Henri Jarrett,1 and Jukka-Matti Turtiainen2 1 Aalto University School of Science Department of Industrial Engineering and Management P. O. Box 15500 FI-00076 Aalto, Finland 2 Lappeenranta University of Technology School of Business and Management P. O. Box 20 FI-53851 Lappeenranta, Finland ABSTRACT 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 competence. 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 process outcomes. 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. KEYWORDS Lean Six Sigma, Green Belt, e-learning, massive on-line course, blended learning, industrial engineering and management, ESTIEM, internship, case study, practicum, quality problem solving
  2. 2. 1 Introduction 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 and society. 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
  3. 3. 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 to it. 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 stakeholder groups. 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 knowledge. Based on the body of knowledge, the curriculum was designed for teaching young
  4. 4. 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 tools. 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)
  5. 5. 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
  6. 6. 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.
  7. 7. 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 online modules.
  8. 8. Method Description Linkage to 5 steps of learning Online methods Videos 13 hours of 1-20 minute videos from Gregory H. Watson as the base content Defining Understanding Questions inside videos Quiz type questions about the learning goals immediately inside the videos Defining Understanding Quizzes / Tests Questions after videos enhance and monitor the learning Defining Understanding Games Simulated problems where students need to answer questions Understanding (Applying) Exercises Students need to use a tool individually on a simplified problem Applying Offline methods Training 2-3 hour modules focused on using the tools in groups for simulated problems (Understanding) Applying Synthesizing Cases Simulated case where the students go through a full DMAIC cycle in groups (Applying) Synthesizing (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
  9. 9. 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. 2.8 Trainings 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
  10. 10. learning of the students, handling difficult situations and having sufficient knowledge of the content 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 trainers. Sufficient knowledge of the content serves as the cornerstone for delivering high quality
  11. 11. 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 development. 3.0 Teaching people with limited practical experience The case study illustrates that people with limited working experience can highly benefit from
  12. 12. 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
  13. 13. 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 future careers. 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
  14. 14. 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. 5 References American Society for Quality (2017). Certified Six Sigma Green Belt. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ; downloaded on 1 August 2017 from: . Anderson, Lorin W., Krathwohl, David R., eds. (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Allyn and Bacon. 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.