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How To Learn Just-In-Time: Cultivating Talent and Bridging Skill Gaps

As professionals we each need to be agile and self-governing to actively build skillsets that keep us viable in our careers. Likewise, leaders need to support and guide their teams to all available resources necessary to meet the demands of increasingly complex projects. The lightening speed at which technology has progressed is leading to skill gaps widening quicker than ever, making the need for lifelong, a.k.a. “career long,” learning an absolute necessity to enable all of us to remain productive and viable within our careers. To that end, I want to continue the conversations from two of my previous blog posts in 2013, Lifelong Learning: The Secret to Success and Embrace Change: Or get Left Behind as the “need for speed” in learning new skills is becoming more of a factor in how well we function in our individual careers and as a team.

Just-In-Time learning is different than classroom or specific-skill training since it occurs when someone actually needs to learn or “know” something. This becomes very valuable since we don’t always have time to take a course or get certified to become proficient with a new skill prior to needing that skill. This process may be automated in a web-based setting, which includes receiving supplemental, contextual information through on-screen prompts, pop-up windows or well organized toolbars; or you can have coaches or help desk teams on standby to guide team members on how to complete a task when needed. Then again, you can always reference job aids or video tutorials.

For example last week I had to update my laptop computer with more RAM. I consider myself technically savvy, but I don’t like to fool around with hardware. Not my bailiwick; with my luck, I would short my computer when I shuffled my feet on the carpet (Note to self: Do NOT install RAM when standing on a carpet). But I had no choice, I couldn’t ship out my laptop and be without it for 3 days, so my IT department sent me my new RAM, along with a handy-dandy miniature screw-driver set, and a link to the manufacturer’s website. I watched a 5-minute video and learned how to replace the RAM in my computer just-in-time. And it worked! Whew!

Many of us have also used modern (and not so modern) Job-Performance Aids. I am sure you are all familiar with the printed card that contains step-by-step instructions for performing a specific task., such as a recipe or instructions on how to build that shelf you just bought. You may have even used the WC3 website on how to properly formulate a copyright mark in HTML. There is no real need to memorize all the steps to complete certain tasks. Job aids are anything used in a work situation that improves job performance by giving the right instruction at just the right time. The good thing about JIT is that it helps to quickly raise the skill and knowledge level of each individual, giving them experience in a new “situation” from which they can build upon for their next project.

All of this does not mean the need for traditional learning is going away, it just means that if someone has the ability to “problem solve” on the fly, they are an incredibly invaluable asset. As a leader in your department, it is your responsibility to be sure to make traditional and digital job aids available, and encourage everyone to use them. It is also your responsibility to ensure everyone feels comfortable seeking just-in-time learning. We can’t all know everything, and make it clear that this is not a “deficit” but an acceptable fact. Peer training is another example of a just-in-time training resource that helps cross-pollinate the new skills that each of your team members acquire.

Things change so fast on a day-to-day basis that we all need to be versed in what is happening in our industry and be willing to adapt the skills we have with each and every change. We need to become experts in learning-how-to-learn. What is it you need to learn? And what is it your team needs to learn? You will never learn everything…but you can learn what you need to know just-in-time.

Below are some of the just-in-time resources I use, and you may wish to explore as well with topics that include print, interactive, management, marketing, media, video, social media and much, much more. Anything you need to learn is out there, you just have to find what works best for you.

  • Smashing Magazine is an online magazine for professional Web designers and developers, with a focus on useful techniques, best practices and valuable resources including a newsletter, step-by-step tutorials, workshops and ebooks. Whatever you need to learn about design, coding, mobile, graphics and business, you will always find something to get you started.
  • YouTube is a video-sharing website that allows users to upload, view, and share videos, using Adobe Flash Video and HTML5 technology to display a wide variety of user-generated and corporate media video. Just do a search for a topic about something you want to learn and you will be taken to a wide variety of video clips including educational videos.
  • Safari Flow originated as Safari Online, started in part by O’Reilly Press, has been the online tech library of record for years, with an extensive catalog of books from O’Reilly, Wiley, Peachpit, and more for online reading with a subscription. And now, they’ve reinvented themselves with the new Safari Flow. More than an online eBook library, it’s an attempt to make longform books relevant to the Twitter generation of professionals.
  • treehouse is an online interactive education platform that offers courses in web, mobile and business development. Its courses on web development and programming are aimed at beginners looking to start a new career, while its courses in business education and marketing teach students how to start and market a business in the technology industry.
  • skillshare is an online learning community to master real-world skills from project-based classes. Unlike traditional study, courses on Skillshare are taught by industry leaders who desire to share their individual skills with others. The courses, which are not accredited, accept anyone who wants to learn. The majority of courses focus more on interaction than lecturing, with the primary goal of learning by completing a project. The main categories of learning are creative arts, entrepreneurship, lifestyle and technology, with subtopics covering a myriad of skills


In addition to the above sources, check out and share with your team the 2014 Resource Guide I developed with The BOSS Group that identifies more than 75 creative industry resources . I urge everyone to keep their work, resumes and portfolios sharp and on the cutting edge of design trends and technology. In fact, if you haven’t done any memorable recent portfolio pieces (as an individual or team), I highly suggest you rework some of your old projects to showcase how you would “refresh” them to fit today’s standards.

“What’s the use of doing all this work if we don't get some fun out of this?”
~ Rosalind Franklin, Best known for her work which led to the discovery of the DNA Double Helix


Linda Daniels

Linda Daniels is a design thinker, artist and educator whose ability to lead, educate and motivate both interactive and traditional teams includes a long list of well-known Fortune 500 brands. She served as the Manager of Assessments and Learning for The BOSS Group and was responsible for the strategic direction, development and design of learning processes for internal and external creative organizations. She also serves as a thought leader, collaborating with multidisciplinary top thinkers and innovators who are always in search of excellence and the next big thing.  

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