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The past, present and future of ‘just-in-time’ training

‘Just-in-time’ training is helping workers deal with new people, practices and policies at very short notice. Here’s where it’s heading.

‘Just-in-time’ training (also called point-of-need training) is a methodology that provides personalised training on-demand according to what a specific situation requires. That demand could involve reactively plugging a knowledge hole and thanks to machine learning, big data, A.I. and enhanced analytics, it’s becoming increasingly predictive. This brings with it opportunities for organisations to automatically maintain and enhance workforce performance while significantly reducing errors.

The history and evolution of just-in-time training

The term, “Just-in-time” (JITT) is credited with first appearing in production industries where inventory storage stopped being as expensive and on-demand manufacturing reduced delays for the customer. The move into training was more of an evolutionary process, one that experts describe as “exploding in demand” when the internet and home computer ownership ballooned shortly before the turn of the Millennium. In many cases, a key driver towards just-in-time methodology was a reaction to new rapid communication enablement.

Since then, JITT has been used to train employees using off-the-shelf sessions that are frequently delivered via one-on-one interactions, in small-classes or using eLearning courseware – all with regularly updated materials.

As things have progressed the last vestiges of scheduling bottlenecks are being eliminated by technologies, like cloud delivery of courseware to individuals’ own mobile devices. Not surprisingly, the decrease in deployment delays has led to reductions in course-size too; spending an hour on a computer-based course is being supplemented with small, electronically-delivered lessons that can be engaged with just a few minutes before an event.

JITT enabling peer learning

A side benefit of smaller lessons is the enhanced-enablement of peer learning. Many people think a large chunk of organisational training should be performed by peers and it’s not hard to see why. Leveraging the experience of a senior sales person who might’ve previously had minimal relationship with learning and development operations is much easier when they don’t need to sit down with an instructional designer in a drawn-out joint effort to create a sizeable course.

The same goes for a factory operator who knows the foibles of particular machines and production lines better than anyone else. Giving them the ability to easily create bite-sized lessons is far more effective than receiving training from an outsider. There’s also the side-benefit of making these employees feel more valued which is essential for staff retention.

Real-world uses

JITT training that trains for highly-specific tasks are plentiful. Other examples include the training of casual staff in retail stores when coming up to the busy Christmas  period.

Meanwhile, a quick Google search demonstrates just how popular ‘Sexual Harassment Training’ courses have become to corporations, in recent times. ‘Discrimination policies’ are also hot topics while ‘spotting scams,’ ‘handling complaints’ and ‘first-aid basics’ are stalwart requests for point-of-need lessons.  

The future of JITT

Advances in technology continue to enhance matters further. At a basic level, it’s possible to integrate a calendar with a learning management system so relevant micro lessons regarding attendees and subject matter can automatically be distributed to invitees shortly before the meeting.

On a grander scale, a company with multiple regional offices may see one part of the organisation report figures that represent low, key performance indicators. When this happens, reactive JITT lessons, automatically identified through analytics, could be targeted to struggling offices. Over time, that data can be analysed to the point where failure can be predicted before it occurs and appropriate materials can be distributed to address issues before they develop.

Some of the more-futuristic JITT advances, like virtual and augmented reality, are here now. Earlier this month, Epson announced the latest iteration of its Moverio augmented reality glasses; they can now be operated with regular smartphones. A specific use case at the launch detailed how an engineer wearing them could use both hands while simultaneously watching a remote camera feed, all the while communicating with their head office which was sending instructions that appeared in an overlay that detailed how to fix a problem.

A step up from this is virtual reality. While the most powerful technologies like Nvidia’s Holodeck (which offers a collaborative, virtual workshop where remote participants can practice skills in a lifelike environment) are still powered by powerful computers, the likes of Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR headsets allow increasingly-similar functionality using a relatively-cheap headset plus a smartphone. Wide-spread on-demand VR-based training is right around the corner.

With employee retention inextricably linked to personal growth and training, it makes sense to embrace the current technologies. VR and AR might be a step too far for many, and any current investment in those spaces is at risk of rapid obsolescence. But building a base of bite-sized training sessions, with a sizeable proportion coming from peers, makes sense for any size of organisation that’s looking to enhance its existing training practices.

Darren Winterford is CEO of Ed Microlearning & Mobile LMS.

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