I’ve been thinking a lot about Just-In-Time learning vs Just-In-Case learning.

Kathy Sierra introduced me to this insight in her latest book Badass:

Just-In-Time means learning something only when/because you actually need to use it. But Just-In-Case is the predominant model for most forms of education (and most user manuals). Just-In-Case knowledge is easier to present, but harder to learn, understand, and remember. Much harder.
-Kathy Sierra, Badass: Making Users Awesome

It’s thought provoking, especially apropos of learning on the web. I’m the plan-ahead sort, so it’s tempting to undertake serious study for challenges I think I might face in the future (Just-In-Case).

I’m always surprised, though, to stumble across a resource in a time of need and see that I already had it saved in my Pinboard from sometime long ago. I remember reading the tutorial, but I remember almost none of the knowledge it taught. It’s a little clue to me that Just-In-Case learning can be wasteful of my resources.

I contrast this with the times I’ve been in mentally taxing situations, and then engaged in learning that addressed my pain at the moment (Just-In-Time). This knowledge sticks. It roots deeply, and it’s hard to forget.

Here are a few takeaways from this concept:

  1. These insights strengthen my position that working on personal projects is an ideal learning technique for web workers. Breakable personal projects are hotbeds for Just-In-Time learning. They throw you into situations that require deep study to overcome obstacles — setting you up to retain this knowledge for the future.
  2. These insights make me more reluctant to hoard information. I have a serious case of Instapaper bloat: article after article of information I don’t need right now. It’s easy to find stuff on the internet — I need to let the bits go, and trust my Google-fu to find resources in the future when I actually need them. Armed with this knowledge, I can tighten my mental filter for the onslaught of information I’m faced with daily, and get eager with the delete key. If it’s not valuable right now, it’s spam.
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