What is the Just in Time Learning Theory?

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Does the challenge of learning something new seem overwhelming? Or have you ever felt at a loss when you are faced with a new skill that you want to learn, but don't know where to start?

The key to learning something new is to focus on a specific skill or information that can be immediately applied. This is called “just in time” learning.

This concept can be implemented in all areas of your life. Most people, however, use it in the workplace, where it is an effective way of boosting productivity.

“Just in time” learning boosts productivity because it is motivating to be able to constantly and immediately see the results of the knowledge that you have just acquired. Naturally, this gratification encourages you to gain even more knowledge and put it to good use.

The trick here is to switch back and forth from production mode to research mode so you're consistently growing and getting experience right then and there with whatever you’re learning.

In this article, we’ll define “just in time” learning, and explain how this simple concept can become your secret weapon to mastering any skill in a short amount of time.

What Is the Origin of “Just in Time” Learning?

The origin of “just in time” learning is usually attributed to the Toyota car company. This Japanese company created a production system where parts arrive to the warehouse exactly when they are ready to be distributed, or “just in time.” By doing this, Toyota was able to significantly reduce the amount of inventory that they had lying dormant.

The previous method of having a large stock of parts lying around in a warehouse has now been replaced, and the majority of major car companies have copied this production system in some way. This concept has also been applied to the way that people learn.

When it comes to learning, technology is continuing to progress at a rapid pace, which has made people's expectations rise along with it. Unlike 15 years ago, we now expect information to be available at our fingertips immediately. People put a great amount of value on their time, and they don't want to wait around for the information that they need.

For example, people used to have to wait for the newspaper to come out to check out movie theater times, or wait for the evening news to learn what is going on in the world. Now, all of that information is available on smartphones and can be accessed at any time.

These cultural shifts have altered how we approach learning and training in the workplace and in our personal lives. Today’s employees expect job-related assistance and training to be accessible whenever it is needed, just like it is with other sources of information. This is where the approach of “just in time” learning comes in.

Although there is no set definition for “just in time” learning, the main idea is that it’s an approach of providing individuals (e.g., employees) with the information they need at the exact time they need it.

This way, employees can learn the solution to a problem they are experiencing, and then immediately apply this solution to meet their needs. Companies often use “just in time” training methods to give employees access to the right information at the time and place they need it most.

This on-demand service is especially helpful for training someone who has a specific need, because that need can be met immediately, and time is no longer wasted while the person sits at a roadblock.

In the workplace, companies provide accessible learning resources that contain bite-sized chunks of information needed for a specific on-the-job task or problem.

For example, an employee might need to solve a product issue right away. With “just in time” learning, he or she no longer has to wait for a training session to address the problem, because the information that is needed is accessible on their smartphone.

In cases such as these, learners typically don't have much time to put aside for training, so they just access easy-to-digest information that covers the fundamentals of what they need to know. These small bits of information can also point learners in the direction of more detailed information if necessary.

Determining what kinds of training resources should be available to your team “just in time” can be difficult, but it is important. It is critical to talk to the team first and ask for suggestions, because they are the ones who know what they need and who will be using the learning solutions. Figure out what information would benefit your employees the most to have on hand each day.

These learning resources have valuable content, and companies make an effort to ensure that their employees are aware of this and know how to use it.

Like everything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to “just in time” learning. One downfall is that “just in time” learning can be risky for people who struggle with staying on topic, because there needs to be a concentrated effort to use the knowledge you just gained before jumping to another topic. When using “just in time” learning, it can be tempting to jump from goal to goal without truly getting anything accomplished.

How Does “Just in Time” Learning Work?

You are likely aware that people's attention spans have decreased in our digital age. People are easily distracted, and have a hard time focusing and absorbing a large amount of information at once. Instead of taking a comprehensive approach to learning, “just in time” education occurs in focused bursts that can be completed in just a few minutes.

“Just in time” learning involves taking in small pieces of content in a short time when the learner needs the information. People are able to absorb information quickly when they need to, especially when they come face-to-face with a knowledge gap that is preventing them from getting their job done.

Having a training tool that can anticipate a learner’s potential gaps in knowledge and make the right information readily available for them is the goal of “just in time” education.

“Just in time” learning in the workplace is a great way for employers to communicate important knowledge to their employees. Once a company has a learning platform that can be easily accessed by all employees quickly at any time, training assets can be available at the time of need.

