The EduKanBan: Envisioning an Effective System of Education by “Pull”

Let’s assume we eschew education by “Push”, which is to say, we take as an assumption that standardized, long-term lesson plans create brittle systems of education that require enormous amounts of upfront value for a portfolio of possible outcomes.

Instead, we adopt a framework of education by “Pull”, which is to say, we assume that educational activities are most valuable at the time when they’re needed, and the most telling facilitators of educational need are questions or projects that demand whatever answers are necessary to produce a conclusion.

How do we organize, and measure an educational program dictated at the point where the rubber meets the road? My suggestion, inspired by the work of Dr. Stuart Goldman at Boston Children’s hospital is to use a Kanban board to clarify operational goals and then decompose those into educational needs.

A Kanban board is a way of organizing, prioritizing and optimizing a workflow. Using one for education means that we can create a visual representation of where learning needs come and how to efficiently handle those needs. It also allows us to observe patterns in the throughput of activity, noticing what kinds of activities may be more or less suited to individual learners. Using this information, the rules, standards or sections of the board can be updated to better optimize the learning process.

My initial iteration of the process, the process we’ll be using at IndieDojo, is simple, because planning a complex system would be antithetical to the principle of learning by “pull”. That means the Kanban board can be optimized and modified as needs and context dictate. It is also built on this public Trello board where you can check out an Educational Kanban I’ll be using to teach myself Bitcoin. You’ll notice there are five columns.

An EduKanBan board. The Project goal is the title.

The first, Backlog, is basically an idea or needs dump. When working with ambiguous goals due at a future date, often times the “need to do” presents itself out of order or in a manner that is more clear but still too ambiguous to act on. By dumping these ideas here, we can capture them for processing in the Specify and Ready column. In this column, items are taken from the backlog as they become more relevant and processed down into actions that are discrete, specific and measurable.

Abstract Backlog Items are specified into actionable items.

Based on the priorities of the project, these “readied items” are then taken two columns over into the Doing column.

A limited number of actionable items are moved into the Doing or WIP column.

In Kanban parlance, this is called the WIP or “Work in Progress” column. Until now, most of the elements of this Kanban have been very similar to standard Kanban processes for project or work, but it is here where I propose a change.

In the process of completing WIP items, if the executor runs into a knowledge gap, where there isn’t enough knowledge context to clearly process the work, or a skills gap where there is knowledge but not enough familiarity to articulate the work, an educational need is created and placed in the To Study column. If one is somewhat familiar with programming, you could look at it as an error being thrown.

Uh oh. Knowledge gap. I’ll need some context knowledge and practice with a skill to proceed.

Additionally, the type of knowledge gap should be identified. To begin with, I’ve planned for two types of knowledge gap, a context gap and a skills gap. Those will be identified by colored tags, or if you’re doing this on a whiteboard, special colored sticky notes.

These knowledge errors are then moved into the WIP column based on priority, right under the goal that spawned them. That goal cannot be advanced until the knowledge errors are corrected and cleared.

Only working on one knowledge gap at a time.

To put this process in the terms of what schooling has looked like for most of us, the current task is like a micro-curriculum, demanding lessons be given only for subjects which the students need to advance in action. The “test” of knowledge is whether or not the student can complete the action. Mastery is not the goal. Rather it is actionable progress towards a personally meaningful state.

This board seeks to provide feedback mechanisms to inform the learner of the utility of their activity. These mechanisms should allow any resources put towards learning to be evaluated in terms of value, efficiency and effectiveness.

I’m sure there are going to be some people that absolutely hate this. Good. Because the beauty of this system, the core value that this system endogenizes, is that it doesn’t matter what others think. The only things that matter are whether or not it get results, and whether or not the results matter to the people willing to pay for them. Welcome to the driver’s seat.