Just in Time Education


The early days of the Internet was full of promise. Disruption seemed possible in almost every industry, and people poured millions into emerging technologies that nobody really understood. Then 2000 came along and the so-called Internet bubble burst all over everyone’s expectations.

Some of the ideas that bubbled to the surface then were really good, but just a few years too early. One was the concept of “just in time” education. Just in time (JIT) was a practice used in manufacturing to reduce storage costs. Instead of making a bunch of parts at factory A and sending them to a warehouse at Factory B where they would sit until Factory B used them up in its own process, the parts would be manufactured and delivered just as they were needed.

It was a concept that relied on information being passed from stage to stage to accurately predict when the parts would be needed. When used properly, the system significantly reduced manufacturing costs.

When applied to education, the idea meant that instead of educating someone up front with all they need for a lifetime career, they receive tailored bits of education scattered along their career path just at the point at which they most need it.

Storing parts costs a lot of money plus it creates a risk that the parts will degrade or that requirements may change, or that the parts will become obsolete. Knowledge can be seen in similar terms. The concept of the half-life of knowledge suggests that over a certain period, half the knowledge in a particular field will lose value. Arguably, knowledge that is learned and stored without using it displaces other knowledge that might be more immediately useful from taking root.

The idea sat on the back burner for a number of years. But now, with the emergence of various online learning tools as well as the massive open online course, the just-in-time concept has returned. People are already sculpting their ongoing education processes, and employers may be getting into the game as well.

The approach is well-tailored to other cultural shifts that are occurring as we speak. For instance as people shift more and more to the 1099 economy, sculpting their own work and working environment, it makes sense to manage an ongoing education process as well.

Of course this will probably not topple the existing educational system any more than the 1099 economy has eliminated traditional employment. But it will have an effect, and many big universities are fighting back by joining in, establishing their own online courses and programs.