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Just-in-time education - knowledge when you need it

Thursday, September 24, 2015 - 17:36

By Hamish Williams

As we make progress in our careers, there are always moments when we experience the “growing pains” of career advancement. Advancing through the leadership ranks in your career is difficult and with good reason. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it.

The good news is that anyone can develop their management and leadership capabilities if they have the time and resources to do so. The even better news is its now easier than ever to find the time and resources required for developing these career advancing capabilities.

To advance to executive level in Australia today, an MBA is the widely favoured study program for providing the management expertise, financial acumen and strategic thinking required to lead high performing organisations. For a long time, the decision to study an MBA was not one that busy professionals could take lightly as it meant taking time off work and even more time away from their family for a qualification that may not produce any real benefits until its completion in two stressful years’ time.

With the just-in-time education revolution that's currently taking place, these same professionals no longer have to sign their entire life away to gamble on a qualification they aren’t sure they’ll ever get a chance to use. AIM’s MBA is designed to be completed one subject at a time, through comprehensive knowledge sets that are designed to be applied immediately to your workplace.

Rather than waiting for a testamur to prove that you have the ability to take on new roles and bigger projects, you can study the specific skills and knowledge areas you need to fill these roles and complete these projects now while building towards the eventual completion of a qualification when it suits you. In the endless debate over the value of experience versus qualifications, the answer is both which is why this new model is incredibly popular with professionals from every industry.

At the heart of our work at AIM is reflecting on the education market as we see it today and building our capabilities so that we can better deliver the education solutions that individuals and businesses need. This has involved moving our focus from the product to customer because for centuries, education has been about the product. 

What I mean by that is education is often about the lecturer, the sandstone buildings and the long heritage of fine graduates who've gone on to excel.  Yet the reason why universities have a long summer break is because this was the time when historically students would return home for the harvest. Centuries have passed yet universities still hold on to this long held approach. 

The whole idea that you leave school, fill your backpack with qualifications and join a company for the next 30 to 35 years where you have a career has changed forever. As this implied employment contract has changed, so too will the way we consume education. This is why I believe consumer trends are seeing us move to this just-in-time model as we educate and skill ourselves just in time for that next promotion or just in time for that new job, or just in time for the career change.

I’ve spoken before about how important it is to examine your value proposition for your current or new employer and how this value proposition can be developed by adding additional "features and benefits" in order to differentiate yourself in the market. As impersonal as it sounds, it’s about viewing yourself as a product.

When your career development is viewed this way, the application of a just-in-time model makes perfect sense. When first developed in Japan in the 1970s, the idea of just-in-time marked a radical new approach to the manufacturing process. It cut waste by supplying parts only as and when the process required them. The old system became known (by contrast) as “just-in-case”; inventory was held for every possible eventuality, just in case it came about.

In education terms, the “parts” can be seen as the individual courses or units that make up an entire qualification. In a just-in-time model, customers can pick and choose the skillsets and knowledge areas that have the greatest value to them at that particular stage of their career and apply them immediately to their workplace. A just-in-case model is reflected in a traditional MBA program where you’re taught the full breadth of business knowledge and skills “just in case” you need them at some stage in your career.  Retention of that knowledge can be difficult when it isn’t immediately put to use, which represents what would be referred to as “waste” in the manufacturing process.

Just-in-time has other advantages in the manufacturing process too as it allows a variety of models to be produced on the same assembly line simultaneously. Before its introduction, assembly lines had been able to cope with only one model at a time. To produce another model required closure of the line and expensive retooling. I can’t think of a better metaphor for traditional education models than a large assembly line that is too expensive to redesign and retool, that only produces certain types of graduates.

That’s what gives us a unique advantage at AIM in the education offerings we can provide. Although we don’t have the sandstone buildings and sprawling campuses, we have the flexibility to provide our customers with the knowledge and skills they need right now for their next job, promotion or project.