I thought I’d start with a graph. It’s from Google Trends looking at the search term “lean six sigma” over the last five years. The numbers are not actual volumes, they are an index based on a percentage of all searches and then some more “normalising” (I couldn’t get the exact operational definition!). Anyway, I think the validity of overall trend is pretty sound and that’s what I was looking for. The lowest weeks were mostly at Christmas which made sense too – good to see there were still a few people using their holiday wisely!
I think it’s reasonable to say that overall trend is flat. It’s the same when I used “green belt”, “black belt”, “lean six sigma training” etc and whether I use just UK data or worldwide. In other words, Lean Six Sigma seems to be as popular now as it was five years ago. This reflects our own experience in Catalyst – there are ups and downs for sure but overall there is sustained strong demand for Lean Six Sigma training.
What certainly has changed and is still changing is how training is delivered. In common with most other training, online and blended approaches are much more prevalent now than 5-10 years ago. The six main categories of online training are:
- Orientation (new employees)
- Onboarding (related to new role)
- Products and Services
- Technical Skills
- Soft Skills
It’s pretty common to have an introduction to Continuous Improvement Basics such as the seven wastes in Orientation and Onboarding using online learning. These are short modules – in fact the subjects which fit into the first four categories are mostly quite short and specific. That generally works well for most employees. Our online White Belt and sometimes Yellow Belt programmes are used this way.
Green and Black Belt training, on the other hand, are far from being short and specific. They comprise a huge number of principles, concepts, tools and techniques which are interconnected, and in many places, interdependent. That’s why they take several or many days in the classroom and what makes it more difficult to make them work as online training – programme design is important and a fair degree of self-discipline on the part of the learner is needed!
There are various combinations of blended learning methods.
Online self-study plus classroom or instructor-led live webinar plus classroom – with these combinations, most of the training – the core and more complicated elements – usually takes place in the classroom. As you would expect, this model works well – provided the delegates do their homework!
Instructor-led live webinar plus online self-study – the live training component is usually somewhere between 30% and 60% of the total content. This helps overcome the complexity challenge of online only training for a couple of reasons:
- The instructor can focus on teaching and linking the core material. Interactive discussions take place. Online study can then be used to add flesh to the bones – the online topics are specific and bite-sized.
- The webinar sessions are delivered to a schedule so that protected time for learning is set aside. For example, a 60-90 minute webinar is delivered weekly and the delegates have a short list of specified online modules to complete before the next webinar. Exercises and quizzes reinforce learning and a shared discussion forum is available to field and answer questions.
I don’t have any information from Google for how these approaches are trending. Our own experience:
- Online only – we do have a lot of live learners on our online programmes. We track the BQF exam pass rate and it’s the same as for classroom trained delegates. Feedback is positive. The trend is upward.
- Classroom with some online or webinar elements – that’s common now. The trend is upward.
- Webinar plus online – this approach works well. This has been enabled by recent improvements in webinar apps. Feedback and exam performance show no falloff. The trend is upward.
- Classroom only – this remains the most popular. The trend is steady (if you include classroom plus online/webinar elements)
It’s your choice!
There are personal and practical reasons for choosing a particular option.
- Some people like online learning and like to be left alone to get on with it.
- Most people prefer to get into a classroom for a few days a time – set aside protected time for learning – so they can focus on the subject and interact with each other and the trainer. It is a lot of content to absorb quickly so we provide online versions of our Lean Six Sigma programmes to our classroom delegates so they can consolidate and reinforce their learning over the following weeks and months – this is therefore another version of blended learning!
- Some people would prefer classroom training but don’t have the budget or can’t afford the time off work so they go online. They don’t always realise the self-discipline needed – we provide information to help with this and our online learners are assigned a tutor to help them plan as well as understand the material.
- For reasons of cost or time away from the office some delegates in multi-module programmes take some modules in the classroom and others online.
- Some groups are geographically dispersed so that travel expenses prohibit the classroom option. Delivering all of their training by short webinar sessions would not be practical but the webinar/online model works.
- Other groups are geographically dispersed but can afford one or two week-long classroom sessions – here webinars and online fill in the gaps.
- “Flip Learning” is another option – delegates self-study online beforehand and then use the classroom session to review, practise, consolidate and reinforce.
At the end of 2019, the classroom experience is still first choice for Lean Six Sigma training. However, there are proven viable alternatives and as communication and e-learning technologies keep improving the trend will likely continue to shift towards blended and all-online approaches.
Moore was first certified as a Black Belt instructor in 1999 while working for Motorola. His passion is helping individuals and organisations build their Continuous Improvement Capability. He has trained and coached many hundreds of people from all kinds of businesses all across the world at Green, Black and Master Black Belt level.
Moore is Catalyst’s Director of Learning Solutions. He sits on the British Quality Foundation Lean Six Sigma board and is BQF Award Juror, and is a Quality Scotland Partner in Excellence.