Just-in-Time Learning Enables Quick Access to Information

By Nicole Lewis June 18, 2019
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​In work environments where automation is a top priority and self-directed learning is evolving, just-in-time learning allows workers to tap into useful nuggets of information when they need to learn in a short period of time or when they require clarification, guidance, tips or step-by-step instructions to solve problems and improve performance.

Platforms that enable just-in-time learning, such as Microsoft's SharePoint and Ancile Solutions' platform uPerform, use search engines and menu-driven information systems, shared work-product libraries and wiki technology, as well as instant messaging and push technology, allowing employees to quickly access the information they need to perform their jobs.   

As HR managers work to create an on-demand learning strategy that can improve employees' performance, they should be aware that designing such a strategy requires knowing where gaps in learning are occurring and if the employees' jobs are suitable for feeding them bite-size information during their normal flow of work.    

NIIT Technologies, a global company that provides information technology (IT) solutions to customers in the banking, insurance, travel and transportation industries, is discovering what on-demand learning can do.

Last September, the company turned to Nashua, N.H.-based education technology company Skillsoft to implement Percipio, an intelligent learning-experience platform that delivers just-in-time learning via Percipio's Embedded Learning Synchronized Assistant (ELSA), which inserts relevant information directly into the user's natural workflow. 

The tool gives employees access to 7,000 books, 7,000 digital courses and 2,000 audiobooks, so when they're stuck on a job-related problem, they can find answers in different web applications. The cloud-based Percipio platform also allows companies to upload their own documents for employees to access through ELSA. 

NIIT Technologies forecasts that at least half of its 10,000 employees will soon require reskilling as technologies like cloud, mobile, data analytics, Internet of things, blockchain and artificial intelligence continue to change the company's business strategy and its customers' businesses.

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NIIT's vice president of HR and head of learning and development, Deepa Mukherjee, said she's seen the company's technical staff use ELSA to look up information quickly and efficiently. For example, if an internal e-mail is sent with the words "neural networks" in the message, an employee can use ELSA to find out more about neural networks and then return to the e-mail after reading about the topic.     

While Mukherjee noted that NIIT is still assessing ELSA's impact on the company's learning strategy, many workers have embraced it. Mukherjee confirmed that the company is in the process of moving internal content on products and service offerings onto the Percipio platform.

"Once this is done, ELSA will get really handy for our sales representatives and client partners as they engage with customers," she said.

But not all work situations are suitable for just-in-time learning, said Cushing Anderson, program vice president of IT education and certification research at IT research firm International Data Corp. He pointed out that restaurant workers who cook or serve food, for example, are less likely to benefit from just-in-time learning than workers who constantly use computer technology for their daily job-related tasks. 

Based on his research, Anderson said, about one-third of employees are using some form of just-in-time learning. It's not as helpful, though, when workers face complex ethical decisions on the job. In these instances, the tool can't answer the question "What is the right decision?"

However, just-in-time learning is an excellent way to help workers with procedural activities, such as finding the next best steps to solve a problem.

"In technology, one of the best uses of just-in-time learning would be entering an accounts payable invoice and discovering you don't know what the customer account number is or how to find the customer account number," Anderson said. "That's a very procedural step. To access the account number, click on the tool and go to the window that takes you to the five steps where you enter the client's name, the Social Security number and so on to eventually get to the customer's account number."

Anderson added that just-in-time learning can augment the overall corporate e-learning experience by delivering such information as a product's features and how to assemble and install that product, and policies, procedures and compliance guidelines that employees need to know.

"HR managers need to think about what bits of information can effectively support learning," he said. "The most value will happen when employees don't have to keep referring to the IT system for the same information."

Mark Onisk, chief content officer at Skillsoft, advises HR managers to think about how just-in-time learning fits into the organization's commitment to learning and how they can create value with a just-in-time learning approach. For example, in a sales workflow, every time sales representatives want to create a quote or a sales order for a customer, some may get stuck on negotiation basics.

"Rather than paying for sales staff to attend a two-day negotiation seminar, companies can feed their micro-learning tools with additional negotiation training information that conforms to a company's corporate philosophy," Onisk said.

To build an effective micro-learning strategy, HR executives should also interview their company's line-of-business managers, such as the head of sales, marketing, accounting or IT, to find out where they perceive workers' learning gaps to be.

"There needs to be some level of hypothetical analysis on job functions to assess where people's learning needs are," Onisk said. "If HR managers don't understand that level of detail about their workforce, it's very hard to build an effective just-in-time learning program. You really need those insights."

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami. She covers business, technology and public policy.

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