Just In Time Learning

Field Trip

Just in time (JIT) is a production strategy that strives to improve a business' return on investment by reducing in-process inventory and associated carrying costs. -- Wikipedia

Last year one of my undergraduate assistants (yes, Medici Princesses need assistants too!) complained that as a psychology major he was suffering through a statistics class that he knew was a waste of his time. Like almost everyone else in the class he wasn't going to be a researcher and he'd never use the stat training he was learning.

Waste of Time?

Whether or not that class was a waste of time is a pretty complicated question to answer. One thing that we do know with certainty is that he perceived it to be a waste of time.

And perhaps that's the biggest difference between a 4-year college degree and an MMORPG. In an MMORPG, probably 95% of the people there passionately want to be there. Only a very few participants think they're wasting their time. IDK the % of college students that think some or many of their classes are a waste of time, but I'm sure it's higher. A lot higher. Like, ridiculously, insanely, unacceptably higher.

Who or what needs to change?
The catalog?
The program?
The advisers?
The faculty?
The student?

Very likely all participants share in the process of getting to the place where the extraordinary privilege of attending college seems like a waste of time.

I am convinced that forcing students to learn what they think is a waste of time, is, a waste of time.

Change the perception.

Change the requirements.

Change something!

My student assistant might have been right: maybe studying statistics really wouldn't help him. He might also have been wrong in any number of ways. But I think a key aspect to his perception, right or wrong, was his idea that he definitely wouldn't be using it anytime soon. That he was studying for the purpose of checking off a box on a form. Not to build a better life.

What if he didn't learn stats?

What if one day he needed it?

What if he learned it then?

Research Boat

Just in Time!

Probably you can't simply learn neurosurgery when you need it. But just as Just In Time inventory practices have saved waste in business, couldn't Just In Time Learning save waste in education?

I'm convinced that a motivated learner with an application at hand can learn a lot in a short period of time.

I'm convinced that an unmotivated learner with nothing but a requirement etched in some tablet that came down from an academic mountain, can learn almost nothing.

What if we let students do real work in areas they care about? Career areas. Personal passion areas. Anything they care about. How much could they learn then?

In Sugata Mitria's famous PC in a Hole in the Wall experiments, kids taught themselves English, Web Surfing, Processor Speeds, and Molecular Biology with no instructor around. Then when a journalist asked the kids how they learned so much about computers they replied, "What's a computer?"

Are we spending too much time teaching students the definitions of terms like "computer" and not enough time letting them bodysurf in the power of what they can achieve with one?

Maybe the time has come for Just in Time Learning.

Learn it when you need it.

Learn it when you care.


Image: NOAA / Teacher at Sea

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