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Resources: UPA 2006 Idea Markets

How have you applied Just-in-Time (JIT) Education / Information?

Activator: Carrie Cianchette, Joy Andrews Guerra, Avenue A | Razorfish

Thought Starter Questions

  1. What contexts benefit most from JIT education / information?
  2. How can JIT education / information serve both expert and novice users?
  3. What characterizes successful JIT education / information?
  4. What are some innovative ways of elegantly weaving JIT education / information into interfaces?
  5. How can new technologies like AJAX support JIT education / information?

Executive Summary

There are times when users need more information, guidance, or help when completing a task. We as usability practitioners need to help users “turn up the volume” when they want or need more information. During our Idea Market discussion we explored the idea of “Just-in-Time” (JIT) education or information—what contexts call for it, which users benefit from it, where other practitioners have used it or seen it, what characterizes successful JIT education / information, what barriers exist in presenting it, and how newer technologies such as AJAX can help in implementing it. The following pages summarize our discussion.

Discussion Details

1. What contexts benefit most from JIT education / information?

  • Sites that offer complex transactions, such as financial services sites – where users may encounter unfamiliar terminology and difficult concepts, and may have a wide array of sophistication levels
  • E-Commerce sites – where users can compare products, get product details, or look to find enough information in to make a purchase decision
  • Sites that explain processes or how things work – where glossary definitions, diagrams, and additional levels of detail may answer a user’s question
  • Sites that serve English as a second language (ESL) populations, or populations with lower levels of literacy, where glossary definitions, pronunciation keys, or visual explanations may benefit users
  • Sites that provide an array of choices, where users may not feel equipped to distinguish the proper choice on their own, and where the opinions of peers may be influential factors

2. How can JIT education / information serve both expert and novice users?

  • JIT education / information could serve both expert and novice users if it were presented in layers – where each layer could present more complex or detailed information, therefore expert users could continue to delve into the material and novice users could have the option to get an overview or also delve into additional levels of detail.
  • If JIT education / information is able to be turned on or off, and therefore only be shown when solicited, it could benefit both novices and experts. For example, novices might seek JIT information such as glossary definitions or other types of assistance (such as field-level help) while an expert might seek JIT education / information that is more detail-oriented.

3. What characterizes successful JIT education / information?

  • Does not take the user out of the process
  • Anticipates the user’s needs and pain points
  • Is presented at the point when the user wants it (e.g. decision making point)
  • Is not pushed on the user; has on & off functionality
  • Does not overwhelm the user, or takeover the entire screen
  • Gives contextual information “nuggets” when the user chooses to view them
  • Is personalized or customized to suit the user and the user’s situation

4. What are some innovative ways of elegantly weaving JIT education / information into interfaces?

During our discussion, the following examples were raised by participants:

  • Providing live chat functionality. Live chat could be considered a form of JIT education / information – e.g. Gonzaga University’s ask-the-mascot feature (“Ask Spike”)
  • Providing on & off functionality – e.g. MIT Alumni’s site:
    Screen shot showing on-and-off functionality
  • Providing JIT education / information exactly when the user needs it, e.g. Bell Canada’s site provides field-level help
    Screen shot showing contextual information
  • Giving the user control to reveal it – e.g. InVision Guide Heart site’s glossary and multimedia examples of how systems work
    Screen shot of a multimedia explanation for medical information

5. What are the barriers to providing JIT education / information?

The following may need to be considered when creating JIT education / information:

  • Users sometimes do not read or may be averse to the idea of seeking help
  • Users may have lower literacy levels, or lower levels of technical understanding
  • The need may exist to cater to multiple populations (e.g. expert and novice)
  • Users sometimes do not like tutorials – it could be difficult to engage the user
  • Users might prefer natural language (especially with regard to interacting with Avatars and search functionality)
  • Creating informative, engaging visuals is difficult and can be costly to develop
  • Knowing the user’s situation or context
  • Users may not realize that JIT education / information is available or may not understand the benefit of viewing it
  • Sites that might benefit most from JIT education / information may, according to users, contain “boring” subject matter

6. How can new technologies like AJAX support JIT education / information?

  • Consider utilizing AJAX or similar technologies, in order to keep the user in a process flow and remain on the same page
  • Consider utilizing tagging to discover how users conceive of the content
  • Check utilization metrics to discover pain points or departure points where users may benefit from JIT education / information
  • Consider utilizing rich media, animation, live chat to present JIT education / information and appeal to users who want to supplement content they can read


JIT education / information may take many forms.  Examples include glossaries, animations or videos illustrating how a system works, diagrams, pronunciation keys, live chat sessions, field-level help, mouseover tooltips, etc.  Just as there are many forms of JIT education / information, inspiration for creating it can be come from many places as well.  Examples include graphic novels, storytelling, and comics.

Some of the characteristics that make JIT education / information successful include not taking a user out of a process when proving the JIT education / information, making the JIT education / information personalized or customized to the user or the user’s situation, and giving the user control of how much information is presented and when it is presented.

There are times when users need, want or would benefit from JIT education / information.  As usability practitioners we can help users “turn up the volume” exactly when they want to.  By providing JIT education / information, we can engage users and extend the “conversation” a site has with them.  Providing information at the just the right moments and in the formats that are most meaningful to different users can delight them, provide the information they were looking for to make a purchase, educate them with meaningful animations or help that they can turn on or off, and overall provide them with a positive experience and a site to which they want to return.


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