“Just in Time” vs. “Just Enough Information” (Bob Mosher) - Guest Blog

In the workflow speed to answer is everything.  Learning may be part of that, but most often it’s not.

There have been a few times in my life that I’ve uttered words that I wish I never said… Ok, there have been MANY of times I’ve done that.  One of them is the acronym JIT, or better known as “Just in Time”.  I first started using the term back in the 90’s when I was working for one of the larger e-learning vendors.  We were early in the journey and were one of the first to attempt to try and take advantage of the wonderful potential the internet held for delivering learning “Just in time”.  There I did it again!  We were struggling for a way to quickly and easily describe what e-learning could do.  JIT seemed to fit the bill.  Little did we know that at the time we were making a promise that the technology, and many of our designs, couldn’t live up to.  I’m NOT blasting the effort, OR what e-Learning has become, but JIT?  Not really.

It’s amazing how important a brand, or terminology, we assign to something is.  “What’s in a name?” is saying a mouthful.  For although JIT described the immediacy of the modality it didn’t accurately describe the experience.  AND after all, when it comes to the learners we support, it’s all about the experience. From the learning community’s perspective JIT WAS strictly an issue of time; basically time saved on not attending class.  It was about availability.  But to our learners JIT meant something else. Say JIT to a learner and they take it to a whole new level. For them it doesn’t just stop at availability.  That’s the easy part.  For them it’s an issue of context as well.  The information presented needs to be just the right amount of information about just the right topic, to help them solve or learn about just what’s in front of them at the time.  Try running that through your LMS and e-learning library?  Few hold up to that promise and that level of effectiveness.

Now I’m not saying we were wrong in going in this direction, or that you should throw out your LMS and e-learning content. What I am saying is that we need to reposition it for what it does and consider other options for true JIT delivery.  E-Learning is a tremendous learning tool that can be accessed on a learner’s time when they are ready to learn.  By that definition it is timely.  To say its “Just in Time” based on the user experience I described above is unfair to e-Learning and misleading to our learners.  In some organizations, this simple miscommunication has hurt the effectiveness and overall adoption of their e-learning initiatives.  It’s not that the e-learning presented was bad, it’s just that the variance between the JIT promise and the true experience of logging into an LMS, finding the correct course, sitting through 10-20 minute lessons was not what the learner believed they signed up for.  

Leaving e-Learning where it belongs, is there another way to look at JIT that fits more closely with our original intent?  I would argue the correct acronym is “JEI”, or “Just enough information”.  Now, one form of that information might be training, but if we truly want to support our learners in the workflow at the moment of need we need to adapt our designs and deliverables to be consumable in that context.  Many times learners don’t need “Learning” when they are trying to get something accomplished.  They just need a few steps, an overview, or related resources.  E-Learning or a Social network might be overkill and beyond the scope of the problem.  In the workflow speed to answer is everything!  Learning may be part of that, but most often it’s not.

The metaphor is one of a pyramid with the point at the top representing the specific performance need.  It’s highly focused and can often be solved by the steps need to complete the task.  From there, if needed more information should be provided.  Here’s the hierarchy:

  1. Steps
  2. More detail
  3. Concepts
  4. Related reference assets
  5. Learning assets
  6. People assets

Making this sequence of information available specifically related to the task at hand is the TRUE “Just in Time” promise we all along.  It’s an intentional design approach that truly delivers “Just Enough Information” and exactly what the learner wants. If an e-learning module fits, it’s found in the fifth layer.  It’s not only JIT game in town!

Just in Time is a reality if we address it correctly.  E-learning is an incredibly powerful tool that we’ve unfairly positioned for years.  Let’s start backing up our promises with deliverables that make sense and support our learners across their learning and performance needs.


Bob Mosher | Chief Learning Evangelist | Ontuitive

Bob has been an active and influential leader in the learning and training industry for over 30 years and is renowned worldwide for his pioneering role in e-learning and new approaches to learning. Bob joined Ontuitive from Microsoft, where he was Director of Learning Strategy and Evangelism. Before, Bob was the Executive Director of Education for Element K where he directed and influenced their learning model and products. He is an influential voice in the IT training industry, speaking at conferences and participating within industry associations such as CLO Magazine, CompTIA, ASTD, The E-learning Guild and The Masie Centre.