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Just in Time vs. Just Enough

There have been a few times in my life that I’ve uttered words I later wish I had never said. One of them is the acronym JIT — just in time.

I first started using the term in the ’90s when I was working for a large e-learning vendor. We were one of the first to try to take advantage of the wonderful potential the Internet held for delivering just-in-time learning. We were struggling to quickly and easily describe what e-learning could do. JIT seemed to fit the bill.

Little did we know we were making a promise that the technology, and many of our designs, wouldn’t live up to in the learners’ eyes. I’m not blasting the effort or what e-learning has become, but is it JIT? Not really.

It’s amazing how important the brand or terminology we assign to something is. Many of the patient and talented marketing professionals I’ve known over the years have taught me this. Although JIT described the immediacy of the modality, it didn’t accurately describe the experience, and when it comes to the learners we support, it’s all about the experience.

From the learning community’s perspective, JIT was strictly a time issue; basically time saved on not attending class. It was about availability. But to our learners JIT meant something else. Say JIT to learners and they take it to a whole new level. For them it doesn’t just stop at availability. That’s the easy part. For them it’s an issue of context as well.

The material presented needs to be just the right amount of information about just the right topic to help them solve or learn something right in front of them at the right time. Try running that through your LMS and e-learning library. Few hold up to that promise and level of effectiveness.

I’m not saying we were wrong for going in this direction or that you should throw out your LMS and e-learning content. What I am saying is that we need to reposition it for what it does and consider other options for true JIT delivery.

E-learning is a tremendous learning tool that can be accessed on a learner’s time when he or she is ready to learn. By that definition it is timely. However, to say it’s just in time based on the user experience I described is unfair to e-learning and misleading to our learners. In some organizations, this simple miscommunication has hurt the effectiveness and overall adoption of their e-learning initiatives. It’s not that the e-learning presented was bad, it’s just that the variance between the JIT promise and the true experience of logging into an LMS, finding the correct course and sitting through 10- to 20-minute lessons was not what learners believed they signed up for.

Leaving e-learning where it belongs, is there another way to look at JIT that fits more closely to our original intent? I would argue the correct acronym is JEI, or just enough information. One form of that information might be training, but if we truly want to support our learners at the moment of need, we need to adapt our designs and deliverables to be consumable in that context.

Many times learners don’t need learning when they are trying to get something accomplished. They just need a few steps, an overview or related resources. E-learning or a social network might be overkill and beyond the scope of the problem. In the workflow speed-to-answer is everything. Learning may be part of that, but most often it’s not.

Just in time is a reality if we address it correctly. Let’s start backing up our promises with deliverables that make sense and support our learners across their learning and performance needs.

Bob Mosher is global chief learning and strategy evangelist for LearningGuide Solutions and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.