Just In Time Learning

About a year ago I bought a book on Adobe’s Photoshop and determined to learn how to use it. It was/is touted as being the premier photo editing software; however, due to its capabilities, difficult to learn and use. Being proficient in many off-the-shelf applications, I thought I would breeze through the book, thus becoming a Photoshop expert. Wrong! Well, maybe not entirely. Working through the book, in about a month I “Photoshopped” a lot of photos, creating some really cool effects. But I really couldn’t find much use for the edited photos (a few family laughs was about it) so my interest in Photoshop wained. Its been about 10 months since I’ve even opened the application. What I mostly need in photo editing is redeye correction and cropping. The old tried and true Microsoft PhotoDraw (yes, I still have a copy installed) or Paint.net work just fine for such basic editing. So, whatever esoteric expertness I developed with Photoshop is now mostly gone. Why? Because I didn’t have a need to use it. Of course, to regain my familiarity with the software would take less time that it did to learn it initially, but practically I wasted my time during those two months a year ago.

This seems to be pretty much how it is regarding most things technological. How many of you have been required to sit through four hours of, say, MS Excel professional development? This continues to be typical of technology professional development sessions, even though experience has taught us that ten percent of those attending the sessions will remember ten percent of what was presented. That ten percent needed only to remember the ten percent they remembered. They had no immediate need for the other ninety percent of the information and the other ninety percent of the attendees had no need for one hundred percent of the information. The ten percent with the need(s) probably could have satisfied their need(s) in a timely manner with a 15 or 20-minute one-on-one training session with a knowledgeable user. I call this Just In Time Learning. Or better, Just In Time Training.

It sounds a bit like the “authentic” (realistic, project-based, problem-based, inquiry-based, etc.) learning that we are familiar with as a pedagogical tactic, with two major differences: the training occurs because an immediate need is realized and the training is conducted during a time frame when the need is prevalent–just in time. Sending an email message to tech support, asking a more knowledgeable colleague, clicking the Help menu item in most applications, conducting a Google search, or perusing an online tutorial are just a few Just In Time Training vehicles available to address an immediate technology need. My experienced guess is that when technology training occurs just in time it will more likely stick.

I am not proposing that group technology professional development be abandoned completely. Group orientations and collaboration are valuable to familiarize staff with potential software uses and to exchange technological integration into classroom instruction and curricula ideas and experiences. Group training sessions are also appropriate before and during introduction of new or major upgrades to administrative and management software.