It was more than 10 years ago when I first heard the acronym “JIT” used at an IT training conference. If you’re new to the training business, JIT stands for “just in time” training. It’s a belief that if we move training closer to the moment when a learner would need it, more effective learning would occur. It sounded like all the rage back then, and most organizations and commercial e-learning vendors have been attempting to achieve this utopia ever since. As is often the case with any new initiative within learning, some of our earlier efforts might not have been the best, but we continued to learn from them and improve the solutions.
In the early days of JIT, the conversation seemed to be all about immediacy. With technology as it was, and the lack of such support tools such as learning management systems, much of our time was consumed with making learning available. We needed to work through issues such as firewalls, remote employees, scalability and integrity of the content and our ability to track usage. Shifting the mindset from one that was based on a classroom setup to one that was based on learning in a virtual world took a tremendous amount of effort on everyone’s part, especially the learner’s. The disappointing outcome for many organizations was a slow to poor uptake of this content once it arrived on the desktop. Even though we could finally stream learning to the masses, there was still something missing to help trigger its uptake and application.
A new dialogue is emerging around process-embedded learning. There are two variables at work when trying to bring effective learning directly to the learner. Immediacy is still critical, but so is the degree to which the learning itself is embedded within the workflow. Both variables need to be considered.
Because many organizations have solved the immediacy problem, let’s take a second to concentrate on the ways in which learning needs to be embedded in the workflow. This issue actually needs to be addressed in two ways. The first is the degree to which the learning system is an actual part of the workflow itself, or as a colleague of mine describes it, “How many clicks, windows and platforms does it take to get to the answer.” Proximity doesn’t always warrant use. For years we’ve believed that just getting the information to them would be good enough. Even though having an LMS or learning portal idling in the background addresses the immediacy issue, it often leaves the embedded aspect a bit lacking. Learners want embedded systems that live and launch from within the application being learned or workflow being attempted. Journeying out to a separate window, logging-into an LMS and then finding the appropriate learning nugget to answer a question is just too much for most learners. It’s not embedded enough.
The other aspect of embedding learning has to do with the degree to which the intervention is tailored to support the specific on-the-job need being addressed. Using keyword searches and wandering through navigational outlines is often not embedded enough. We need to use and develop tools that allow the learning object to be contextually “smart,” and the more granular, the better. There are tools emerging that allow us to author embedded learning systems that will watch where we are and feed us the exact information we need without elaborate searches and cumbersome navigational outlines. These systems can also self-select based on who we are or the specific job-role we might have. Some could be project based and only give me information relative to my role within the project or where I might be in the process. The more we can use these types of systems, the more accessible, relevant and effective the learning.
Finally, as I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, it’s key that these systems are taught. All too often learners are left on their own to learn these tools simply because they are viewed as self paced. Be sure to plan for the time needed to acclimate to these and to see the value. Without that, even the best tool will sit idle.
Just in time just isn’t good enough anymore. We need to mature our thinking, our tools and our solutions from a JIT mentality to one that uses embedded learning experiences at the exact moment of need.
Bob Mosher is director, learning evangelism and strategy for Microsoft Learning and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.