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The trend for just-in-time learning

Uber, the world's largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world's most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world's largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate,' as the saying goes. In the same way, the walls around the learning industry have been smashed and the boundaries around traditional learning methods have broken. So, what does this mean for the learner? How do they ensure credibility and trust within this environment? This article explores this issue and provides recommendations for future learning.



The impact of e-learning

From webinars to TED talks, videos to podcasts, learning online has removed the walls around the training room and reconstructed them in your workplace, home or car. In fact, learning occurs wherever you happen to be: at the airport while waiting for a flight, driving on the long commute home or while preparing dinner. The flexibility and convenience that e-learning offers are just some of the reasons behind its popularity. But there's more to it. E-learning gives access to expert advice and leading authorities via platforms such as TED talks and webinars. For training delivered via organisational intranets and learning platforms, there is consistency of message across different work locations to ensure clear expectations of performance. Learning can be tested via quizzes and interactive tests to ensure that key messages are retained. Together, these benefits have shaken traditional classroom learning on its head. Just like Uber, Facebook, Alibaba and Airbnb created transformational change in their respective industries, face-to-face training providers have come to realise that training organised around the trainer's schedule and delivered in a meeting room no longer meets the needs of today's workforce.


The world of e-learning is not a bed of roses, however. Sceptics will argue that retaining information via e-learning modules is reduced when compared to face-to-face learning. There is less opportunity for interaction with the trainer, to ask questions, engage in the learning and apply it. Whereas face-to-face learning will focus on learning through practical activities, it can be easy to 'tune out' while listening to a video or podcast and get distracted by the sound of incoming email or the red car going past the window. The very flexibility that makes e-learning attractive can in fact become a deterrent. Where there is no pre-scheduled time to attend the e-learning course, learning time can easily be eaten up by more urgent tasks.


Learning online has addressed some key problems within the traditional learning environment: namely flexibility, accessibility and convenience, however, other issues remain. Regardless of the platform used, the time required to learn new skills, the quality of the content or information provided, value for money and the application of the skills to the workplace remain as issues of contention within the industry.



The trend for just-in-time learning

Blended learning - a combination of face-to-face learning and e-learning has emerged as one way to address the best of both worlds. The e-learning module provides learning content and information. This is supported with coaching to apply the learning within the work context. Coaching provides the opportunity to reflect on the practical application of new skills.


Perhaps in response to the time benefits that e-learning offers, there is a new focus on 'micro-learning', or learning broken down into targeted, bite-size chunks. The recommended time range for videos produced for social media is now between 30 seconds and two minutes. Any longer and we stop watching. These short, sharp learning modules create an opportunity for just-in-time learning: learning how to solve the problem at the time it emerges.


Imagine that you're working on an Excel spreadsheet and want to learn how to create a pivot table. You could choose to work around the problem in the short term and book on the next Excel training course with a local training provider. Or you could search Google to find an online video to solve the problem straight away.


This emphasis on just-in-time learning has flowed into the face-to-face training industry. Whereas full-day courses were the norm, there is a new trend for workshops to be delivered as a series, over lunch or a half-day, with a week in between to practice the new skills.


Coaching is the happy medium

Coaching is a way of addressing the trend of just-in-time learning, while also providing an opportunity to reflect and apply new skills. Coaching focuses on raising self-awareness and self-responsibility through the development of individual objectives and personalised goal setting. It provides the opportunity to practice and reflect on the new skills alongside receiving feedback. The benefits are practice of the new strategies, using them effectively, greater long-term retention, teaching the new strategies to others and greater understanding.


In effect, coaching is the glue between the two worlds of e-learning and face-to-face learning.



Coaching in practice

Charles Gillespie of international adhesive and surfacing solutions manufacturing firm, AICA, knows what it's like to be faced with time pressures at work. Juggling deadlines, managing people and maintaining well-being leaves little time to attend training courses. Gillespie attended a 'Leading for Performance' four x half-day workshop series, along with one-on-one coaching to implement what he learnt into practice. He was able to create action plans to help him make better use of his time under the guidance of a coach.


"I think that most people have jobs where there are lots of things on the go. A coaching session allows you time to think things through. I've learnt to catch myself when I'm doing negative things and then reflect on this," says Gillespie.


When employees carve out time for coaching, the flow-on effects can often be felt throughout the organisation too.


"Coaching for myself and others in the team has allowed us to be more mindful of our demands on others and as a company, we seem to be in a better place than when we were a year ago."



The future of just-in-time learning

There's another famous saying regarding the most powerful, global internet companies. 'Amazon did not kill the retail industry. They did it to themselves with bad customer service. Netflix did not kill Blockbuster. They did it to themselves with ridiculous late fees. Uber did not kill the taxi business. They did it to themselves by limiting taxis and with fare control. Apple did not kill the music industry. They did it to themselves by forcing people to buy full length albums. Airbnb did not kill the hotel industry. They did it to themselves by limited availability and pricing options. Technology by itself is not the real disrupter. Being non-customer centric is the biggest threat to any business.' (author unknown).


The learning industry is also being disrupted. The key to the future will be keeping the learner at the heart of the change and understanding their needs for quality training based on trust, value for money, time efficient strategies and application of learning into the workplace. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning will be adapted and applied to address these fundamental problems in future.


Demand for just-in-time learning and for customised learning solutions is increasing. The balance between making training accessible, efficient and timely and delivering the right information to unique situations is satisfied through coaching.



References available on request.


Julie Varney is the owner of Business Development Company (BDC). At BDC, we build great teams. We do this by helping people to understand their individual communication preferences and the impact they have on others in order to create happier workplaces. We believe that businesses become places where people are inspired to succeed and have the opportunity to flourish.


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Side bar


Defining the new ways of learning:

Asynchronous learning - participants work through web-based content at their own pace

Blended/hybrid learning - combines online and face-to-face learning activities

Distance learning - students and their instructors are in different geographical locations. Teaching takes place over electronic devices.

e-learning (electronic learning)/online learning/web-based training) -  all types of training, education and instruction occurring digitally.

Information learning -  seeking knowledge to satisfy personal questions or objectives through asking questions, observing experts, practicing and conversing.

Interactive multimedia - participants receive immediate feedback from their online inputs.

Mobile learning - taking place on hand-held devices, anytime and anywhere.

Multimedia - interactive instruction consisting of graphics, audio, text, or video.

Self-paced learning - the participant controls the flow of receiving training information.

Social media learning - a collaborative result of people's discussions and research.

Synchronous learning/virtual classroom- participants learn online at the same time but in different locations. There is interaction between the instructor and other participants.

Webinar - an online video seminar controlled by the facilitator. The facilitator and participants view the same screen at the same time.




Coaching is the glue between the two worlds of e-learning and face-to-face learning