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Tips for ensuring training effectiveness

February 14, 2022

You’ve invested heavily in technical learning resources for your software developers, but some managers are saying team members are unprepared for projects. Unable to apply their new learning on the job, these engineers are making time-consuming mistakes.

The managers have asked you for a solution, but where do you begin? Here’s some advice from Kelby Zorgdrager, founder of DevelopIntelligence, a Pluralsight Company.

If training isn’t delivering the expected results, what troubleshooting steps do you recommend?

KZ: Whoever is responsible for the learning program should start with these questions:

  • What do participants need to be able to do as a result of this training? 
  • By what date do they need to be prepared with new skills?
  • What are the financial and competitive risks if your teams are not skill-ready on time?

Next, you need to assess where employees are today so you can determine options for getting learners ready with the skills they need. Utilize your risk calculation to guide your learning program design.

The higher the stakes, the more structure and support you may want to provide to ensure your teams are prepared for your mission-critical work.

It’s not enough to have “book knowledge” or to complete a quiz that relies on rote memorization. As part of the training, employees need practice with use cases similar to what they’ll be expected to do on the job. Managers can get involved in projects or simulations where learners demonstrate their mastery. During these activities, managers can spot any areas where skill reinforcement is needed.

Post-training, you can use engineering analytics to gauge how quickly teams reach full productivity with their new skills. You can monitor the amount of rework (or churn) involving the new technology. Churn is a great indicator of a training issue, a process issue or both.

What causes training to miss the mark?

KZ: Often, organizations with subpar training results want employees to complete courses on their own time, outside normal business hours. If you expect them to study on evenings and weekends, you’re essentially asking them to choose between personal responsibilities and work responsibilities. Some will be happy to do that. Others have commitments outside work, such as caregiving responsibilities, and simply don’t have the time and energy to extend their workday in this way. 

To get employees up to speed on a particular technology by a specific date, it’s essential to carve out dedicated learning time during regular business hours.

If you’re not getting the training results you want, also consider looking at these two questions:   

  • Do your learning programs include assignments, due dates and a person who can answer questions if learners get stuck?
  • Are you assessing employees’ ability to apply their new learning to use cases that mirror the work they’ll be doing on the job?

When employers rely exclusively on employees to manage their own learning, it’s common to get uneven results. And an online course may or may not map directly to your organization’s use cases. Software developers may need some guidance on how to apply the online learning to your specific projects.

Are you saying self-paced resources are not enough?

KZ: Some people, especially more experienced engineers, can learn well with unstructured, self-service resources. But many adults learn best with some amount of structure and support. Structure could include assignments that need to be completed by specific dates. 

Support could be classroom time with a virtual instructor or formal mentoring with internal or external subject matter experts (SMEs). The key is having someone who can answer questions and provide guidance. Adequate support speeds the learning process and reduces learner frustration. Also, an instructor or mentor can spot if an adult learner has misunderstood a concept or has an incomplete understanding—and can get a student back on the right track.

How do you test a software developer’s ability to apply a skill?

KZ: Because every software and IT project is different, the application component of training typically requires some tailoring. Whether you’re designing a learning program in-house or with an outside provider, your internal SMEs need to be involved to identify the best way to practice the new skills. 

What labs, exercises, simulations or projects would give learners the opportunity to prove to themselves and to their managers that they’re ready to apply their new learning on the job? You want employees to leave the training with some amount of confidence that they can do the actual work. You don’t want them approaching your vital projects with doubt and uncertainty.

Being able to apply new skills in a no-risk, structured learning activity helps build employees’ confidence and prepares them to be productive quickly on your next project. 

Do employers typically outsource this application component or do it internally?

KZ: Organizations can deliver exceptional training using internal resources, outsourcing or a combination. The key, again, is starting with the end in mind: What specific tasks will employees need to be able to accomplish after the training? 

With a robust answer to this question, employers can then determine what method(s) to use to get team members up to speed on the new technology. When making the decision between internal and external resources, it’s important to recognize that the internal SMEs need to be involved in either scenario. The question is: How involved? Do you need the SME to work on a mission-critical project, or is it OK to have the SME dedicated to training responsibilities for some portion of time?

The other question to ask is whether you have the necessary training infrastructure in-house. For example, if you want your teams to practice in a cloud-based sandbox, is that something you can spin up yourself, or is it easier to collaborate with an outside partner?

Also, knowing current trends will help you get the most from your training investments.