Generation Just-In-Time: A Shift toward Informal Learning in the Workplace

November 17, 2014 | Ann Lambert
Generation Just-In-Time: A Shift toward Informal Learning in the Workplace

There has been a lot of research and speculation around the impact that Generation Y (also known as the Millennial Generation) has had on the workplace. In short, Millennials have been pinned as demanding—high standards, require a level of flexibility that is amenable to their lifestyle, and need to be spoon-fed the right information at the right time. On a 2013 Time Magazine cover, Millennials are referred to as “lazy entitled narcissists”—the “Me, me, me” generation.

Generation Just-In-Time: A Shift toward Informal Learning in the Workplace

As a member of this generation that has grown up witnessing the evolution of technology, become accustomed to information at the click of a button, and expects tasks that once were once tedious to be digitized and/or automated, I have a more positive outlook on my generation’s influence. We are Generation Just-In-Time, pushing the workplace to grow and evolve at the pace of innovation, capitalize on opportunities to maximize efficiency and yes, even make things easier for people at work.

Supporting this notion, Forrester Research highlights a shift toward informal learning in the workplace—impromptu learning that takes place as needs arise. They attribute this shift to “Millennials in the workforce; faster work environments that require quicker information gathering; and the continued shift of customer experiences to online channels.” Diving into the details of the trend, they specifically discuss the power of “just-in-time” learning.

The research report, Informal Learning Dominates Corporate And Customer Learning Approaches, identifies just-in-time learning as a type of informal learning performed on an individual basis. For example, a customer browsing a product website to troubleshoot an issue they are having, or an employee searching their company intranet for slide decks that can be re-purposed, are both considered examples of just-in-time informal learning.

Just-in-time learning can be especially useful for sales reps – notorious just-in-time learners who tend to only look for training content when the need arises. For example, Brainshark’s State of the Sales Rep survey found that 40% of salespeople prepare for meetings no more than a day in advance. These informal learning locations can vary from a restaurant or coffee shop to the parking lot outside the prospect’s building.  

The right solution can enable reps to find the information they need quickly – in context with the sales conversations they are having at the moment – from practically any location. In the absence of an instructor, this type of informal learning can also be more impactful than classroom training, the Forrester report notes, as it requires self-motivation and persistence to drive the search for time-sensitive answers.

Perhaps that is why organizations are reallocating their budgets away from formal learning and embracing the informal. As the Forrester report states, “With technology making informal learning easier across distances, organizations recognize the power of learning informally and are gradually spending more money on technologies that support informal online learning.”

It appears Millennials are onto something with their demand for easy, just-in-time access to relevant resources — and now the entire workforce is following suit.

For actionable steps on how to implement informal learning at work, and case studies on companies who have had success doing so, download the full report from Forrester Research.

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