Successful Technical Training Does Not Use HR as a Model

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The training industry is operating under some misinformation. Just because technical staff love technology doesn’t mean they love to learn that way.

Templates are like business models. They save time, they’re efficient, they deliver predictable returns, and they’re useful – until they’re out of date.

When that happens, the faster you can pivot, the more likely you are to maintain market share and grow. But when you’re slow to recognize a model is out of date, your pivot is like turning a battleship. You quickly lose market share and risk becoming irrelevant in the ever changing business world, not to mention defunded.

However, not every business model applies to every business. A business can have multiple business models working together to achieve an organization’s overall strategy and vision. Look at Amazon and all of the different ways it makes money. Or Google and its recent separation into more focused business underneath the Alphabet umbrella.

So why is it, when it comes to internal training many corporations apply the same model to all audiences? Isn’t one of the cardinal rules of learning to know your audience?

For instance, the models, templates and solutions you use for compliance training probably won’t work when you’re trying to help your sales teams be more effective. And the way we deliver soft-skills training is not the same way we need to provide training to developers, engineers and programmers.

Customization is one of the only true ways to learn, and offering cookie cutter courses is at best a waste of money, which is unfortunate since cost-saving is often the training industry’s first priority. At worst, it creates lasting damaging to audience engagement for training, which can be a nightmare in the short- and the long-term from a business perspective.

Common Practice Isn’t Always Best Practice

A learning audience comprised of people in technical roles definitely won’t be well-served by jumping into a public class somewhere. Further, learning leaders need to ask technical talent how and what they want to learn, and then act on that information. But to do that would require that many learning leaders admit they’ve been doing things wrong for – the word forever comes to mind.

To prioritize technical talent’s preferences and behaviors, while incredibly beneficial in creating a positive ROI and improving learning retention, would constitute a marked change from current training practices. It would highlight flaws in corporate training structures that are detrimental to learning itself. Like, program and instructional designers, the people who build training curriculums and courses, don’t always have the power and authority to execute changes to those courses in a timely manner.

Content naturally will vary based on the business goals and needs driving the learning. But it can’t be overstated that truly understanding your audience is just as important – if not more so – as choosing the right facilitators, program length, and learning delivery methods.

Many technical training programs are designed based on the curriculums and teaching strategies for HR-related topics like leadership development, soft skills, etc. That makes sense; HR is often the umbrella under which training falls in the corporate structure – but it doesn’t work.

To get that coveted ROI, promote knowledge retention, employee engagement, and immediate application on the job, learning leaders have to disrupt their traditional MO. They must approach technical training differently.

Consider, most developers seek out training for practical purposes. According to the 2017 DI Developer Survey, which surveyed nearly 800 developers globally on their learning behaviors, training preferences, and training requirements, more than 55 percent said they seek out training to meet current or upcoming needs; then they seek out training to advance their careers. That’s a far cry from the average high potential, leadership development or soft skills program attendee, who is primarily concerned with preparing for a future role.

Now, also consider that according to the aforementioned report, some 68 percent of developers are motivated by curiosity or a desire to improve their skills, which are directly connected to the work they do every day. This deeply personal enthusiasm for their craft suggests they want technical training that is very much in the now.

HR and learning leaders need to be cognizant of these key drivers when designing technical training programs. They have to understand the developer’s persona and preferences vs. those for an employee in a non-technical role.

For example, many corporate learning strategies – with the exception of those for leadership development – are highly focused on online learning. One might think that anything online was right up a developer or an engineer’s alley. That their predilection for technology means they prefer mobile and virtual learning.

Wrong. These learning delivery methods are actually among their least favorite. Instead, they prefer instructor-lead training, and ILT with peers in groups is a close second. Those two account for 54 percent of all survey respondents preferred learning methods.

Give ‘Em What They Want

Engineers, programmers and developers love to be in the classroom because they need and want the space and opportunity to physically explore new technologies. They like to touch, try, even break things, in a safe environment. Yet, that lab aspect of training is often not included in a traditional learning plan. Or, that hands-on lab time is supplanted by lengthy periods of presentation and lecture. Hint, trainers? It should be the other way around. Some 69 percent of developers prefer to allocate 50-80 percent of a course to hands-on interaction.

If they can’t be hands on in a classroom lab, developers have a strong preference for reading and watching videos. According to DI’s 2017 Developers Survey resources like GitHub – a code hosting repository site and features wikis, discussions, and documentation on many major open source projects – and Stack Overflow, a Q&A site featuring more than 10 million questions and answers on programming topics – are some of the go-to resources developers (91 and 71 percent respectively) use to learn new technologies and keep their skills up to date.

Video learning sites were less popular than text-based sites, but 29 percent of survey respondents reported taking a course through Coursera, a university course hosting site. Some 20 percent said they’ve used Pluralsight’s IT-centric video course library.

Remember, ideally technical training should provide developers with the opportunity to interact with new technologies. For instance, learning leaders should encourage students to bring their laptops so they can retain the code they create during training. Sample code could become the foundation for a real-world solution. Or, it could help to fast-track implementation of new technology.

When the training audience is comprised of someone in a predominantly technical role, savvy learning leaders should design training programs as though they’re designing a software product:

  • Identify needs, objectives, and requirements
  • Define a budget, project plan, and rollout plan
  • Identify solutions, consolidate a purchase
  • Deliver using a phased, agile rollout
  • Pivot and adjust

Taking the same approaches that HR-centric learning has successfully used – like increasing online offerings to save money and accommodate more learners on variable schedules in geographically dispersed locations – simply won’t work for a technical audience. At least, they won’t work well.\