Archive: Just-in-Time Learning — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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How often do you know everything about a job or project before you walk through the door? How often do you know everything about a piece of hardware or software before you have to install it or, even more likely, teach it to someone else? The world moves too quickly these days to possibly learn everything we need to know, before we need it. In today’s world, we are often deeply engaged in more “just-in-time” learning than ever before. So, how does one survive in a world where we are learning and teaching at the same time? Oddly enough, to be successful at just-in-time learning, you actually have to make many preparations.

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One way of preparing for the “just-in-time” world is to learn as much as possible about as much as possible. If you have taken classes in Cisco router management, project management or accounting, you may have 70%-80% of the knowledge you need to be productive. Training, classes, apprenticeships all fill the well you will draw on in later work. You need to choose wisely, though. Overly-specific training or classes that have limited application aren’t going to help much. You simply won’t find enough opportunities to apply that knowledge. Training on products or concepts that are nearing obsolescence won’t serve you well, either. You need knowledge that is going to be applicable in the coming months and years.

That said, nearly anything you learn can help, even if you are not yet sure how it applies to your future work. Take, for example, learning how to manage a coffee bar. It has many lessons to offer that apply far outside its immediate realm. You will learn management skills, accounting and bookkeeping, customer service and a host of other useful skills. You can never be quite sure how you will apply your new knowledge in the future.

Your goal in all this learning is to be able to face new challenges by drawing on your reserves of knowledge. In an example from my own life, it is impossible for me to work with every piece of hardware and software on the market today. In fact, it would foolish to even try. I would be spending hours investigating devices and programs I might never see in the actual course of my work. Instead, when I find myself facing an entirely new situation, I have developed enough experience with enough devices that I can make my way through nearly any process.

Over the years, I have also discovered a host of web sites that allow me to find more specific information “just-in-time.” Whether I am faced with an unfamiliar virus, error message or unique piece of computer hardware, a quick search is often all I need to move the project forward.
To some people, this “seat-of-the-pants” method can be overwhelming, if not outright frightening. Still, it is essential for every worker, regardless of your type of work, to apply these methods, no matter what your official job title. You must be able to adapt, learn and apply your knowledge almost simultaneously.

Another important aspect of “just-in-time” learning is the ability to retain the knowledge you have acquired from day-to-day and moment-to-moment. In my own case, I use a combination of tools to “remember” information that might be useful in the future. My first, and most important, tool, is the journal I am writing in at the moment. I often take notes when I am with a client, especially if faced with a particularly esoteric or challenging problem. Then, when faced with a similar problem in the future, I don’t have to try to remember the entire solution, only a basic idea of when I first faced the situation. Then I can simply flip through my journals to refresh my memory.

I also use online bookmarking tools, like, to remember useful web sites, tech notes and online discussions. These tools add the additional benefit that they allow me to access the information wherever I have an Internet connection and they contain search tools that can quickly locate the information I need. You should develop similar tools to assist your learning and retention.

Just-in-time learning is a fact of life in today’s work world, but through active learning, and learning through experience, you will be ready to face even the most exotic work challenges.


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