Just In Case Learning and Just In Time Learning

The traditional view of Western-style education is to get all of your learning out of the way early in life, stockpile your information bank, and then call on it as needed throughout your adult life. Sure, we pay service to this whole idea of being a “life-long learner” but in my general experience very few people put those ideals into practice. An alternate name for Western-style education – where we learn something because we might need it later – is Just In Case Learning. We read and talk about stuff in case we might need it someday. Of course that “someday” might be in a week, in might be in twenty years, so the utility of that style of learning declines over time. I believe there is definitely a purpose to Just In Case Learning, and having a fundamental base knowledge of many topics is a great grafting point for future use. In order to reach your full potential and efficiency however, I am convinced that combining the traditional ways with a new style of learning I’ve been reading a lot about lately. It’s called Just In Time Learning, and it’s based on maximum efficiency and motivation.

Just In Time Terminology

Just In Time terminology is generally accredited to the Toyota car company out of Japan. They invented a production system whereby the part that is needed is set to arrive exactly when it is ready to be distributed. The goal is to significantly decrease inventory that is lying dormant. The old method of having rows and rows of parts on a shelf in a warehouse is gone. Since Toyota began this program, it has been copied to some degree by a vast majority of major car suppliers.

Just In Time Learning works in a similar way. The idea is that you show someone exactly what they need to know, in great detail, very close to the time they will actually need it. This sort of immediacy is not lost on the learner, who becomes much more motivated to learn something RIGHT NOW then something they made need far into a future they cannot touch. This motivation staves off two potential negative outcomes usually associated with traditional ways of learning. Many humans have a difficult time putting in anywhere near their full effort if they don’t have a specific idea or can’t easily imagine a circumstance where what they are learning will be put to use. It’s really not anyone’s fault, when you think about it, for tens of thousands of years most human beings were hunter-gatherers and only needed to think about the “right now” and that basically consumed all of their time and energy. Telling us to learn years-worth of material in the hopes we might need it at some point runs contrary to our basic instincts. It has also proven to be somewhat of a ridiculous notion in our current climate of intense technological innovation, where the jobs that are in demand today weren’t even thought of five years ago.

Just In Case Style Education Has Its Drawbacks

Even for motivated learners, using only Just In Case-style education has some drawbacks. The idea of “paralysis by analysis” is a very real problem in the world today as we have such a bevy of information at our fingertips, that it is easy to get lost in it. When I first started blogging I got completely paralyzed in my quest to learn everything I could about the world of starting your own blog; however, there is way too much information there to become an expert in all at once. In hindsight, I would have been better off learning how to do one thing, then putting it into use, then pursuing another piece of blogging – say creating a podcast – then applying the knowledge I had just gained. This is why Just In Time Learning is a much more productive strategy, and it is also highly motivating because you are constantly seeing the improved end results of the knowledge you’ve just accumulated. Naturally, this encourages you to go out and get more. The trick is not to get stuck in either a full production mode or a full research mode, so that you are consistently evolving and getting immediate experience with whatever you’re experimenting with.

This method of learning is very popular in the technology sector, and specifically in software. It makes sense considering just how quickly that area is leaping forward on a daily basis. I have found that I can apply both types of learning to my life fairly well. JIT learning can be dangerous for those who have trouble staying on topic, and there needs to be a concerted effort to gain experience with the knowledge you have before jumping to the next item on your list. It can be too easy to justify jumping from goal to goal without ever really getting anything done. On the flip side, JIC learning provides the ideal base for its JIT counterpart. However, if you focus solely on JIC learning in this information age, you will never catch up to the newest information that is constantly being pumped out, and you will likely forget much of what you are learning because you are not putting it to use right way. There is also a certain degree of knowledge and confidence that can only be gained by using what you have learned and putting it into practice. This is why I believe a combination or JIC and JIT learning is often the best overall strategy.

There are many aspects of life JITL can be applied to. In sports we use this tactic all of the time when you think about it.  In fact, sports is the perfect combination of JIC and JIT learning.  Every practice some time is devoted to improving your underlying fundamentals and skills in every area Just In Case you need them.  At the same time, much of practice is also devoted to a improving on a specific weakness or preparing for your next opponent.  This is a great example of Just In Time Learning.  Similar principles can be applied to many aspects of life, and learning what combination allows you to maximize your time is a great way to increase your efficiency in key aspects of your life.


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11 years ago

Sounds like you are advocating cramming as Just In Time learning. I always find that even if I study diligently all semester cramming the night or two before an exam really reinforces the material. Now I know why.

11 years ago

This is an excellent introduction to the idea of JIT learning. I know that as I have grown older the things I learn well are those things I actually need to use. With JIT it is the need to use the learning that spurs the learning itself. Having to do something leads to development. Add the idea of teaching what you learn via JIT learning, and you have a very powerful combination.

Interesting distinction. I think student start with just in time learning and as they get more advanced move to just in case learning. This is totally going on my next roundup.

11 years ago

So maybe all those cramming sessions and studying only when needed was rational, after all? ;)

Great introduction to these schools of thought! I also love how you bring sports into the equation – I’m a sucker for a great sports analogy, but yours really makes sense.

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