The Japanese word kaizen generally translates into English as “improvement”. When used in the context of technology or management practice it usually means the process of continuous improvement to a product or process, and has been applied to manufacturing industries, health-care, banking and government departments, with varying success. Wikipedia’s entry on kaizen mentions that it was “first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality management teachers who visited the country”, the best-known being W. Edwards Deming who introduced quality assurance methods to several Japanese industries.
Toyota probably qualifies as the company with the greatest success record in the introduction of kaizen approaches to car manufacture, as evidenced by its current dominance of the world car market. The company developed a management philosophy known as Lean management which turns some traditional management processes on their heads. Toyota’s Lean approach to car production lines can be summarized as: “getting the right things to the right place at the right time in the right quantity to achieve perfect work flow, while minimizing waste and being flexible and able to change. (Wikipedia)”.
So how does the above relate to the development and use of educational technologies? I think some of the processes in play when building this year’s (Toyota) Lexus sedan can be mapped onto the way tools that can assist the process of learning and teaching are developed. Both initially identify a need or market, produce a design, prototype it and test it with a sampling of end users. Both rely on feedback to provide a basis for improvement, echoing a simple learning process we can all recognize. Once an educational technology is implemented, helpdesk operations represent the feedback loop that can potentially allow for continuous improvement to the technology itself, or the way people are using it.
The Lean management approach has also been used in the health-care industry to improve the efficiency of health services delivery. Mark Graban’s Lean Blog define the Lean concept from a health delivery point of view, and discusses how this management style is being implemented in a number of different health-related settings.