In most cases, the goal of learning is either to gain the ability to do something we couldn’t do before or to do something better than we could before. For either of these things, we can either learn the knowledge and skills needed in advance, or we can use resources and support at the point of need. (See Just-in-time vs. just-in-case learning). In many cases, there’s a wrong assumption that learning in advance is the best or only option.
Where we need to develop complex skills that require some degree of automaticity, then we’ll need to learn and practice in advance. Building a skill takes repeated deliberate practice over time. If we haven’t done that before we need to use the skill, then when the time comes to use it, we won’t have time to get good enough.
However, in many cases, spending time learning and memorising in advance is highly inefficient. Where all that is needed to perform a task effectively is information or support (job aids), then pre-learning has two disadvantages:
- The learning is likely to have been forgotten by the time it’s really needed.
- We learn better when there’s a real and current need to be met rather than a distant or abstract future need.
If the goal is improved performance, then it’s important to consider whether time spent learning in advance is really worthwhile.