Just-in-case revisited

Just-in-time learning means learning something just when you need it. The alternative is just-in-case, learning something in case you need it. I discussed this in an earlier post, and today I’d like to add a little to that discussion.

There are some things you need to know (or at least be familiar with) before you have a chance to use them. Here’s a variation on that idea: some things you need to have practiced before you need them in order to overcome an effort barrier.

Suppose you tell yourself that you’ll learn to use Photoshop or GIMP when you need to. Then you need to edit a photo. Faced with the prospect of learning either of these software packages, you might decide that the photo in question looks good enough after all.

There are things that in principle you could learn just-in-time, though in practice this is not psychologically feasible. The mental “activation energy” is too high. Some things you need to practice before hand, not because you couldn’t look them up when needed, but because they would be too daunting to learn when needed.

Related post: Bicycle skills

2 thoughts on “Just-in-case revisited

  1. I’ve thought a lot about just-in-case versus just-in-time. As you wrote, there is a place for each.

    However, I came up with an interesting hybrid model that seems to work for me. I call it “micro-practice”. The idea is to learn things just-in-time, but then digging just a bit deeper to codify the pattern into something that is re-usable. For example, if I’m processing log files with UNIX tools, then I will take some time to read the man pages to see if there is a “better” way to do it. I then make a note of the new usage pattern in my (digital) notebooks for future use.

    This pattern doesn’t apply everywhere, but it’s useful once you have a solid foundation to build upon.

  2. I’ve stumbled on to something similar. I think of it as JIT + 10%.

    The more ephemeral something is, the less I’m willing to learn more than necessary ahead of time. Software syntax is more ephemeral than math, for example. And some software is more ephemeral than others.

    Unix tools have aged well. The Lindy principle suggests that tools that are still in common use after 40 years are likely to be in use 40 years from now.

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