In the popular movie “The Matrix,” there is a scene where two of the characters, Trinity and Neo, are looking at an empty M-109 military helicopter on a rooftop. When asked if she can fly it, Trinity replies, “Not yet,” and immediately makes a call from her cell phone to obtain the necessary pilot training program. Moments later, all of the necessary information surges into her brain, and the two take off.
Although fictional, the scene embodies a training need many organizations face: delivering critical information to employees in a just-in-time manner, regardless of where they are, what time it is, and in what form the information is required. For example, a salesperson visiting a customer must be up-to-date on the company’s latest products and services in order to successfully cross- and up-sell. A field services employee may need access to information on a particular appliance while in the field for repair. In the retail industry, a geographically dispersed workforce for a consumer electronics chain needs to be constantly updated on the newest additions to its high-end electronics line in order to sell the products on the store floor.
By providing this information in a just-in-time manner, organizations can achieve exceptional proficiency and effectiveness. Not only will employees be better able to sell to customers, but organizations will also be able to provide better customer support, leading to increased customer loyalty. Without this training, organizations face the potential of lost revenue. Subsequently, it is important for organizations to identify solutions that enable just-in-time learning and immediate information delivery.
To meet their growing just-in-time learning objectives, organizations are turning toward the newest trend in learning technology—a single-source strategy. This strategy focuses on creating learning/training content once and reusing that content for elements of future courses. Organizations save the time and money associated with creating the same content each time it is needed. Another benefit of implementing a single-source strategy is that organizations can develop learning content once and then deliver it to various mediums such as the Web, CD, print, PDAs or presentations). Think of the field services employee who is out in the field. He needs access to information on his PDA versus an employee in an office with access to the Web. A single-source strategy ensures that employees receive the training they need (about job skills, products or policies and procedures) when, where and how they need it.
Learning content management systems are the key element of a single source strategy. Organizations can author content once and then reuse it across the enterprise to quickly create personalized and efficient courses. Beyond authoring tools, learning content management systems also provide the ability to deliver these courses in the most convenient medium, allowing employees to access information however they want. By adding learner management systems to the picture, organizations can then track statistics such as the type of training used and the timeframe in which it is offered. As a result, training is seamlessly rolled out, while ensuring it reaches all the appropriate people in an organization—which becomes very important in industries where just-in-time training is a necessity.
There is an up-and-coming addition to the training environment that is making an impact on just-in-time learning. Simulation software is also proving to be very valuable when providing just-in-time training. The best way to understand and internalize a task is by doing it over and over, as if in a live setting. Simulation software can create a lifelike setting for learners to practice using the technology required to do their jobs. For example, think back to the example from the “Matrix” and Trinity’s need to fly a helicopter. Simulation software would provide an environment without errors where she could learn how to use the equipment in the best possible situation. In the real world, software simulation can facilitate an SAP upgrade, helping employees quickly learn the new aspects of the technology whenever they like through simulations.
Through the use of applications that enable just-in-time learning, organizations can create a scenario similar to the “Matrix”—by providing employees with instant access to the information they need to effectively do their jobs. Similar to Trinity’s phone call, valuable information and training critical to successful job performance is never more than a click of a mouse away.
Massood Zarrabian is president and CEO of OutStart, a provider of learning and knowledge-sharing software applications based in Boston, Mass.