It used to be that you were hired to do one job. The reporter, for example, would cover news and write stories. Slowly but surely, more and more tasks got added to the reporter’s plate. Maybe he was responsible for taking a picture to supplement the news story and laying out the newspaper in InDesign. And the trend continued. Today, in addition to those tasks, he manages social media, updates the website, and polices comments, among other things.
Suffice it to say that the jobs of the modern economy require workers to possess and increasingly diverse set of skills. You might have to know how to code, write blog posts, manage email marketing and even speak another language to get a job.
That being the case, you may be tempted to spend your free time studying up on everything and teaching yourself more and more skills. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, you may be better off waiting until new opportunities present themselves to you and learning the skills you need to tackle them right before you dig in. That way, you won’t waste any time learning things you don’t need to know.
This approach to education is called just-in-time learning. According to recent research, just-in-time learning is taking off: The market for self-paced education is expected to soar to $58 billion by 2018. It turns out more and more folks understand that they have access to the information they need to improve themselves. And they’re taking advantage of it to enhance their skillsets.
Information overload and how to beat it
Anyone who spends a good chunk of their day on the internet knows how much information is out there. Indeed, there’s so much content to peruse online to the point that today’s workers suffer from information overload (and email overload, too, for that matter). They’re constantly distracted by the random message or the internet black hole they fall down when searching for marketing tips and scanning the 154 million search results somehow leads to spending hours of time learning about John McAfee’s bizarre life.
There’s an infinite amount of information on the internet. The more of it you know, the better off you’ll be. But you have to pick your battles. Chances are you’ll never read a vast majority of the stories you’ve saved on Evernote. Since clutter causes fatigue, you may be better off waiting until you need to know something before diving in and investing the time needed to master the subject.
For example, let’s say you find out today that your company wants you to manage its social channels. You have your own Twitter and Facebook accounts and have had your fair share of “social wins”—posting something funny, insightful or tragic that mustered a lot of engagement. But there’s a huge difference between a personal and a professional social media account, and you’ve never had the opportunity to manage a company’s channels.
Instead of telling your boss that you may not be able to do it, jump right in and start reading up about social media best practices. Learn the best times of day to post content and the frequency that makes the most sense. Yes, you’ll need a bit of time to get your chops. But this isn’t rocket science. Read a few articles, decide what applies to your particular situation, and dive in.
With just-in-time learning, you won’t have to worry about wasting your time learning things you’ll never need to know to succeed in your personal or professional life.
How to make just-in-time learning work
Once you’ve decided to give just-in-time learning a try, it’s time to develop a system that works best for you.
Every person approaches learning differently. Still, there are a number of tactics you can employ that should increase the chances you can “coast” through any project with just-in-time learning. Here are some of them:
- Find your go-to sources. You can’t trust everything you find on the internet. Do your due diligence to find the most reputable sources for your field. Search engines usually do a good job of leading you in the right direction. But with so many hoax sites out there, you have to be careful. Once you find your go-to sources, you’ll be able to track down the information you need quickly.
- Plan ahead. The further out in the future you’re able to forecast what you’ll need to know, the easier just-in-time learning will be. So plan ahead. If you know that you’re going to have to lead a webinar in two months, schedule a learning session a few days prior to that.
- Figure out how to sort data. Over the course of your searches, you’re bound to come across a lot of materials that will likely help you down the line. You’ll need to become an expert at sorting information so that you’re able to easily recall it later. Develop your own filing system so you’ll remember where everything is.
- Focus, focus, focus. If you’re going to try just-in-time learning, you’re going to need to be able to have a laser-like focus as you cram ahead of needing to pick up new skills. If you’re the kind of person who’s easily distracted by the internet, you may want to use an app like RescueTime that blocks your access to certain websites during certain time periods. That way, you can absorb the information you need to know easily.
Over the course of your career, you’re going to have to keep adding new skills to your arsenal. Don’t be overwhelmed by that concept. Adopt a just-in-time learning approach, and you can learn the things you need to learn the moment you need to know them. That’s the ticket to making the most out of your time and boosting your productivity.