Plsek, Paul E. (1988, ASQC) Paul E. Plsek and Associates, Little Silver, NJ
A positive response to the competitive challenge of the 80's requires an organization-wide commitment to quality. Implementing this Total Quality Control effort often requires a significant investment in management training on the techniques of structured problem-solving and quality improvement.
Unfortunately, most managers feel that they already know how to solve problems and improve quality. They tend to lose interest during training sessions; dismissing the problem-solving models as "intuitively obvious." Because of this, they fail to grasp the material in enough depth to enable them to bring about real quality improvement back on the job.
The "discovery learning" method, a relatively recent development in the field of adult learning, can help overcome the "I already know this" mind-set of managers that often limits the effectiveness of many quality training sessions.
In this paper, we will explore how adults learn, examine the traditional approach to training and describe the concept of discovery learning. We will then look at an example of how the discovery learning method can be used to teach the concepts of structured problem-solving and quality improvement through a series of class exercises and funnelling questions that lead managers to discover the basic concepts for themselves.
Finally, we will present a case study describing how the discovery learning method has been used in AT&T to teach quality improvement tools to managers of service functions. Although the training described in the case study was mandatory for all the managers - and, therefore, not all of them entered the class with a high degree of enthusiasm - 88% rated it "very good" or "excellent". The managers displayed a high degree of understanding and retention of the concepts - because they felt they have invented them.
Discovery Learning is an excellent technique for delivering training that might otherwise appear "too simple" or "obvious" to students. While the technique requires the course developer to put a great deal of thought and effort into the development of an appropriate Instructor's Guide, this effort pays off in the students' high level of understanding and retention. This, of course, leads to the real bottom line objective of all quality management training - improved job performance and a positive response to the competitive challenge of the 80's.