A couple of months ago, I was on a trip in the Canadian Rockies and my husband and I decided to go whitewater rafting for the first time.
From the speed (and frigid temperature!) of the water to the gorgeous scenery, there was tons that impressed me about that adventure. But do you know what stuck with me most? The training we received.
You could tell that our guides talked thousands of visitors through how to have a successful rafting trip each year. They functioned like a well-oiled machine.
They didn’t make us sit through an hour-long training session. Instead, they fed us bits of information exactly as we needed them.
Before we entered the locker rooms, they taught us how to properly put on our wetsuits and boots. Once we were on the bus, they showed us how to fit our helmets and our life jackets. When we made it to the actual rafts, they explained the safety features and emergency responses. When we loaded up and set off on the initial calm stretch of water, they had us practice different commands.
The result? An efficient, streamlined, and engaging training process that helped everybody feel empowered and prepared for their trip down the river.
While I didn’t know it at the time, the approach that the whitewater rafting company used was something known as just in time training in the working world.
Intrigued? Here’s what you need to know about this technique—including how you can implement it for your own team.
What is just in time training?
After that anecdote, you probably already have a grasp on what just in time training (sometimes referred to as JIT training) is. You can think of it as an on-demand approach to getting the information you need right when you need it—that’s why it’s called just in time (makes sense, right?).
Traditional training typically requires a longer session where you’re covering all sorts of potential situations.
In contrast, just in time training has you break that material into bite-sized chunks that are delivered exactly when people require them.
For example, if you were onboarding a new employee for your team, you wouldn’t walk them through your team’s software at the same time that they’re signing up for their benefits packages. In doing that, you’re overwhelming them with information (that isn’t at all related to each other).
Instead, you’d wait until they were actually ready to roll up their sleeves and get started, and then jump in with the knowledge and skills they need to use that software tool effectively.
What are the benefits of just in time learning?
This training approach admittedly takes a little bit of getting used to for both trainers and trainees (it’s still tempting to get all of the training out of the way in one fell swoop).
However, it’s well worth it for the numerous benefits that just in time training offers. Here are just a few of the many.
1. Improved focus and memory
Ready for a frightening fact? On average, after just one hour people will have forgotten 50% of whatever information you just presented. Within 24 hours? 75% is totally gone from our brains. It’s something called the forgetting curve.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this happens, but there are a couple of probable causes at play here:
- We’re bombarded with too much information, making it harder for our brain to retain anything (for example, you can remember one thing you need to pick up at the store, but probably not an entire list)
- Too much information at once gets repetitive and boring, so our focus fades (hey, when’s the last time you were fully engaged through a four-hour seminar?)
Just in time training addresses both of these issues by presenting information in more manageable, interesting, and immediately relevant chunks—so people are more likely to remember (and use!) what they just learned. And, this improved retention means you can also expect improved employee performance as a result.
2. More thorough training
When you know you have so much to cover in a traditional training session, you don’t have the time or energy to dig into a lot of details. You end up glossing over some things—things that might have deserved a little more attention if you had the resources.
That’s another perk of just in time training. While the training courses or segments themselves are shorter, they give you the necessary breathing room to comprehensively cover the very specific topic at hand. You can then piece those different, individual modules together in your learning management system so that they can be taken consecutively or on their own.
Think about it this way: wouldn’t you be able to give a lot more valuable, tactical information if you were covering “how to write an effective email subject line” than you would if you were teaching “how to do email marketing”? Yeah, we thought so.
3. Greater flexibility for updates and changes
Imagine that something changed within your organization. Maybe you’re using a new piece of software or a recurring process got totally switched around.
If you just had one huge training that covered everything, even a minor alteration would require that you spend a lot of time reading through and revising your training program.
However, by using just in time training, content is way more targeted. That makes it easier to pinpoint the exact pieces that change will impact, and only edit those. You’ll spend less time maintaining and updating your training materials, and more time actually helping your employees.
4. Confident and empowered team members
When I climbed into that raft and perched in my assigned seat, I felt totally self-assured. I was confident that I had a good grasp on everything I needed to know to have a successful (and safe!) trip down the river.
That’s another major perk of just in time training. By structuring education in this way, you instill a sense of confidence in your employees. They know they have the information they need, and they feel assured that they can retain and actually utilize it.
That means they’re equipped to make a real, positive difference in your organization—rather than obsessing over inconsequential details.
Tips to use just in time training for your team
Those benefits convinced you—you’re ready to change your approach. But, what do you need to know before you go about creating just in time training programs? Here are a few important tips to keep in mind.
1. Understand the journey
You know by now that just in time training is all about delivering training content people need, right when they need it. But, that’s hard to do if you don’t actually understand the key milestones that they’ll be hitting.
So, before you can start splitting up modules and creating your content, you first need an in-depth understanding of the process you’re providing training for.
Your best step is to walk through that journey yourself. For example, pretend that you’re a new employee joining your team or you’re learning exactly how to pull a monthly report. What steps do you go through? What information do you absolutely need to achieve that step?
If you’re struggling to understand the ins and outs yourself, pull in a team member who has been through that process firsthand—or maybe even repeatedly goes through it. They’ll help you understand how things flow and what information is needed at each key point.
2. Keep things short and focused
Remember, just in time training isn’t all about long-winded explanations—it’s about concise, bite-sized bits of information and completely relevant content.
As you’re creating your training modules, resist the urge to provide a lot of unnecessary context or totally hypothetical situations.
Here’s a totally off-the-wall example: If you were training someone on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you probably wouldn’t need to include the fact that these sandwiches are your favorite food, that you learned how to make them from your grandma, and that you also love peanut butter and banana sandwiches (with then an unrelated deep dive into that recipe).
This is all about need-to-know information right in this moment. If it’s not a must-have right now and isn’t pushing you and your trainee toward the end goal, it doesn’t belong in this training module.
3. Make your training accessible
You get it. Just in time training requires that you deliver information when and where people need it—and it’s important to recognize that might not be at your office, between the convenient hours of 8AM and 5PM.
That speaks to the importance of online training and mobile learning through a learning management system. Having this set up gives people the flexibility to brush up their skills anywhere, anytime.
Whether they want to learn something new from their laptop at a coffee shop or their mobile device on their couch, they really can get the information they want exactly when they want it. Plus, the easier you make it for employees to partake in training, the more likely they are to actually do so.
4. Reinforce a learning culture
Just in time training can seem counterintuitive at first. And, while it’s an adjustment for you, it's also an adjustment for your staff.
It might take them a while to realize that training isn’t something that they’ll eventually “get through.” Instead, it’s going to be a constant part of their employee experience as they take on new tasks, grow in their careers, and help your organization evolve.
That’s why a big piece of the puzzle involves fostering a learning culture within your company—which means that learning and development are a key priority for your entire team.
There are numerous ways that you can make this happen (which we dig into in this post!), but one of the best things you can do is to lead by example.
Employees should see you learning new processes, mastering new techniques, and expanding your horizons. They’ll be much more likely to follow suit and actually appreciate the continuous training you’re offering—rather than resent it.
Empower your employees to do their best work
You know that an effective training process involves more than dumping all sorts of information on your employees and then watching as they struggle to make sense of it all.
That’s where just in time training comes in. This approach helps you spoon feed information to people in a way that’s relevant, memorable, and impactful. When we’re all bombarded with content and overwhelmed with distractions, it’s a way to deliver training in a far more manageable way.
So, give it a try and see how it works for your own team. I’m willing to bet that, quite literally like me on that rafting trip, breaking things down in this way will help your employees stay afloat.
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