Analysis of the Evolution of Training Tools and Systems Using the TRIZ Methodology
Editor | On 25, Feb 2001
Heather M. Smolensky
North Carolina State University
8 May 2000
Under the Direction of:
Dr. Timothy G. Clapp
North Carolina State University
Advances in technology, global competition, customer focus, and other factors are influencing the manner in which many companies develop and structure training systems and how they perform the training. The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ or TIPS), is a methodology and set of tools that can be utilized to study the evolution of training tools and systems and generate idea concepts for future innovations and technology developments in the field.
The Ideal Final Result, patent analysis, and the Patterns of Technological Evolution were applied to training systems and tools to determine the potential innovations and uses of technology in the field. Based on the analysis, training systems and tools seem to be evolving towards a decreased role for the trainer, increased adaptability to the trainee, and increased control, analysis and evaluation of the trainee and the system. Computers have contributed significantly to the evolution and will continue to play a major role in advancing training tools and systems towards ideality.
In Warner Brothers 1999 film The Matrix, Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a computer hacker who discovers that the world is not what it seems. He awakens from the matrix to find the world ruled by intelligent computers who feed on humans by imprisoning them in a simulated reality – what we know as everyday life. In the film, Neo and his associates learn complex skills like martial arts instantly by plugging into a computer-training program via a portal in the back of their heads. Definitely science fiction, but could training systems really evolve in this manner?
In nearly every industry, global competition, rapid advances in technology, and customer focus are forcing companies to change the way that they produce and market their products and processes, manage their businesses, and interact and support their employee base. The average worker’s career is more dynamic today than that of their counterparts of 30 years ago. Individuals are more likely to transfer job positions and companies and less likely to spend their entire career devoted to a single company or industry. These changes have also impacted the types and amounts of formal and informal training that companies and industries must provide to their employees in order to support their business needs and maintain a competitive edge [US Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics]. How will training tools and systems evolve to support the dynamism that is ever present in industry and particularly manufacturing?
The evolution of training tools and systems can be evaluated through the application of TRIZ, The Theory of Inventive Problem-Solving. TRIZ is a methodology and set of tools, developed and refined by Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues in the second half of the 20th century (and still going!), that defines a systematic approach to creative problem solving, invention and innovation.
TRIZ enlists multiple tools and methodologies that can direct the study of the evolution of training tools and systems and the generation of potential innovations and technologies in the field. The tools to be utilized in this instance are the generation of the Ideal Final Result, patent analysis, and the application of the Patterns of Evolution.
Generation of the Ideal Final Result
The basic function of a training tool or system is to structure or contribute to the transfer of knowledge/skills to a trainee. Ideality explores the notion of attaining the desired function of the system without the existence of the system. What is the ideal situation for the transfer of knowledge to a trainee? Ideally, trainees should systematically, consistently, and thoroughly train themselves to acquire the particular knowledge and skills necessary to perform the desired actions without a formal training system or tool. From a time perspective, the knowledge should be acquired automatically, or in a short period of time.
A search for patents pertaining to training tools and systems in the archives of the United States Patent Office resulted in some interesting trends. The number of applicable patents was small (approximately 100), and the patents were strewn across various industries, including education, medicine, and defense. The earliest patent dated back to the 1960’s, and none of the patents reviewed were particularly applicable to or originated from manufacturing.
In general, a pattern of increasing feedback and controllability, as well as a decreasing role for the trainer was evident within the patents. Some of the first patents protect rights to training aids that assist a trainer in transferring the knowledge to the trainee. One such example is the lifeless resuscitation dummy that is still used today in first aid training. More recent patents described the use of audio and video aids to assist the trainer and provide instruction to the trainee (Golf self-help videos are a perfect example). In a different vain, one Honda facility is utilizing a simulation board game to teach key employees the main principles of manufacturing, as well as decision-making and strategy skills for defect management.
The introduction of computers to facilitate the transfer of knowledge comprised the next generation of patents. These patents progressed from a computer providing a programmed response to the trainee based on her/his input, to the addition of computer monitoring of equipment that the trainee is operating, to adaptation of the program to the trainee’s responses, progress, and pace. Some of the latest patents explore real time feedback, interpretation and analysis of the trainee’s responses and progression, networking, and the use of virtual reality to facilitate the transfer of information. In all of these patents, an individual may be present to manage or control the learning environment, but not to singularly teach or transfer the required material or skills. The material within the reviewed patents can be applied to the Patterns of Evolution to trends and potential innovations within training tools and systems.
Application of the Patterns of Evolution
The patterns of technological evolution are a series of eight guides that represent the general manner in which many products, processes, systems, and technologies develop and progress. Four of the eight patterns seem to be particularly applicable to training system and tool evolution.
- Evolution in Stages – In the TRIZ methodology, the determination of the maturity of a system is aided by the analysis of particular metrics over time (performance, level of invention of patents, number of inventions, profitability). In the case of training systems, these metrics are difficult to evaluate. The patents are few and are spread across many different industries with varying needs and standards; thus, it is difficult to assess the inventiveness of the patent. Data is generally not specifically tracked or available to assess the performance or profitability of training tools and systems. However, given the general progression of the available patents as compared to the Ideal Final Result, I believe that training systems are in the childhood stage. The use of computers has significantly impacted the progression of the systems and tools, but training is still by no means completely controlled by the trainee and skills and knowledge are not transferred automatically.
- Evolution Towards Increased Ideality – As discussed previously, the Ideal Final Result is to transfer the skills and knowledge without a system. What are some of the implications of the Ideal Final Result? The disappearance of the trainer, the appearance of tools that enable the trainee to guide himself, simplified operations that eliminate the need for experience or long apprenticeships? Analysis of the patent literature indicates that the tools and systems are increasing towards ideality. Systems are slowly decreasing the role of the trainer by utilizing computers to take on those responsibilities. In addition, the systems are also transferring responsibility to the trainee for performing and controlling her/his own training.
- Evolution Towards Increased Dynamism and Controllability – This trend is certainly evident in the patent literature. The introduction of computer systems has established life-like simulation, real-time feedback, analysis of the trainee’s progress and pace, and evaluation of the impact and success of the system. Companies may have better control of their systems and the ability to adapt them quickly to meet the needs of the trainees. Adaptability may be a key trend and support a number of innovations in the field.
- Evolution Towards Decreased Human Involvement – In accordance with the Ideal Final Result, the computer technologies being applied to training are most definitely decreasing human involvement in the process. Computers have the potential to provide many of the useful functions of the trainer, while eliminating the variability and inconsistencies that may exist between trainers.
In general, based on the analysis using the TRIZ methodology, training systems and tools seem to be evolving towards a decreased role for the trainer, increased adaptability to the trainee, and increased control, analysis and evaluation of the trainee and the system. Training may soon be evolving towards computerized systems which monitor an employee’s actions and make suggestions and corrections based on a variety of inputs – bar code and movement sensors, weight and force, keystroke inputs, voice response, etc.
Of course, the availability and development of technologies, cost factors, and ultimate need, as well as a multitude of other factors, will determine how quickly and in what ways companies will evolve their training systems and tools. Who knows, one of these days, we all might plug in to learn a skill or a trade like the characters in The Matrix. I could certainly use the help with my golf swing!
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