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How Bottlenecks Hurt Your Students

Do you realize that your students may have a single constraint, or bottleneck, that, if fixed, could release a floodgate of learning and success?

What do I mean by that? Is the book, The Goal, Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox tell a story about a manager, Alex, who is the manager of a factory that is not doing well. They are late on orders, backed up, and could potentially shut down. Throughout the story, Alex learns a lot about constraints and how the whole system is held up by the slowest machine, the bottleneck.

Now, while this story demonstrates the theory of constraints through a manufacturing scenario, we can also apply it to our students.

Our students may not be doing well in our classes because of a bottleneck they have. For example, if a student cannot read well, their lack of ability hurts their ability to learn. It creates a bottleneck. Their learning can be limited by that one factor.

A Personal Bottleneck

I used to bottleneck my reading ability by reading every word, word for word. This slowed down my reading pace and limited the number of books I could read.

After learning to read more effectively and selectively, I have saved myself hours and finished many more books than I could have dreamed of when I was reading word for word.

What are some other factors that could bottleneck a student’s learning?

Academic Bottlenecks

As mentioned earlier, one’s inability to read can limit a student’s learning. Other constraints could include the lack of knowledge in the basics of math, or writing, or outlining or thinking in certain ways. It could be a lack of practice in writing. All of these can bottleneck and limit their learning and success.

Not knowing how to learn or to take notes or how to study can also be a bottleneck and hurt students.

Technological Bottlenecks

Students, even millennials, are not always as technologically savvy as we may sometimes assume. When I worked at a local community college, I would hear from some of the computer science teachers about the varying levels of experience students had in the Intro to Computers class. Some students knew what they were doing and would finish tasks easily. Some had issues knowing how to do what many of us would consider basic.

Technology can be a huge bottleneck. If someone doesn’t know how to use a computer, Microsoft Word or Google Sheets or do research on a search engine, Galileo or other sites, it can slow them down considerably.

Typing ability can also be a huge bottleneck. If a student pecks on a keyboard with one or two fingers, their ability to accomplish their work will suffer.

Physical Bottlenecks

Physical disabilities can also be a hindrance. Thankfully we do have methods to help students who have physical disabilities, and hopefully, we can continue to find ways to help them overcome and succeed even better and faster.


Sometimes a student’s insecurity can be a bottleneck. If a student has a hard time socializing or dealing with conflict or criticism, that can be a bottleneck.

Other bottlenecks might include a student’s maturity or issues from one’s background that they must overcome.

Overcoming Bottlenecks

Whatever the bottleneck is, it slows down and hinders their ability to learn and succeed. It doesn’t mean that they will fail, but it may take them more time to accomplish a task, or they may move forward but not with the comprehension or the grade that they could have had.

Thankfully many colleges have in place initiatives to help overcome many of these. Some colleges offer new-student classes that teach learning and studying skills. There are computer classes that help teach students the basics. Some colleges even offer counseling services for students. There are also resources available to help students with physical disabilities.

There are even resources online that students can utilize to overcome some of their constraints.

Students Sometimes Don’t Realize They Have a Bottleneck

One of the issues with constraints, however, is that students may not realize that they have a bottleneck. They may not realize that, like me, reading word for word can slow them down considerably. They may not realize how much typing with one or two fingers slows them down. They may not realize how much technology they don’t know.

One step faculty and college staff can do to help students is to help them become aware that they have bottlenecks and guide them toward the resources to fix it.

When you help a student discover their constraints and show them how to overcome it, you could open up a whole new world of learning to them.

How have you helped students recognize and overcome their bottlenecks?