There is a Reason for Canned Frosting

Toward a Better Blended Learning Recipe

February 23, 2009

We've spoken to a lot of people recently about Lean Six Sigma Blended Learning, which is rapidly gaining popularity, but there are many misconceptions about what makes for a GOOD model. This story might help illustrate an important point about blended learning design:

In the first year of my marriage, my wife decided to make a chocolate cake for the first time. She called her mother for guidance, particularly for instructions to make the icing. Her mother told her to first melt chocolate and butter in the prescribed amount, then blend in powered sugar until the icing thickened. Her mother said "You'll know how much is enough — just stop when the icing gets thick enough." My wife dutifully followed these instructions, but as she emptied almost a whole bag of powered sugar into the pan, something seemed amiss, because the icing was not getting thicker. Believing that the icing had surely been sufficiently sweetened, she gave up on the sugar, and spread the still‐hot icing on the cake. The cake looked great.

After dinner, the icing trouble came to light as we attempted to cut into the cake. The icing had hardened to the consistency of a manhole cover! It could literally be lifted off the cake in one solid piece, which was not exactly the design intent. A quick distress call to the mother ship revealed the root cause of the problem. My mother‐in‐law assumed that my wife would know to take the icing off the burner before adding sugar. Adding sugar under heat melts the sugar so that it doesn't thicken — making candy instead of icing.

There was nothing wrong with the ingredients, but the process required more than just a combination of ingredients. The process required a RECIPE.

And so it is with Blended Learning — throwing ingredients together in a bowl is not enough to create an edible learning dish. The design requires the right ingredients, in the right proportions, at the right time, processed in the right way.

Simple "1st Generation" Blended Learning models that use static PowerPoint‐based e‐Learning as pre‐work, followed by less of the normal lecture‐based Lean Six Sigma classroom training, may yield some positive results, especially in terms of training cost. But current models have become much more sophisticated, with much greater effectiveness. Good e‐Learning is a lot more than PowerPoint slides with a voice‐over, and good classroom learning is a lot more than lecture.

Consider the hierarchy of learning activities shown below. Building capable Lean Six Sigma belts requires a learning model that develops mastery of critical thinking in the face of ambiguity — a complex set of skills built only through practice — not passive listening.

You might ask whether your learning model has a recipe that places a premium on practice. If not, upgrade to more richly interactive e‐Learning, and consider how you can re‐characterize your classroom learning events to be participative "workshops" rather than lecture.

Bill Hathaway