The 5 Whys: From Engineering to Education

"What problem(s) are we solving with blended learning, and what problem(s) are we creating?"

That is the question that prompted our small group discussion last week and ultimately created far more questions than answers. The discussion prompt was rooted, in part, in my own background in engineering and unrelenting desire to seek out the root cause of problems before attempting to solve them. If we immediately jump to solutions, we may end up catering to the symptoms and overlooking the underlying issues.

While this may seem obvious, it is precisely this type of problem solving that led Toyota to revolutionize automotive quality and along with it, the entire automotive industry (taking us from Mass Production to Lean Production). One of the most basic but effective methods pioneered by Sakichi Toyoda is the 5 WhysThe idea is to ask "Why?" enough times to discover the root cause (usually 5 is enough). Take a look at the example below.

Using the 5 Whys in an engineering context, informed by [1]

Instead of wasting time by constantly fixing parts or recalibrating the machine (symptoms), the real answer is to address the monotony of the operator's job (root cause). This could be accomplished by rotating the operators around the factory, involving them in the problem solving process, or maybe even giving them a raise.

Applying this same method to an example from education yields some interesting results.

Using the 5 Whys in an educational context, informed by [2]

This particular example highlights an issue alluded to in class that caught my attention. When teachers are very enthusiastic (aka pumped up) about a particular teaching methodology, it works better! In fact, this effect can overshadow the differences from one methodology to another. Perhaps this is also obvious, but maybe teacher enthusiasm shouldn't be something that is merely a measured byproduct of the teaching method. Could we maximize the effectiveness of new methodologies by designing them from the start to garner the most excitement possible from individual teachers?

Want to read more? Check out

[1] The Machine That Changed the World by Womack, Jones, and Roos.

[2] "Scaling Up: Evolving Innovations beyond Ideal Settings 
to Challenging Contexts of Practice
" by Chris Dede