Mini Learning Factories: #1 Way To Leverage Hidden Learning Heroes In Your Organization

Mini Learning Factories: #1 Way To Leverage Hidden Learning Heroes In Your Organization
Summary: Through their LMS, the State of Arizona has developed over 7,000 mini learning factories—led by supervisors—that build and track custom learning paths for over 63,000 people. Supervisors can publish custom content for their teams and request permission to share it with other groups. Let's explore whether mini learning factories are a viable option for your organization.

Why You Should Consider Mini Learning Factories If You've Been Asked To Do More With Less

Regardless of industry, many Learning and Development departments and professionals are being asked to deliver more training using fewer development resources as organizations try to keep up with:

  • Frequent market changes
  • Shorter product lifecycles
  • Regulation changes and requirements
  • Budget restraints
  • Changes in technology

If this sounds familiar, you may be left wondering how you can continue to implement effective training that improves employee and organizational performance and still meet these increased demands.

After all, even learning heroes have their limits.

Do You Have A Top-Down Learning Organization?

In many mid-to-large scale organizations, learning assets are produced by a central unit (typically L&D) and then pushed down to target audiences. This is an effective approach for implementing large-scale training initiatives and ensuring staff receives consistent messaging; however, what about those smaller but still time sensitive training needs that are sitting in the production pipeline – or that never make it to the pipeline in the first place?

Is it possible that there are other learning heroes in the organization—on team and department levels—who are addressing those training needs now, under the radar?

How Can You Grow Your Learning Resource Pool Without Adding Staff?

One way to address increasing demands without adding L&D staff is to empower supervisors and managers—those undercover learning heroes—to supplement your offerings by running their own mini learning factories via the LMS. Such learning factories could be considered informal branches of L&D that:

  • Promote and track completion of L&D-produced learning assets.
  • Self-publish custom learning opportunities for their direct reports that support competencies predefined by L&D.

This approach blends the value of a top-down learning organization (e.g. professionally developed learning assets, consistent messaging) with the need to offer training that addresses your organization’s changing needs at a department, team, and individual level.

How Can You Ensure Mini Learning Factories Publish Quality Content?

You’ve heard the saying “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” The same concept applies to supervisor-led learning factories.

First, it is important to recognize that learning factories “are based on a didactical concept emphasizing experimental and problem-based learning. The continuous improvement philosophy is facilitated by own actions and interactive involvement of the participants.” 2

If you want supervisors to be able to deliver effective training, you need to:

  • Develop competencies for every hierarchy level in your organization. 1
  • Train supervisors how to self-publish informal learning assets that align with those competencies (providing “good” and “bad” samples and explaining the difference).
  • Implement a Learning Management System that allows supervisors to:
    • View and manage their team members’ learning paths (comprised of L&D and supervisor-produced learning assets).
    • Access all training content assigned to their teams, so they can be aware of what is being taught and offer coaching and refresher training, as needed.
    • Self-publish learning content that aligns with predefined competencies and meets team- or role-specific learning needs.
    • Request permission to share self-published content out to peers and up to management.
    • In short, if you define competencies, offer a “train-the-trainer” session to supervisors, and implement an LMS that supports learning factories, supervisors will be better able to offer training that triggers fast problem solving and helps their teams address challenges and adapt to change.

Case Study: How Did The State Of Arizona Do It?

Through their LMS, The State of Arizona has developed over 7,000 mini learning factories—led by supervisors—that build and track custom learning paths for over 63,000 staff. In addition to offering courses produced by L&D, supervisors publish custom content for their teams and request permission to share it with other groups. This approach empowers the State of Arizona to implement action-oriented learning opportunities that address individual department needs and promote problem-solving at the department, team, and individual level.

To accomplish this, the State of Arizona partnered with their LMS provider to:

  • Collaborate with leadership to define learning groups based on departments, roles, responsibilities, etc.
  • Assign L&D-produced learning assets to each group, which then automatically added those assets to individuals’ learning paths.
  • Enable supervisors to view and manage their direct reports’ learning paths, access learning content, and self-publish new content to meet their teams’ immediate learning needs.

The State of Arizona implemented this system within 30 days and it is managed by 3 LMS administrators. In one year they delivered over 366,000 hours of training, including 2,900 eLearning courses and 19,000 instructor-led training courses facilitated across the state.

Are Mini Learning Factories A Viable Option For Your Organization?

Meet with your LMS provider to discuss how you can leverage their technology to support learning factories throughout your organization. Specifically, ask them:

  • What features of your LMS would help us support mini learning factories?
  • What permissions can we offer supervisors (e.g. view direct reports’ learning paths, self-publish content)? Can we add/remove permissions, if needed?
  • How many LMS administrators would be required to support this type of initiative?
  • How often can we meet with you to review what is/is not working and recommend changes to the LMS to support us more effectively? (e.g. monthly, quarterly, annually)

If your current LMS provider cannot support learning factories, consider interviewing other LMS providers. Specifically, look for a low-cost community-developed LMS that enables you to share custom upgrade costs with other LMS customers, easing the financial burden of implementing a new learning strategy across your organization.


  1. Tisch, M., Hertle, C., Abele, E., Metternich, J., & Tenberg, R. (2015). Learning factory design: a competency-oriented approach integrating three design levels. International Journal of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 29(12), 1355-1375. doi:10.1080/0951192x.2015.1033017
  2. Enke, J., Tisch, M., & Metternich, J. (2016, September 14). A guide to develop competency-oriented Lean Learning Factories systematically. Lecture presented at European Lean Educator Conference 2016 in Germany, Darmstadt.