Just-in-time vs. just-in-case learning

Learning interventions and course designs are often based on a just-in-case model. This assumes that learners should be ‘pre-loaded’ with information and pre-taught skills that will be useful or necessary in the future.

While this isn’t necessarily the wrong approach, there is an obvious risk of inefficiency. We can’t be sure that everything being learned is really going to be needed. And even if it is, by the time the learner does need it, much is likely to have been forgotten (see Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve, which shows how memories decay).

The alternative is just-in-time learning. This is where learning resources and/or instruction are easily available to the learner at the point of need.

This avoids the risk of time and effort being wasted on things that might not be needed or which could be forgotten by the time they are needed. It also has the likely benefit that the learner will have a much higher level of intrinsic motivation, as they are ‘pulling’ in the learning they need in order to do what they need to do.

A good rule of thumb for a just-in-case learning objective is:

  • When [x happens], I need to know [y] so I can [z].