L&D teams often deal with high expectations and limited resources, and just-in-time learning can help overcome both of these hurdles. The modern learner expects their experience to be easy. They want the ability to quickly search and find relevant content in the moment they need it. At the same time, business leaders expect learning & development to help keep their workforce up to speed with rapid change. With limited resources, how can L&D leaders provide a cost-effective, agile, and engaging learning experience?

One approach that’s gaining traction is encouraging employees to make use of “just-in-time” and self-directed learning. In the Harvard Business Review, Patty Woolcock, Executive Director of the California Strategic HR Partnership states: “The future of learning is three ‘justs’: just enough, just-in-time, and just-for-me.”

Why “just-in-time” learning?

What is just-in-time learning? An HR Dive article defines it well: “Just in time training provides knowledge at the point of action, where employees not only learn the solution but immediately apply it to their needs.” There are many reasons why this approach is so effective.

Deliberate practice helps with knowledge retention

Research, such as the “Grit, Growth Mindset, and Deliberate Practice” study published in the Journal of Instructional Research, draws a connection between deliberate practice and knowledge retention. In other words, it’s not simply enough to be exposed to information; learners must have the ability to apply this knowledge in a practical setting. Because just-in-time learning involves immediately applying this newfound knowledge, it increases the likelihood that employees will retain it.

Saves time and resources

Just-in-time learning gives employees exactly what they need, which means they don’t need to spend hours or days away from their work. They can simply spend as much time as they need gathering the knowledge and training that’s most meaningful for them and then quickly return to the task at hand.

Creates feelings of empowerment

Providing access to just-in-time resources for employees can create a virtuous cycle: Employees take exactly the training they need which then empowers them to solve a particular problem on the job. This success can reinforce the value of learning and help employees feel both engaged and productive on the job.

4 tips to implement just-in-time learning

Here are 4 ways to implement just-in-time learning at your organization.

1. Provide learning resources that are easy to access in bite-sized chunks on the job

The first step is to provide the right tools that enable employees to access what they need when they need it. This means ensuring learning is on-demand and in bite-sized chunks. People don’t want to sit through an hour-long lecture or week-long class if they only need to find out how to do one thing to solve a problem on the job. Instead, offer learning that’s part of your employees’ workflow and easy to find. If your employees are in the field or at a warehouse, let them access short online videos on their mobile phone, so they can learn during breaks on the job. Or, as Augmented Reality consultant Debbie Richards suggests, AR can help employees learn how to operate machinery like forklifts by overlaying videos and other information on top of the equipment.

TBC Corporation, a 60-year-old private brand tire marketer, has implemented a successful just-in-time learning program using Udemy for Business. Kathleen Moore, Head of Learning & Development at TBC Corporation, explains, “People were going into courses, learning, and then applying it right away.”

Udemy for Business courses are structured with short 2 to 5-minute lectures, each focusing on solving on a particular problem or teaching a specific concept, so employees can scan the curriculum and choose the exact lecture they want. For example, if an employee knows the basics of Excel but just wants to learn how to do array formulas, they can skip ahead and watch a short 3-minute lecture to help them solve a specific problem they’re facing on the job.

One employee at TBC enrolled in over 100 courses, but only consumed the specific sections that were useful to him and helped solve problems in his daily workflow. This self-directed learning empowered TBC employees to optimize what they learned and when they needed to learn. Moreover, the more efficient way of gaining new knowledge ultimately enabled TBC employees to be more productive on the job.

2. Use marketing tactics to motivate people to use just-in-time learning

Successful L&D programs don’t just rely on great content—they require concerted efforts to ensure employees are aware they exist and understand how to use them. It’s helpful to use the same framework as marketers when creating an L&D campaign. There are four basic stages to any campaign: attraction, acquisition, retention, and referral.

Attraction involves sparking interest and building awareness among your employees. Establishing your L&D team’s brand is about getting your employees to feel a certain way when interacting with your learning content and programs. Think about what just-in-time learning means for them (quicker pace, less distraction and time away from the job, more empowerment over their learning) and find ways to communicate this.

Acquisition involves getting employees to learn with targeted and compelling messages on the channels where they’re most likely to listen to you. Whenever you share messages, think about what you’d like employees to do next. In the case of just-in-time learning, you might want them to watch a quick training video or check out a new resource. By crafting these simple calls to action, you make it easy for employees to take the next step.

Retention involves building a love for learning so employees stay engaged. One way to achieve this is through success stories. If a particular employee or team has had success with the just-in-time approach, be sure to communicate this widely.

The final step, referral, involves creating lifelong learning fans. Getting people to talk and rave about your learning programs is the ultimate sign of success. Think outside the box and make your learning go “viral” by creating training content that your employees actually want to share with their colleagues. To learn more about how to use marketing tactics in your L&D campaigns, see The L&D Marketing Playbook.

3. Tap managers to scale just-in-time learning

Managers play an important role in scaling just-in-time learning due to their frequent interactions with employees, ability to encourage behavior change, and the sense of accountability they provide. It’s also important to give managers a critical part in checking and reinforcing behavior change and offering support and guidance.

Managers provide the human side of online learning. They can sit down with employees and map out career development goals and the key learning steps they’ll need to get there. Managers can also recommend online courses to employees on a regular basis to achieve their goals or address skill gaps. Plus, not everything can be covered in training, so managers can also help with facilitating learning and answering follow-up questions.

For example, on the Udemy for Business learning platform, we offer a “Group Admin” feature that enables L&D leaders to designate managers or team leads as Group Admins. This lets managers select and recommend specific courses for their team to learn. The role also gives managers visibility into a learning analytics dashboard that tracks individual and team learning progress. Given the close relationship between managers and direct reports, individuals are more likely to listen and follow their manager’s guidance—key to boosting learning engagement across the organization.

4. Redefine how you measure learning

Measuring success in just-in-time learning can be challenging. The first step is to throw out old ways of measuring learning and reinvent how you think about learning. Keep in mind that course completion might not be the best measure when evaluating just-in-time learning since people don’t necessarily need to participate in an entire course to gather the most relevant information.

There are a number of ways to think about the success of just-in-time learning initiatives. Since just-in-time learning comes from problems employees are trying to solve on the job, you can measure success on whether those challenges were overcome. This can be done by surveying employees after they take a short online lecture and finding out what problem were they trying to solve and whether online video helped them solve it. You can also measure specific ROIs of the team you’re training–such as increased customer satisfaction scores and sales revenue or faster product development cycles and onboarding time.

Another measure is looking at overall learning engagement. Udemy for Business customer TBC enjoyed a high learning engagement of 84% across all users. If employees find your just-in-time learning resources helpful in solving their problems on the job and you’re marketing these resources with the help of managers, you’ll find that learning engagement will likely increase.

As the demands of the workplace continue to change, we can expect to see an increased emphasis on just-in-time learning. Instead of taking people out of their environment with static classroom instruction, just-in-time learning is embedded in the workflow of employees. This versatile approach helps employees get exactly what they need when they need it and helps organizations learn faster and smarter. Find out how Udemy for Business can help provide just-in-time learning for your employees.

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