Online and mobile eLearning are ideal platforms for delivery of just-in-time training, which is sometimes called just-in-time learning. Just-in-time training refers to information delivered to learners at the moment they need it and to the location they need. Just-in-time training can replace or enhance more traditional training usually delivered in one or more longer sessions.

A related concept is microlearning—creating highly accessible, very short, focused training on individual procedures or concepts. The two are often discussed (and delivered) together. Delivering short, focused content on demand is part of a general trend toward giving learners greater control over how and when they consume eLearning content.

In this short article, I present the reasons you should consider just-in-time training, some approaches to designing and delivering it, and the benefits.

Deliver short content in a variety of formats

Requiring learners to sit through hours of scheduled training or complete lengthy asynchronous online courses often wastes time and can damage employee morale, particularly if a significant portion of the course material is not relevant to the learner. Some training teaches employees to perform tasks that they won’t need to do for weeks, months—or ever. Adopting a just-in-time training approach allows learning designers and developers to replace some of what has been taught in traditional eLearning or in-person courses. Instead of in-depth modules covering multiple concepts or skills, the just-in-time modules are short and punchy—and narrowly focused. They might be videos, simulations, diagrams, games, or step-by-step instructions; the just-in-time approach works with any format. Learners access only the segments they need.

Just-in-time training should be available in thoroughly indexed, searchable apps or websites. With searchable, accessible modules, learners can find the lessons they need, watch or read the material in a few minutes, and get on with the task. Crucially, they can do all of this without interrupting their workflow or being burdened with unnecessary information.

Companies can deliver just-in-time training via the web, to mobile devices, or as checklists, reminder cards, or other job aids posted (physically or electronically) wherever they might be needed. Think of the diagrams sketched on stickers for clearing copier paper jams or replacing the printer toner that are handily located inside the appropriate compartments. Online apps or databases of training nuggets fit seamlessly into office workflow, while a searchable phone app allows employees on the go—sales or delivery personnel, for example—to take training with them and look up procedures or information the instant they need it. An additional advantage to presenting just-in-time training online or via mobile devices is that you can update training modules more quickly, easily, and inexpensively than the longer, deeper traditional eLearning modules or printed materials. And you can develop new modules as technology changes, new compliance standards or policies are adopted, or new learning needs arise.

Focus on performance support

Microlearning and just-in-time modules are a great way to boost and support employee performance. Readily available product information, refreshers on how to complete a multistep procedure, answers to employee or customer questions available on demand: All enable employees to do their jobs better and more efficiently. And these modules integrate with existing training or exist alongside deeper or more concept-focused eLearning.

Short just-in-time learning nuggets might replace some existing longer-format training, but where just-in-time modules really shine is as a complement to deeper training courses. A company might trim several days of in-person training of new sales reps down, covering broad policies and goals in a short group learning event, then provide the new reps with an app that answers their questions, offers product demos and fact sheets, and provides other information they’ll need at their fingertips while on sales calls. A learning management system that allows collaboration and employee contributions could allow employees to share tips and tricks, thus becoming an organic form of just-in-time training that deepens and permits sharing of the knowledge and processes that learners use frequently.

Creating just-in-time training is not necessarily quicker or easier than creating traditional training modules. Designers of just-in-time training must think about a process or skill from every angle and anticipate learners’ questions and problem areas. They must then devise short, to-the-point materials that resolve or address each of these issues and present that information in an engaging manner. But this approach might work better for some types of instruction than traditional courses. Learners might find that the immediate reinforcement of a new skill—performing it or meeting with a client to present product info moments after completing the training—enhances their ability to retain the new knowledge. And if they don’t? The needed information is close at hand when they need a refresher.