As a learner, “just in time” learning happens when you pay attention exclusively to the information that you can immediately implement. This means that you are only learning the knowledge or skill applicable for a current challenge you’ve identified. Once you have learned it, you immediately apply your knew knowledge to the problem you are facing, which helps ingrain the lesson in your brain so you can truly make sense of it.

Research has linked deliberate practice with knowledge retention. This means that it is often not enough to simply hear information to be able to remember it and implement it later. Rather, learners have to be able to apply their new knowledge in a real setting, which is where “just in time” learning comes in.

Once you’ve applied the initial steps, you proceed to learn the next step and implement it, and so on. All of these microlessons add up quickly, and before you know it, you may have completed a whole process of steps for a new skill that you were unfamiliar with before you engaged in “just in time” learning.

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“Just in time” learning involves taking in small pieces of content in a short time when the learner needs the information.

5 Steps for Implementing the Concept

1. Fully immerse yourself in a skill.

Dive directly into a particular topic. Learn everything that you can. Reading books on the topic is helpful, as well as listening to podcasts, taking an online course, and learning through YouTube videos. You can even hire a coach or meet people with the same interests either online or in your community.

This will help you change your learning from passive to active. Instead of sitting through a one-hour training for information that you “might” need to know one day, you are being proactive with your time by surrounding yourself with the information that you know for sure will be useful for you.

People learn best when they can create a link between what they are learning and real-world examples. Putting the information you are learning into context will help you develop the necessary confidence to apply it.

2. Identify your current need or challenge.

Identify what skill or knowledge you need to learn. This need is your “current challenge.” Learn everything that you can about this specific challenge. Master it. Then, put the information you’re learning into action. You can make the necessary adjustments as you go along.

Understanding where your knowledge gaps exist is a critical place to start when you're assessing the kind of help that you might need. The unique thing about “just in time” learning is that you will often not know where your knowledge gap is until you run into it.

If you have a “just in time” learning tool available, however, you can easily fill this gap at the last minute and be able to move forward with your project.

3. Take notes and create action items.

Identifying your current challenge helps you know which information is valuable in terms of your self-education. Take notes. Record all the ideas and information you come across while learning a new skill in a central hub that you can refer to later.

This means that if you're watching a video on a topic, you will be able to cut out the fluff that is not relevant to your work. You can boil information down strictly to what is useful for you, and ignore the rest. Create a step-by-step plan to overcome the hurdle you are facing so you can work on it efficiently.

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Take notes and record all the ideas and information you come across while learning a new skill.

4. Be consistent with daily practice.

Work at the new skill you’re learning at least 30 minutes per day. Make it a habit to set aside time at least once a week to schedule tasks related to your self-education. Create personal deadlines for habits you’re developing for a specific skill. Doing these things will help you incorporate your new knowledge into your life until it becomes second nature.

As you continue to learn new things using just in time learning, you can build upon the skills that you develop. Practicing these skills is an important part of learning how to incorporate them into your everyday life and expand on the things that you learn.

5. Say “no” to distractions.

One of the biggest distractions you’ll have when implementing the “just in time” learning habit are the activities that you’re “somewhat interested in.” Learn to say no to distractions that are not related to your current topic of interest. Filter information and save ideas that might be worth pursuing one day in a file. I personally store them in a specific folder in Evernote.

These topics can be considered “just in case” learning topics instead of “just in time.” However, once you get around to using the information, you will likely have forgotten what you learned. It is important to keep these distractions at bay and revisit them only if they come up in your practical, everyday life.

Information overload is a real thing that can hold you back from learning valuable information. When you are learning something, you should ask yourself:

  • Is this all the information I need?
  • Is this source reliable?
  • Am I looking for the right information?

Answering these questions will help you cut out some information you probably won't need.

Final Thoughts on Just in Time Learning Theory

Today we learned about the concept of “just in time” learning. It is a self-education tool that gives us mastery in anything new by focusing on learning specific skills that can be immediately implemented.

We’ve also learned that there are five steps to developing the habit of “just in time learning”:

  1. Fully immersing yourself in a skill
  2. Identifying your current need or challenge
  3. Taking notes and creating action items
  4. Being consistent with daily practice
  5. Saying no to distractions

Applying this learning concept greatly improves productivity in all areas of your life. Overall, having a good mix is key. It is important to spend some time learning the fundamentals of your job or new skill while also creating a framework of resources that you can turn to when you don’t know something.

Learn more about learning by checking our our post on how to learn anything fast today!

Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.

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What is the Just in Time Learning Theory?