Somewhere in the world, a billing clerk is telling a customer, “Sorry I’m slow. We just got training on our new system, but I’m still learning how the new processes work.” In a parking lot, a salesperson is trying to quickly get up to speed on a new line of products before walking into the next client meeting. In a cubicle, a helpdesk representative is explaining how to execute a new system process to an employee—the same process that 27 other people have called about in the past 48 hours.
The rate of change in today’s workplace is extraordinary—technological processing capacity and speed double every 18 months. What we know as work is changing faster than the actual spaces in which we work. Workers are faced with a constant barrage of learning requirements, along with the challenge of applying that learning as quickly as possible. Learning & development professionals need to support these workers on their learning journey by providing need-to-know information in an accessible way, when and where they need it—just in time.
Just-in-time training, or JIT, can apply to a broad array of learning deliverables, though it typically refers to an actual training deliverable or event. The essence of the term is associated with the “when,” rather than the “what,” as in when the training deliverable is leveraged to facilitate learning. For just-in-time elements to be successful, ease of use and ease of access are key. The learning deliverable can be well designed and easy to use, but if it’s difficult to locate or takes ten clicks to drill down to find it, then it still misses the mark and leaves learners frustrated.
Quality JIT content focuses on a specific task, action, process, or single informational element, but it’s ultimately the method of delivery that is key to JIT’s value. Just-in-time deliverables can take many forms: procedural job aids, quick reference guides, product sheets, sales scripts, whitepapers, case studies, competitive sales sheets, system simulations, discussion boards, wikis, newsletters, search engines… the list goes on. A few examples of just-in-time training:
- Small reference card placed next to the register for cashiers explaining how to complete a seldom-used transaction on the register
- Staff email with a video identifying a new safety protocol
- One-page worksheet outlining steps for managers during coaching conversations with direct reports
- Wiki created by colleagues containing everything from who-to-contact lists to troubleshooting errors and workarounds related to processes
- Yammer group used for collaborating with colleagues and sharing helpful resources
Narrow Focus, Easily Accessible
An operations manual is the opposite of JIT training; operations manuals are important and critical for understanding the full scope of a role and what occurs within a department, but a just-in-time training deliverable provides reinforcement on a narrow, distinct segment of that operations manual.
Ideal targets of just-in-time training are those tasks that are less frequent and non-critical, and thus for which the learner doesn’t have the opportunity or necessity to gain proficiency. A good example is a retail clerk tasked with changing the tape in a cash register. The frequency of this task is low, as is the relative importance of mastering it, compared to those tasks occurring more frequently or for which prompt and precise execution is acutely important. The clerk should focus on mastering those tasks that are more common and central to the role—cash transactions, credit card sales, refunds—while the less frequent task of changing the tape can be completed with the assistance of an easily accessible just-in-time job aid.
The JIT format can also facilitate delivery of critical ad-hoc information. Adjustments to organizational processes are sometimes required, and those changes need to be communicated to the workers who will execute the process. Such changes may need to be implemented rapidly, and with a large volume of workers to reach, formal training might not be a viable option. JIT training can provide a satisfactory method for getting critical elements of this information—the immediate, need-to-know pieces—to learners until a formal training event can be delivered. Videos, short virtual sessions, and quick reference guides can all suffice as just-in-time deliverables for this purpose.
Training’s impact is shortchanged when knowledge transfer is expected to happen only at the beginning of the learning event, and never again. Conversely, when training has a layered approach—information provision, practice, and reinforcement along a learning path—it tends to be more effective. Just-in-time works because the information is in the learners’ hands when they need it.
Instructional designers and learning leaders do right by learners when they provide need-to-know information via effective tools. Offering JIT learning tools can be a tremendously effective tactic for facilitating optimal job performance.